back to article This time we really are all doomed, famous doomsayer prof says

A professor famous for predicting the imminent demise of the human race at regular intervals since the 1970s has predicted the imminent demise of the human race. Paul Ehrlich, who is the Bing Professor of Population Studies at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, says it's definitely on this time. In a tinned …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nature abhors a vacuum, something will fill the gaps.

    1. Captain DaFt

      If Nature abhors a vacuum, then why does it seem so hell-bent on filling so many heads with one?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @CD

        How can you fill a head with a vacuum ?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          and what's this big empty thing we call space which seems to make up the majority of the known universe?

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      No, no. Cats abhor vacuums. When Nature runs across a vacuum, it just kind of sits back and lobs stuff in its general direction.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    doom

    you're being cruel. At least he's pretty consistent in his predictions / prophecies.And, you know, third time lucky, hahahahahahahahhahahahaaaaaaa

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: doom

      A stopped clock is correct twice a day.

      At this point, even if we go extinct, it does not make Ehrlich's theory correct. It just means Ehrlich is like the economist who predicts a stock crash year after year procliaming victory when after a decade of bad predictions, it finally does.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: doom

        "A stopped clock is correct twice a day."

        Not if it's missing the hour hand...

        1. Martin Budden

          Re: doom

          Not if it's missing the hour hand...

          If a hand is missing, calling it a clock isn't entirely* correct.

          *pun intended

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: doom

          "A stopped clock is correct twice a day."

          Not if it's missing the hour hand...

          It can have both hands and not be correct, as should be immediately obvious when you consider how a two-handed analog clock represents the time. The hour hand points to the exact time (to the accuracy of the clock and correctness of its setting); the minute hand is a redundant indicator for the benefit of the human reader.

          If the hour hand points directly to an hour, and the minute hand is on the 6, then the clock is never correct at any time of day.

          That's why the proper form of the saying (used by the OP in this case) is "a stopped clock..." and not "a broken clock....". I see the latter more commonly here in the US, and it's patently wrong. "Stopped" is a specific failure mode that allows the clock to be correct at the appropriate time; "broken" is any of a range of failure modes, most of which do not apply here.

          There really should be a published standard for these maxims. So many people get them wrong. I'll contact ECMA; they'll standardize anything.

    2. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: doom

      The central problem facing the green lobby, is that even if one day science comes in that actually backs their predictions, they'll be viewed as the little boy who cried wolf.

      The sky isn't falling, the earth isn't dying, and absent a large asteroid nobody noticed, humaity isn't about to become extinct. It just isn't.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: doom

        "The central problem facing the green lobby, is that even if one day science comes in that actually backs their predictions, ..."

        Is that having had the predictions confirmed, we can reasonably expect society to adapt (it may even be very painful) and so avert the 'doom' element of these projections. Then subsequent generations can laugh at the 'ancient' doom-sayers for failing to see x, y or z. ...

        The only real question we have is whether we will have sufficient time to adapt when/if the predictions are confirmed...

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: doom

        absent a large asteroid nobody noticed, humaity isn't about to become extinct

        There are plenty of catastrophic events besides Big Space Rocks that could wipe out human beings. Some are still hypothetical, like false vacuum collapse (and we'll never know about that one before it hits us, since it'd expand at nearly the speed of light). But things like gamma-ray bursts and supernovae are well-established and avoiding those is just a matter of luck.

        Closer to home, a bad supervolcano eruption could easily stomp civilization into the dust. Survivors of the immediate event would have to deal with immediate problems like aftershocks and tsunami, and then the extended effects like crop failure. That would likely produce a severe population bottleneck, which would make humanity much more vulnerable to extinction by pandemic or the like.

        While overpopulation doesn't look likely to wipe us out, and we've managed to avoid nuking ourselves to death so far, that doesn't mean there aren't other plausible candidates. The simple fact is that almost certainly, sooner or later a catastrophic event of some sort will wipe out what currently passes for civilization on this planet. The species might survive, and might even eventually put some sort of civilization back together; but Shelley had the right of it in "Ozymandias".

        1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

          Re: doom

          True there are ways we have no control over that could wipe humans out. Ehrlich is not talking about these but about Malthusian overpopulation on a worldwide scale. He seems to extrapolate for local famines, which have numerous causes, that worldwide famine is inevitable.

    3. DJV Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: doom

      We're doomed!!!*

      * but for only small, local values of "doom".

