Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

Anything Goes When You’re Saving the World

SPOTLIGHT: Saving the world = barbaric behaviour.

BIG PICTURE: The paperback edition of biologist Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, was 233 pages long. The first three chapters described a problem.

The final two chapters were titled “What Needs to be Done” and “What Can You Do?” They were followed by an Appendix of examples of letters readers might send to influential individuals. In other words, 83 pages of that book (more than a third) was an unabashedly political discussion.

These pages reiterated that the future was bleak. Overpopulation threatened America, the American way of life, and the “very lives” of US citizens (pp. 135, 138, 172, 180, 182).

The “only hope for survival,” was “drastic worldwide measures” lest civilization itself go “down the drain.” The “time of famines” had arrived (pp. 134, 143, 145, 148, 157-9, 161, 165, 198).

50 years later, we know Ehrlich’s apocalyptic predictions were wildly off target. Half a billion people did not starve to death during the 1970s. Instead, via ingenuity and technology, humanity grew more food and got better at transporting it to wherever it was desperately needed.

Americans weren’t forced to “slaughter” their dogs and cats so that pet food protein could be fed to the “starving masses.” Luxury taxes weren’t placed on diapers, and a powerful new arm of the US government wasn’t created to “take whatever steps are necessary,” in order to bring that country’s birth rate in line with its death rate. In 1968, there were 200 million Americans. Today, there are 326 million (pp. 134, 137-8).

Ehrlich’s fanaticism was on stark display when he described overpopulation as a cancer:

We must shift our efforts from treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions. The pain may be intense. But the disease is so far advanced that only with radical surgery does the patient have a chance of survival. (pp. 166-167)

In this regard, he declared that America should have pressured the Indian government to sterilize “all Indian males with three or more children”:

We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments. We should have sent doctors to aid in the program…Coercion? Perhaps, but coercion in a good cause. (pp. 165-166)

TOP TAKEAWAY: Fifty years after The Population Bomb appeared, few people remember that it advocated dispatching US helicopters so that Indian peasants could be kidnapped & forcibly sterilized.

LINKS:

The Population Bomb
Paul Ehrlich

see my previous posts: How They Sold ‘The Population Bomb’ and Experts Suck at Predicting the Future

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