The “Population Bomb” Bombed
The Book Inspired by Darwinism that Triggered a Wave of Repression Around the World
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
In 1968, the “year’s most important book,” what Greg Garrard called a neo-Malthusian classic, The Population Bomb, by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich, “made dire predictions and triggered a wave of repression around the world.” Authored by an evolutionary biologist known for his “groundbreaking studies of the co-evolution of flowering plants and butterflies,” it became a best seller, and turned the author into a celebrity. The book “would become one of the most influential books of the 20th century.”
Ehrlich’s conclusion was announced in the first sentence:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”
In the end, the book and the movement it birthed “fueled an anti-population-growth crusade that led to human rights abuses around the world.”
Although Malthusian ideas, such as those presented by Ehrlich, continue to influence scholars today, for several reasons his theory failed in the 1960s and 1970s and has continued to fail up to the present. Ehrlich, inspired by Thomas Malthus and a disciple of Malthus named William Vogt who penned several books in the late 1960s, predicted massive famines as a result of population increases. Vogt, in his best-selling book titled The Road to Survival, argued in no uncertain terms that current population increase trends would result in future wars, hunger, disease and civilization collapses. Likewise, Ehrlich also argued that hundreds of millions of persons would die from the overpopulation crisis that he and other leading biologists expected to occur in the 1970s unless birth control and abortion were widely applied to the population, or if necessary forced on the population.
Ehrlich envisioned that, by 1995, a horrific future awaited humans including the starvation of millions, or even billions, of people. His many best-selling books in which he endeavored to document this dire future, besides The Population Bomb (1968), included Population, Resources, Environment: Issues in Human Ecology (1970, with Anne Ehrlich); The End of Affluence (1974, with Anne Ehrlich) and The Population Explosion (1990, with Anne Ehrlich).
Ehrlich’s Ideas Proliferate
Ehrlich also was able to reach millions on several television appearances, such as the NBC Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in February of 1970 and numerous times afterward. In response to Vogt’s and Ehrlich’s ideas, the first Director-General of UNESCO, Julian Huxley, in his Evolutionary Humanism, called for a radical government-enforced world population control policy. Huxley and Ehrlich openly criticized both the communist and the Roman Catholic positions on birth control, and especially on abortion, as well as on their skepticism for a need for strict governmental enforced population control to avoid disaster.
All of his predictions have now failed and his work “has been proven spectacularly wrong.” The problem now is the decline of the population in many countries!
Another example of applied Malthusianism is the 1972 book The Limits to Growth published by the Club of Rome, and the Global 2000 report completed for the then President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Science-fiction author Isaac Asimov, reflecting the works of Charles Darwin, Robert Malthus and Professor Paul Ehrlich, also got on board and issued many appeals for government-mandated population control programs.
The negative results from overpopulation propaganda included policies that required forced or coerced sterilization of millions living “in unsafe conditions, in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.” In the end, over “eight million men and women were sterilized in 1975 alone . . . . China adopted a ‘one child’ policy that lead to huge numbers—possibly 100 million—of coerced abortions, often in poor conditions contributing to infections and even death.”
Ehrlich Proved Wrong
In spite of his predictions, there was no net increase in the death rate around the world due to famine as a result of the conditions Ehrlich predicted. Actually, accordingly to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, famine has become rarer around the world, from 1 out of 4 suffering from hunger to 1 out of 10 today. These statistics are more impressive in view of the fact that the world’s population has more than doubled since Ehrlich’s prediction was made. Although starvation claimed 4 to 5 million lives during the 1970s, most of the deaths were due to warfare, rather than from “environmental exhaustion from over-population” as Ehrlich warned.
All of his predictions have now failed and his work “has been proven spectacularly wrong.” The problem now is the decline of the population in many countries! In the United States, the replacement level was 2.1 lifetime children per woman, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of the year ending in September 2017, shows the total fertility rate is now 1.77 lifetime births per woman. This is unsustainable; if not reversed, it will lead to population loss.
Why Malthus Proved Wrong
Before Malthus, commentators regarded high fertility as an economic advantage because it increased the number of workers. Malthus, however, convinced most economists that, even though high fertility might increase the gross economic output, it tended to reduce the per capita output, because food production increases linearly, but population increases exponentially (5 June 2007). Even during Malthus’ lifetime, the many major problems with his fake-math theory soon became obvious. Malthus had correctly diagnosed
what economists now call the “Malthusian Trap”–– that as population rose, personal income levels decreased. This was true in England, but only until about 1800. When Malthus wrote his Essay on Population in 1798, real wages had been stagnant or declining for generations . . . . But after 1800 the facts told a different story. By the . . . early 1830s . . . personal income was increasing even as the population grew.