    4. NomNomNom

      Re: doom

      The problem I see is that to explain why Ehrlich's predictions in the 70s of mass starvation were wrong every Captain Hindsight points to the green revolution. Which is to say if the green revolution hadn't occurred, Ehrlich's predictions would likely have been correct. So I ask who was able at the time to predict the green revolution was sure to happen?

      It seems the counter for such dire warnings then and now remains nothing but optimistic guff, what I call the theory of "A Miracle Will Occur". It is a really more a dismissal of the problem than any reassurance of a solution, the idea that all looming problems can be ignored because God or Lady Luck will stop them becoming catastrophes.

      There are a number of issues charging up due to rising human population and consumption, including peak oil, peak soil, aquifer depletion, climate change and species extinctions. Where are the *guarantees* or even half-baked guarantees based on *logic* that these issues are not imminent problems?

      An example of something that has already gone wrong are various fish stock collapses due to overfishing, where very notably The Miracle Did Not Occur and instead it was a Nasty Surprise.

      But of course we can safely ignore all future warnings because we got lucky once before.

      1. Al Black

        Doom

        One reason Fish Stocks are collapsing is the protection of Whales, Sharks and Seals. If we want more fish to eat we should fish the top predators, thus increasing the supply of their prey. I kind of like Whales, so let's fish out the Sharks first,and then the stinking Sea-rats some people call Seals. That will replenish the fish stocks quick smart, and we can take over from the Sharks as top predator of the seas. It is our manifest destiny to do so: we have 7 Billion hungry mouths to feed and Shark tastes surprisingly good in batter with chips!

      2. Muncher23

        Re: doom

        Well the Population Bomb was published in 1968 and William Guad coined the term Green Revolution in 1967 becuase it had been going about 20 years by then so Ehrlich should of known he was wrong but his book sold well

  3. Thesheep
    Coat

    If he's right...

    and we all die, then I will raise a glass to him.

    1. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: If he's right...

      and we all die, then I will raise a glass to him.

      He is right that we are all going to die. Just not necessarily all at the same time.

  4. DropBear Silver badge
    Trollface

    Wait...

    You mean he missed the whole Mayan brouhaha? No prediction that time? Tsk, tsk... he's losing his touch.

  5. codejunky Silver badge

    Keep trying

    Maybe he is working on the broken watch theory. Keep predicting the same thing which is theoretically possible and maybe eventually get lucky. Or maybe he is just determined that he doesnt like what people are doing and so will look to the worst case nightmare he can dream up to try and make us change.

    Sounds a bit like a guy with a cardboard sign telling us the end is coming.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Keep trying

      It's either that or he needs more funding to continue living the lifestyle he has become used to.

      There has yet to be a doom prediction NOT linked to requiring more funding by the author.

  6. nsld
    Coat

    Bing Professor?

    Does that mean he looks after the universities microwave oven?

    1. Ged T
      Joke

      Re: Bing Professor?

      No - It means he's searching for the microwave oven....

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Bing Professor?

      Not at all. It means he uses Microsoft's search engine to perform all his academic research.

      ...

      Which probably explains quite a bit about his theories.

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Bing Professor?

      Professors that go "Bing!"; as opposed to Knights that go "Nyit!".

  7. Bloodbeastterror

    Oh for god's sake...

    A scientist voices an opinion that our race is on its way to extinction and Tim chooses to cast up that he's been voicing it for 40 years...? Perhaps Tim thinks that mass extinctions take place in the blink of an eye rather than over the course of centuries or millennia?

    On the balance of credibility I think I'll go for the Professor rather than the opinionated author.

    1. Yag

      Re: Oh for god's sake...

      I guess you missed the point : his previous doomscares were unrelated to the extinction event.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh for god's sake...

      On the balance of credibility I think I'll go for the Professor rather than the opinionated author.

      Well, at least our opinionated author got the guy's name right. You didn't even seem to read the byline...

    3. dogged

      Re: Oh for god's sake...

      Tim?

      You didn't read it, did you?

      1. Bloodbeastterror

        Re: Oh for god's sake...

        I did read it, directly after another article by my other favourite commentator, Mr. Worstall...

        My bad...

    4. SolidSquid

      Re: Oh for god's sake...

