The long fight to preserve planet Earth
So, will it end with a whimper or a bang? Paul Ehrlich, the American scientist who first scared the pants off the world with his alarmist 1968 book, The Population Bomb, is ringing the bell again about the fate of the planet. Back in New Zealand for a lecture tour with the doomsday label “Avoiding Global Collapse”, Ehrlich argues the show could become messy – and sooner than most of us would wish.
Earth, he says, has too many people consuming too many things and imposing far too much stress on land and water that only unprecedented cultural change provides any hope of averting catastrophe.
“I think the odds of avoiding collapse are about 10 per cent,” Ehrlich said. “But I’m prepared to work hard to make it 11 per cent, because I’ve got great-grandchildren.”
One of his colleagues at Stanford University in California puts the chances at a gloomy 1 per cent. “He’s willing to work really hard to make it 1.1 per cent.”
At 81, Ehrlich is still in the field, working on endangered species, the preservation of genetic resources and a deep understanding of natural butterfly populations. With his wife Anne, who is 79, he has been cranking out books about the environment, ecology and the heavy footprint of humanity for more than half a century.
His perspective has barely shifted in that time, though he does admit that he would not write his most famous book – The Population Bomb – the way it was put together back in the 60s. For a start, Anne’s name would be on the cover as joint author. “They said you’d do better with a single author. I was young then.”
He would do away, too, with three hair-raising scenarios which, though couched as possibilities and predictions set out, as the book declared, “the kind of disasters that will occur as mankind slips into the famine decades”.
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