The reasons why geometric population growth in the 20th century did not result in a Malthusian catastrophe as Malthus expected include greater labor specialization and major capital investment that resulted in large agricultural production improvements. Other improvements included the use of fertilizers and petrochemical pesticides to control crop pests, mechanization (tractors and combines), and the introduction of high-yield farm crop varieties. Humans have also learned how to exploit past solar income — fossil fuels — to greatly increase agricultural production by producing electricity to pump water for irrigation.
One of the most critical innovations was the 1840s discovery by the German Justus von Liebig that nitrogen was a central factor in causing plant growth. Liebig then learned how to synthesize the bio-available form of nitrogen, nitrate, and is thus called the “father” of the fertilizer revolution.
The second critical development was in the early 1900s when Chemist Fritz Haber developed a process to synthesize fertilizer by using high temperatures to combine hydrogen derived from methane with atmospheric nitrogen. The energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process is now used throughout the world to fixate atmospheric nitrogen to produce low-cost artificial fertilizers. All of these developments have now largely negated Malthus’ major thesis.
As a result, though seemingly logical, the Malthusian premise has been falsified. Zubin, in a chapter titled “The Data That Proves Malthus Wrong,” reviews world population growth data plotted against GDP per capita growth, documenting how crop production has historically outstripped population growth. The data also show that
with the right political and social conditions, men’s inventiveness, creativity, collaboration, and innovation actually accelerate the production of food and other resources as population increases, rather than deplete them . . . . Food production in the past few decades has grown exponentially, and . . . new technologies have replaced the need for scarce or outdated resources.
An increased supply of labor produced a situation like this story used by Malthus critics, while both the hawk and man eat chickens, the more hawks, the fewer the chickens, but more men usually means more chickens. Even the late editor of the leading science magazine, Nature, John Maddox, regarded Malthus as a failed prophet.
The situation today is that food has actually improved. Despite the world population doubling between 1960 and 2000, calories produced per day, per capita, has globally increased by 23 percent during this same period. Furthermore, as any restaurant worker knows, about half of all food grown today is wasted for various reasons due to high crop yields destroyed by waste, government programs for price control, and other reasons. If the waste were reduced, the Earth could easily support a much larger population than exists today.
Another factor is that, in many areas, including Europe, Japan, Canada, and the United States, the birth rate is now below replacement level, which is about 2.1 children per family. Some nations now actually use financial incentives to encourage larger families to help maintain their population level. These programs have had very limited success, and immigration now appears to be the only way many countries can maintain their current population level.
Ehrlich’s Aggressive Opposition to Creationism
Ehrlich critic Benjamin Shapiro entered UCLA at sixteen, graduated summa cum laude in June 2004 and went on to graduate from Harvard University Law School cum laude in 2007. In response to Ehrlich’s opinion that “American neoconservatives promote creationism because, as their own statements reveal, they apparently fear an educated population and see the theory of evolution as a threat,” Shapiro wondered if it ever occurred to
Ehrlich that perhaps many neoconservatives believe in the word of God? Probably not, since Ehrlich believes conservatives are out to lynch blacks and enslave the poor. Teaching creation science is foolish, professors believe. “They could just as well talk about Kumulipo,” the Hawaiian creation chant, scoffs Professor Pauline Chinn of the University of Hawaii. “Creationism isn’t science, it’s faith,” nods Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology Professor Gerald Fryer. “The big lie is that there’s something to (creationism),” sneers Professor Victor Stenger, also of the University of Hawaii.
Ehrlich’s Persecution of Grad Student Erville Clark
This indicates the attitude of Ehrlich toward evolution critics. One good example of how negative Ehrlich is toward creationists includes the case of Erville Clark, a former student of Ehrlich when he was teaching at Stanford. Professor Erville Clark, in spite of his above-average qualifications that earned him an excellent academic record, was denied his Ph.D. in biology at Stanford University. He was finally able to complete his doctorate at Oregon State University. The department chair there, in evaluating Clark’s admission papers, contacted Stanford and learned that Mr. Clark was denied the Ph.D. because he was a creationist. Professor Ronald Numbers comments that this case involved the dirty tricks common in academia against creationists. In recounting the bitter incident, Clark expressed the conclusion that much of the reason was Ehrlich’s disdain for Clark’s anti-evolution views, writing that, early in his doctoral program, Clark
had taken a course on evolution with Paul R. Ehrlich (b. 1932), from whom he received a B [grade]. Later, when Clark attempted to defend his dissertation on the ecology of a single county in northern California, Ehrlich zeroed in, quizzing him on ecology around the world, about which the young biologist admittedly knew relatively little. From what he later learned, four of the five committee members voted to pass him, but the department required a unanimous decision. The next year he retook the examination with the same results, which led to automatic termination.