      His previous two claims had time frames which have come and gone, and all three claims have differing causes. So while he's been saying the world was going to end for 40 years he keeps changing his mind on the *why*, which is the scientific bit

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh for god's sake...

        Not wishing to defend him particularly, but the brunt of the argument is that his previous two claims have been falsified by the passage of time.

        1) overpopulation - yes, he was wrong because he forgot to apply Moore Law to food production. There will come a point at which we cant find ways to eke out more food calories from the available area though, at which point what he says will turn out to be true. Not really an argument in his defence, just a fact of nature.

        2) nuclear winter. I appear to have missed the bit where we had a nuclear war and his theory was proven wrong here. Can someone remind me about this? That Freeman Dyson disagreed with him isnt the same as proving it wrong. Scientific debate frequently has people with different opinions, even when it is "right."

        So, really out of 3 claims, 1 we dont know about yet, 1 hasn't been tested yet and 1 has been proven false.

        I've seen worse academic records.

        1. NomNomNom

          Re: Oh for god's sake...

          "he forgot to apply Moore Law to food production"

          I know you are not claiming it literally, but there was no equivalent for Moore's law for food production. As far as I can tell, at the time there was no guarantee that crop yields could be massively increased more than they already had been.

          "2) nuclear winter. I appear to have missed the bit where we had a nuclear war "

          Exactly. It seems they are arguing Erlich should not have raised warnings about nuclear winter because he should have assumed nuclear war would not occur. As if anyone could have known that at the time.

          The warnings themselves are not being judged on the knowledge available when they were made, but in hindsight using the knowledge of today. So for example they argue Erlich should not have made warnings of global starvation because he should have assumed food production would ramp up, as if he should have been psychic. None of them offer reasons for why it was obvious he was wrong at the time.

          It's a fine way to dangerously shut down discussion of threats though. I notice that any warning that does not come to pass is now used as an excuse to dismiss further warnings out of hand.

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Oh for god's sake...

            @NomNomNom I think it was called the 'green revolution'. The fact that it was over pretty much by the '70s invalidates the erstwhile prof's ideas, but still, it is kind of analogous to Moore's Law.

          2. Pookietoo
            Facepalm

            Re: why it was obvious he was wrong at the time

            The simple fact is that nobody can know enough about complex situations like these, with an unknown number of unknown variables, to be able to make predictions that are guaranteed to be accurate, so anyone who claims that ability is overstepping his authority and subjecting himself to ridicule. It brings to mind the great horse manure crisis of 1894.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: why it was obvious he was wrong at the time

              On the subject of the great horse manure crisis: http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2009/11/20/how-the-solution-to-the-manure/

              To be clear, the solution to the "crisis" is only obvious with hindsight and it often needs to overcome significant inertia from established businesses and ways of thinking. Plus, the solution to the great horse manure crisis included massive amounts of lead poisoning for a good few years.

              Keep in mind, if we were dealing with the horse manure crisis today, huge swathes of commenters on the internet (and renowned economists & technology bloggers) would be talking about how the car could never replace the horse drawn cart (and they'd be right as the answer would still be really 30 years away).

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Oh for god's sake...

            @NomNomNom

            it is a bit like saying "oh my God, you are so drunk you are going to crash and kill someone." Then the driver saying, "hey, fuck you, I didn't kill anyone so why should I listen to you in the future?"

            Warnings are there to make people change their behaviour (stop doing things, start doing things or invent new shit) to stop something bad happening. Hindsight is almost always wrong, simply because one of the three options tends to have happened so the warning wasnt wrong, it was just mitigated.

        2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Oh for god's sake...

          Given that:

          • famine was a recurrent feature of India's history until fairly recently

          • it stopped when they started massive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers in the 50's

          • nitrates in the water is now an increasingly severe problem (everywhere, actually, but nowhere more so than India)

          • India's population has grown from 300M to 1200M people during this time.

          I think our Prof's prediction on India is an extremely safe bet in the mid-term. New technology might contribute, but something has to give at some point.

    5. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: Oh for god's sake...

      Actually, it's beginning to look like mass extinctions DO occur 'in the blink of an eye'. At least the evidence we'renow unearthing leans towards a series of catastrophic events, sometimes as a combined result of small changes over time, sometimes from an unprecedented and violent 'one off' event (the catastrophic draining of the north american inland sea for example).

      That said, even with hindsight it'snot always (or even often!) possible to piece together preceding events to correlate with the later catastrophe.

