Paul R. Ehrlich: Saving Earth

Patt Morrison talked to the scholar about the planet and humanity for the LA Times.

One thing I draw from your new book is that you’re now calling on individuals to do what institutions have failed to when it comes to saving the planet and ourselves.

That’s part of it. We now know more than enough about what the hell is wrong with the world. The climate, the toxification of the planet, the epidemiological environment, the chances of plague, losing biodiversity, the rate of extinction of species — and we’re doing nothing about it. We’ve had 10 failures now on international attempts to do something about climate change. If we don’t figure out how to change human behavior toward sustainability, we’re basically … screwed, I think is the technical term.

There’s a mechanical model of what’s happening to the world: Go into the smallest room of your house, and attached to the floor is a porcelain thing, and if you raise the lid on it and then you look into the bowl and press one of the levers, it will show you what’s happening to the environment.

"The Population Bomb," which you and your wife, Anne, wrote more than 40 years ago, includes scenarios that haven’t happened. Critics throw these back at you to prove you were wrong then and to suggest you are wrong now.

Scientists live by their reputations with their colleagues, not with Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. I’m attacked almost daily on the blogs.

When we wrote it, there were about 3.5 billion people on the planet; about half a billion of them were hungry. Today there are 7 billion people on the planet and about a billion of them are hungry. We’ve lost something on the order of 200 million to 400 million to starvation and diseases related to starvation since the book was written. How "wrong" [were] we?

Of course all our predictions were not correct, but a lot of the stuff they say were predictions were scenarios where we said: These are not predictions; these are stories to make you think about the future.

What was crystal clear then and is crystal clear today is that one of the major factors is the size of the human population. The I = P x A x T equation — [human] impact is the product of the number of people, how much each one consumes and the technologies we use for consumption. 

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