Numbers continued, adding
Determined to earn the doctorate his father never possessed, Clark later enrolled in a general science program at Oregon State University, from which he received a Ph.D. in 1971 for a dissertation on radiation biology.
It is clear that one member of his Ph.D. committee—namely, the man whose scientific prediction was “spectacularly wrong”—made sure that Clark would fail his oral exams. Letters from Stanford about this case in my file expressed open intolerance against creationists, and Clark specifically. In an interview with Dr. Ehrlich about this case, Wirth reported Ehrlich claimed the Ph.D. was not denied due to Clark’s beliefs, then later Ehrlich exclaimed, well “would you grant a Ph.D. to a creationist?”
Now 86 years old, Dr. Ehrlich is the Bing Professor of Population Studies of the Department of Biology of Stanford University and president of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology. He still writes books on evolution.
The modern “population bomb” ideology movement began in 1968, largely because of a book by Paul Ehrlich. He relied heavily on the ideas of Thomas Malthus, on which Darwin also based his evolution theory of competition for resources and survival of the fittest (see “Malthus misled Darwin who misled the world,” 30 April 2014). Both Ehrlich and Malthus have proved to be “spectacularly wrong,” especially in the last century (13 May 2016). The doomsday predictions Ehrlich made have, fortunately, largely failed to come to pass. But they also proved to be socially disastrous, resulting in large-scale negation of human rights that Ehrlich’s ideas promulgated. These programs caused a great deal of harm to society, leading to millions of abortions, particularly of female babies in China, and violations of human rights. Abortions and sterilizations also increased in the United States, India, China, and many other nations. The full story of the harm of Ehrlich’s ideas has yet to be told, and this paper is a start.
Bibliography and References
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_______. 2015. Darwinism Used to Justify Abortion. The Human Life Review. 41(2):53-65. Spring.
_______. 2016. Silencing the Darwin Skeptics. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press.
_______. 2018. Censoring the Darwin Skeptics. How Belief in Evolution is Enforced by Eliminating Dissidents. Southworth, WA: Leafcutter Press, 566 pages.
Ehrlich, Paul. 1968. The Population Bomb. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
_______. 1974. The End of Affluence. A Blueprint for Your Future. New York : Ballantine Books. at NWSCC.
_______ and Ann Ehrlich. 1970. Population, Resources, Environment: Issues in Human Ecology. San Francisco, CA: W.H. Freeman.
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_______ and Ann Ehrlich. 1990. The Population Explosion. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
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Lopez, Kathryn Jean. 2010. “Defining Eugenics Down.” The Human Life Review, 36(1):11-17, Winter. New York, NY: Human Life Foundation, Inc.
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_______. 2006. The Creationists. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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Shapiro, Ben. 2004. Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. Nashville, TN: WND Books. Foreword by Attorney David Limbaugh.
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 Garrard, 2011, p. 96.
 Mann, 2018, p 86.
 Mann, 2018, p. 86.
 Mann, 2018, p. 86.
 Ehrlich, 1968, Prologue, p. xi.
 Mann, 2018, p. 86.
 Lopez, 2012, p. 50.
 Bergman, 2015. See also Bergman, 2016, 2018.
 Mann, 2018, p. 87.
 Huxley, 1964.
 Mann, 2018, p. 88.
 Mann, 2018, pp. 88-89.
 Mann, 2018, p. 89.
 Lopez, 2012, p. 51.
 Snyder, 2011, p. 125.
 Ransom, 2015, p. 59.
 Ransom, 2015, p. 59.
 Zubrin, 2012, p. 16.
 Zubrin, 2012, p. 5.
 Maddox, 1972.
 Lomborg, 2001, p. 62.
 Shapiro, 2004, pp. 89-90.
 Numbers, 2006, pp.299-271, emphasis added.
 Numbers, 2006, pp.299-271, emphasis mine.
 Bergman, 2012, pp 46-47.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.