      So we might as well all pick a randome date and yell "We're DOOOOOOOMED!!!". Hell, SOME of us might be right, just by the law of averages, but it doesn't mean any one of us has much in the way of credibility.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Majikthise and Vroomfondel

    Is this where Mr. Adams got his idea?

  9. Mr. EMan

    Probability

    Chances are he'll eventually be correct. Just have to wait a while.

  10. Khaptain Silver badge
    Trollface

    Careful

    Be careful folks, he only needs to be right once..... Ironically though he won't be around to gloat if he does manage to get it right

  11. David Pollard
    Megaphone

    Obligatory xkcd

    http://xkcd.com/1338/

    1. dogged

      Re: Obligatory xkcd

      Obligatory irrelevant xkcd?

      1. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: Obligatory xkcd

        Obligatory irrelevant xkcd?

        3rd time lucky?

    2. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Obligatory xkcd

      "http://xkcd.com/1338/"

      So there are about 5 kilos of human for every kilo of goat. ... Was there a hidden steganography message that I didn't see or is the image some form of charade ?

      There is a relevance to this article somewhere but unfortunately I still don't get it

    3. NomNomNom

      Re: Obligatory xkcd

      It's relevant because it graphically displays human overpopulation of earth, which isn't just about members of our own species but the even greater numbers of livestock species we artificially breed. All of which have displaced other species in the wild and require great amounts of crop land and water to feed.

      Of course we aren't supposed to examine this subject critically and ask whether it is sustainable, because Erlich was wrong in the 70s or something.

  12. heyrick Silver badge

    Ehrlich ?

    I misread that as Eldritch. As in abomination. If humanity is going to go out, it should do so in style (katana wielding samurai dragons optional, but recommended), not some pathetic fade-to-black.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Ehrlich ?

      If I've understood Lovecraft correctly, Ehrlich is as far as it is possible to get from Eldritch. The Eldritch are supposed to understand how everything really works. The only thing Ehrlich seems to understand is how to fleece a paycheck from a publisher. Not even sure he actually understood how to get tenure. That seems to be something he lucked into.

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Never make a prediction which doesn't allow you to say "I told you so" if you were right.

  14. msknight Silver badge

    Apparently...

    He is currently 83.

    I suspect that his demise is ultimately closer than the rest of humanity; at which point we won't have to encounter any more of his predictions.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: Apparently...

      His, no. Put AC who managed to post first is sadly correct. Some other schlub will take his place, just as he replaced Malthus.

  15. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    Retirement income required

    Clearly he needs a revenue stream for his retirement, so the same disaster scenario warmed over with another cause will suit nicely :-)

    More to the point, why are acedemics like this still in employment?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Retirement income required

      More to the point, why are acedemics like this still in employment?

      Simple really, the politics of academia apply. Be published, have some presence in the popular press, know the right people, etc. etc. If he wasn't in academia, he could be in politics..... scary thought isn't it? But luckily, many of those high on the academic food chain fulfill the old saying that: "those that can't do, teach".

  16. Aitor 1 Silver badge

    We are all going to die

    But we already knew that.

    Yes, we are facing mass extinction: if we do nothing, we will go extinct in a thousand years... or less.

    Little time all considered, but our lives are VERY short.. so we won't see it.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: We are all going to die

      You're garnering more downvotes than upvotes, but the principle is sound. In fact, what the article reports as Erlich's specific claims in this case (I can't be bothered to read the paper) mostly seem reasonable. There is a mass-extinction event in progress - the number of extant species has decreased dramatically since, say, 1900, as best as anyone can tell. There's a good chance that biodiversity will get low enough that it will take a long period, perhaps "millions of years", to reach the same levels as, oh, let's say, around 1500 AD.

      Neither of those are actually terribly contentious claims.

      Then we have the third claim: That human beings, H. sapiens, may disappear before biodiversity returns to that level.

      It would not be at all surprising if H. sapiens disappeared in the next million years or so. There are plenty of possible extinction causes - most likely a combination of a catastrophe event and then subsequent extinction due to secondary effects and an unfortunately timed pandemic. Neanderthals only lasted a quarter of a million years; H. erectus less than two million. Lots of mammalian species only stick around on the order of 10,000 years.

