Biologist Paul Ehrlich visits Vermont

May 6, 2013 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Protection of Species, United States, Daily Email Recap

Biologist Paul Ehrlich gives dire prediction for global civilization


The 81-year-old Ehrlich, a professor at Stanford University, spurred the growth of new fields of science and called attention to environmental problems through his work on overpopulation, evolutionary biology, and conservation. He addressed a packed ballroom at the University of Vermont on Tuesday.


Ehrlich, who paced back and forth across the stage, ignoring the podium, started by saying, “I believe and all of my colleagues believe that we are on a straightforward course to a collapse of our civilization.” He cited signs, such as diminishing returns from natural resources, that he said were recognizable from studying the collapse of other civilizations throughout history.


The problem can be traced to our evolution, said Ehrlich.


“We’re a small-group animal, both genetically and culturally. We have evolved to relate to groups of somewhere between 50 and 150 people,” he said. “And now suddenly we’re trying to live in a group not of 150 or 100 people, but of seven billion people, somewhat over seven billion people at the moment, and that is presenting us with a whole array of problems.”


Those problems include an inability to recognize gradual, large-scale changes in our environment as dangerous.


“Another thing that’s related to that, that’s presenting us with a whole array of problems, is that most of our evolution going on now is cultural evolution,” Ehrlich went on. “And the problem is cultural evolution has not gone on at the same rate in every area of human endeavor. Where has it gone on most rapidly? It’s gone on most rapidly in the area of technology.”


In contrast, our cultural evolution has not progressed much at all in terms of ethics, said Ehrlich.

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