      Now, the fourth claim, that humans are likely to go extinct because of the reduction in biodiversity, is rather more of a stretch. But humans disappearing for some combination of reasons in the next million years or so? Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

      (This is the point where two-thirds of the Reg readership announce that We Must Get Into Space for just this reason. To which I reply, eh, so what if humans disappear?)

  17. Turtle

    To Append A Necessary Phrase.

    "...the 1968 book Population Bomb, which in early editions stated that basically everyone in India would inevitably starve to death due to overpopulation in the 1970s..."

    If I correctly recall, he said a bit more than that. He said that we (the West, the US) should simply let them (India, and Egypt too, I think) all die and that we should make no efforts to help them. I was so impressed with this that I almost incapable of saying or writing the name "Paul Ehrlich" without appending the phrase "virulent racist" to it.

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: To Append A Necessary Phrase.

      Partly true - if it was viewed that they weren't likely to become self-sufficient we should cut food aid (so starve them).

      But also, if we viewed that a particular region had more promise than the country as a whole, we should encourage a seperatist movement.

      So to my mind, that's tantamount to starving them into starting a civil war.

      He also floated the idea of mass sterilisation via the water supply and then discounted it on the basis that there hadn't been enough research into it.

      I know we're talking about a doomsday scenario, and hard decisions would need to be made, but if you're going to effectively sentence an entire country to death (leaving aside the 'who has the right?') at least make it a bit more humane than starvation y'know?

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: To Append A Necessary Phrase. @Ben Tasker

        "I know we're talking about a doomsday scenario, and hard decisions would need to be made, but if you're going to effectively sentence an entire country to death (leaving aside the 'who has the right?') at least make it a bit more humane than starvation y'know?"

        Actually it is worth taking time to think through the doomsday avoidance scenario.

        In circa 1970 the worlds population was 3~4 billion. Now, 45 years later it is 7~8 billion, with forecasters now saying that their original forecasts for the population to plateau are incorrect...

        So given what we are being told that over-population is a major cause of our problems and the crunch point (if we do nothing with respect to population, food, energy etc.) will occur before circa 2050, it is obvious that we should seek to massively reduce our population, lets say to 1970's levels ie. approximately half our current population, in a couple of decades (or less). It is a useful and enlightening exercise to go through how this objective might be achieved by 'humane' methods - I've yet to identify one...

  18. Chris Miller

    Matt Ridley in today's Times also takes a swipe at Ehrlich:

    Paul Ehrlich [...] forecast in 1975 that half of all the species in tropical rainforests would be gone by 2005. Yet not a single bird or mammal that we know of has gone extinct in a tropical rainforest.

    Matt (who has an Oxford DPhil in zoology) points out that the vast majority of species extinctions are on islands where invasive species (rats, cats, mice etc) have been accidentally introduced.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      What is interesting, is that the (human) population projections from the late 60's seem to have been largely correct. However, what has been totally inaccurate is the (doomsday) forecasting of what that actually means.

      I think there are two problems, firstly people, such as Ehrlich, under estimate the ability of humans to adapt and change. The second is that without the credible doom-sayers, drawing people's attention to things the opportunity to avoid the calamity could be lost.

      So in part the reason why we haven't, yet, seen the massive extinction of species in tropical rainforests is because we are now aware of them and the importance of tropical rainforests. However, there are plenty of other species that are tottering on the edge of extinction, courtesy of human activity.

      1. Tom 13

        @Roland6

        No, even his population projections are wrong by an order of magnitude. The problem with his predictions, one frequently made by futurists of all stripes, is one of project continuously without inflection points. On population he ignored evidence that as you develop a population that can feed itself and cure disease the birthrate drops precipitously for 8-12 per family to 2 or lower.

        His projections about food production were likewise completely backwards and even more inexplicable given his population prediction. Following a straight line projection on food would have significantly altered his "The End is Near/Back off man I'm a scientist" schtick.

        No, the reason we haven't seen the massive extinction of species in the rainforests is that like the AWG alarmists, those so-called scientists didn't have any clue about real biology either.

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: @Roland6

          @Tom 13

          Exactly correct.

          Simple math of replacement, average vice 90% confidence.

          Low child mortality: want 2; have 2; get 2.

          50% child mortality: want 2, have 8, get 4.

          Seems obvious, but everyone is distracted by the education of women. Important yes of course but the trivial math is more fundamental.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: @Roland6 @Tom 13

          >even his population projections are wrong by an order of magnitude.

          I don't remember his (Ehrlich's) projections, but my memory from reading various books in the early 70's was that the population would double in circa 40 years - something it has done...

          It is worth mentioning that current population forecasters have concluded that the original idea that the population would plateau at around 9 billion, is not supported by evidence and hence based on current evidence the population could grow to 12+ billion. I would presume (but I could be wrong) this change by forecasters fully takes account of the birthrate change...

          >His projections about food production were likewise completely backwards

          I'm not so convinced they were so backward, only more cautious. Because whilst there were improvements in crop yields, in the late 1960's there was little indication that these would continue to the extent we have actually witnessed.

          > the reason we haven't seen the massive extinction of species in the rainforests is ...

          We started to protect the rainforests?

          Also a cleared rainforest leaves little no trace of what it contained, hence whilst we may have confidence about the few rainforests we have studied, we just don't know what was lost in the rainforests that have been cleared, especially those cleared prior to scientific study...

        3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: @Roland6

          the reason we haven't seen the massive extinction of species in the rainforests

          ...is that you've not bothered to google it.

          Here, let me do that for you...

    2. PrivateCitizen

      Matt Ridley

      Not sure what the context of Matt Ridley's quote is so there might be some extra data missing but:

      Yet not a single bird or mammal that we know of has gone extinct in a tropical rainforest.

      Isn't true unless he means within a very specific time frame, which is disingenuous. It also ignores the huge number of endangered species there are within rainforests.

      1. NomNomNom

        Re: Matt Ridley

        Is this the same Matt Ridley who was chairman of Northern Rock when it collapsed?

        If so it's kind of strange for him to be the one spearheading criticisms of people who are warning of disasters.

        1. Chris Miller

          Re: Matt Ridley

          Are you the same pseudonymous poster who makes the identical comment on every one of his articles in The Times? I may have missed the connection between non-executive chairmanship of a failed financial services organisation and zoology, but otherwise yours is simply an ad hominem attack.

  19. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    We have to put this bloke in a room with Barry Malzberg and a microphone.

  20. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

    He is correct in the fact that we are in the middle of a mass extinction event, as we out-compete, or just eat, other species. This is a result of rampant human population expansion, and the resultant loss of habitat to other species. On the other hand, this means we are the ones causing the extinctions, not the ones who are going to 'go extinct'*.

    *FWIW, I take unreasonable exception to the phrase 'go extinct', it just doesn't sound right to me, possibly because the verb 'go' implies motion. I far prefer 'become extinct' or in the case of anthropogenic extinctions, 'be made extinct'.

    1. Glenn Booth

      Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

      Ah, the voice of sense.

      "*FWIW, I take unreasonable exception to the phrase 'go extinct', it just doesn't sound right to me, possibly because the verb 'go' implies motion. I far prefer 'become extinct' or in the case of anthropogenic extinctions, 'be made extinct'."

      I agree wholeheartedly. "Go extinct" is a really ugly phrase. I'm pleased I'm not alone.

    2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

      In a similar vein to your post: The current rate of species going extinct appears alarming to me, I must say. Unless we call anything "extinction event" only if it comes with a boom, we may well talk about a (slow) extinction event.

      I slightly frown on the "Ha ha, you stupid!" style of the article.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

        Call it a 'slow' extinction event if you like, I think that in geological terms, it's actually very very fast (on the scale of a few hundred years really), possibly faster than any other mass extinction you care to talk about (the K-T mass extinction which did the dinosaurs in may have taken thousands of years, it wasn't an instant asteroid-pow-everything-dead moment, it was more like an asteroid/comet impact coupled with extended volcanism (deccan traps), and cause and effect between them is far from clear.)

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

      Thank you for using the correct phrase.

      Usually written: WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!

    4. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

      "FWIW, I take unreasonable exception to the phrase 'go extinct'..."

      I suppose you also take exception to the phrase "go spare" (or as we Americans put it, "go bananas").

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

        I suppose you also take exception to the phrase "go spare" (or as we Americans put it, "go bananas").

        Not at all, and that's a bit of a straw-man argument insofar as 'go spare' and 'go bananas' are idiomatic expressions, which don't carry their literal meaning (i.e. are metaphors), and 'go extinct' is some kind of ugly half-way house between metaphor and literal meaning. I think this is the thing that jars - there's no 'going' involved; a species that becomes extinct hasn't gone anywhere, at least not anywhere it is possible to come back from.

        It might be worth mentioning that extinction isn't always necessarily a bad thing (evolution doesn't have 'direction' after all). As species evolve to fill an ecological niche, they may outcompete other species, which become extinct. This is just how nature works. However, as a species, we are both drastically outcompeting large numbers of species which are otherwise well adapted, and destroying those ecological niches.

        This reduces the resilience of the ecosystem as a whole to adapt to change (in the short term at least). This may come back to bite us, when we find, for example, that climate change* makes large amounts of land uninhabitable to us, and there is no longer a genetic pool that nature can draw from to maintain life in those places. In this sort of case, we will find ourselves living on a smaller planet (in terms of habitable land mass). This might lead to a reduction in human population, probably in a rather unpleasant way for large numbers of us, but I don't think it's likely to do us in as a species, nor impact life in general on the planet in the long term.

        *For the point of this discussion, I am going to make the assumption that those large number of people who actually know what they are talking about are largely correct, and that those irrational individuals who claim that anthropogenic climate change doesn't exist are as barmy, or corrupt, as they sound. Sorry guys, you know who you are.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

          @ Loyal Commenter

          While agreeing with most of the post I have to down vote for the huge and glaring error which you stand by so religiously as to insult everyone not in the religion. You say-

          "for example, that climate change* makes large amounts of land uninhabitable to us"

          Which is true and historically a fact. But then there is the massive fail which disconnects from the reality of this to your assumption and blind faith in a theory-

          "*For the point of this discussion, I am going to make the assumption that those large number of people who actually know what they are talking about are largely correct, and that those irrational individuals who claim that anthropogenic climate change doesn't exist are as barmy, or corrupt, as they sound. Sorry guys, you know who you are."

          Your assumption is that the theory (which is a possibility) is such a forgone conclusion that you need to walk the streets shouting 'the world is gonna end', kinda like this topic is musing over. Climate change is a fact. The theories around it, well they are still competing to be accurate or right

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

            @codejunky - glad I got your back up. I was deliberately trolling those who like to believe that anthropogenic climate change doesn't exist.

            I won't argue that the finer points of theory haven't been worked out, but as someone with adequate education in physics and chemistry, at degree level, I can assure you that if you put the same amount of heat into a system, but allow less back out again, the temperature rises until an equilibrium is reached. If you think the second law of thermodynamics is up for debate, you are sadly mistaken.

            Carbon dioxide absorbs some of the infrared radiation that would otherwise radiate heat back into space, and as a result warms the atmosphere. If you think the physical chemistry of carbon dioxide is also up for debate, again, you are plain wrong. This is an observable fact, not merely a hypothesis, or even theory.

            That climate change exists is not in doubt, the exact effects that it will lead to are not known, as modelling them is imperfect. This doesn't mean that the extra heat will disappear, and it doesn't mean that on average, the planet won't get hotter. Bury your head in the sand all you like - as it happens there's likely to be more of it available, although you might find your head cooks when you do so.

            Also, I might point out that you are making the same mistake as creationists in misrepresenting the meaning of the word 'theory'. I have no 'blind faith' (for the record I am rational secular humanist), and scientific theory most certainly is not religion. To claim these things is nothing more than an ad hominem attack.

            There has been an awful lot of political spin, and uninformed opinion around the matter of climate change. Just remember, opinions are like arseholes - everyone has one, and they all stink. Try to stick to facts instead.

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

              @ Loyal Commenter

              "That climate change exists is not in doubt"

              With your background in physics and chem (kudo's) you should realise I have no problem with that statement. Yes the climate changes, we know this and accept happily even if we cant accurately model the outcomes. The problem is with the assumption that climate change is the same as the political spin and religious eccentricity of MMCC co2 theory (or anthropogenic climate change) which is far from the same level of fact. That does not mean that it 'might' (by a long shot of political boasting and outright lie) have guessed the right answer, but nobody surely believes that is science. In fact the denial of science to assume a predetermined outcome while moving goal posts and cherry picking fact is actually closer to the mistakes of creationists who adjust reality to match their pre-conceived outcome.

              "There has been an awful lot of political spin, and uninformed opinion around the matter of climate change. Just remember, opinions are like arseholes - everyone has one, and they all stink. Try to stick to facts instead."

              There has been so much misrepresentation and lie on both sides of the debate that the facts are kinda hard to sift out. However it is the responsibility of the (scientific believer of) of a hypothesis to prove their position which I accept is not easy. But the champions of the 'science' have been demonstrated to be outright liers and cheats with no room for doubt. Unfortunately the only champions of the theory seem to come from the crazed political groups which mirror religions in their science and their methods of 'converting' people.

              Every step of the way the climate change issue has been mishandled and abused. The facts are still coming out and the fact is we still dont know. We dont know what is our contribution to the natural cycle of temperature. We cant even agree to leave actual records alone, instead watching them be revised down to 'prove' new warming that cant be found.

              Either way and regardless we need adaptation. Especially after missing the deadline to save the world many times so far. But we construct wind farms when we knew they didnt work even for the theory used to justify it. Solar needed more research and unready deployments forced on the grid instead of boosting the research into technologies and then applying them. The climate debate has so far increased tax, increased costs and been used to mask failures in politics. It has been a gravy train abused as badly as the tortured data used to present a possible theory as a fact.

              So how can we believe more than the climate changes and it always has, and we may contribute something in some way but not necessarily all the fault of Co2?

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: The "We're all going to die" hand-waving aside

          "I think this is the thing that jars - there's no 'going' involved; a species that becomes extinct hasn't gone anywhere, at least not anywhere it is possible to come back from."

          But your very statement gives the justification: they're going away...forever.

          "This might lead to a reduction in human population, probably in a rather unpleasant way for large numbers of us, but I don't think it's likely to do us in as a species, nor impact life in general on the planet in the long term."

          You should look up "thermogeddon". There's a very real concern that certain parts of the world, if allowed to warm significantly, will become literally uninhabitable: not because it's underwater but because it'll become too warm for our bodies to cope without outside assistance. Thing is, if things get warmer, habitable land will start becoming compressed into fewer countries which can have a significant political effect.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When the food chain goes wrong for real

    because of mass extinctions, we might be fucked up as a specy.

    On some continents the homo sapiens might go extinct as well.

    1. Acme Fixer

      Re: When the food chain goes wrong for real

      Like on Antarctica...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lewis at his best, hatchet job par excellence.

    Pity you never learnt the difference between the rules of rugby and those of football.

    1. Gordon 11

      Pity you never learnt the difference between the rules of rugby and those of football.

      Hello, Pot.

      Rugby, like cricket, has laws, not rules.

  23. oomwat

    Bee poo?

    If we rely on bees to fertilise our crops, then we deserve to become extinct!

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Bee poo?

      Do robot bees pollinate electric flowers?

  24. sisk Silver badge

    Maybe he's working on the theory that if you predict the end of mankind enough times eventually you'll be right? Either way people are about as likely to listen to him as they are to listen to Harold Camping...and Camping isn't even around anymore.

  25. User McUser
    Megaphone

    He was right at the time...

    probably best known for co-writing the 1968 book Population Bomb, which in early editions stated that basically everyone in India would inevitably starve to death due to overpopulation in the 1970s and the same fate would overtake the USA in the 1980s.

    In Professor Ehrlich's defense, had it not been for the efforts of Norman Borlaug et al., he would have been absolutely right!

  26. MrSkippy

    On the limits of growth

    There's a rather famous, or infamous book "The Limits to Growth" published in 1972.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/looking-back-on-the-limits-of-growth-125269840/

    Using reasonably simple models a crash is predicted this century. As it was published 40 years ago; we have data to test against the model. On a business a usual basis; our progression over the past 40 years puts us on the curve that predicts a crash before 2100.

    Lewis the author of the above article offers no reason as to why he might be right; other than civilisation hasn't collapsed yet. The above study never predicted such a collapse in our past; it predicts it within our children's lifetime.

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: On the limits of growth

      You should view Tim Worstall's entertaining demolition of the flawed concepts behind this "we're all doomed because we're running out of resources" argument. The video of his talk is on the front page of ElReg.

      Have you checked there's enough bacon in your fridge?

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: On the limits of growth

        >Have you checked there's enough bacon in your fridge?

        Yes! However, there is only enough for my family's needs, until we slaughter another pig...

        Basically, whilst Tim's argument was good, he omitted the piece about our rate of consumption outstripping supply. So whilst there is a supply of bacon, there will be times when it is not available due to demand exceeding supply.

        This is similar logic to that behind the UK's water system. Our system has been planned on holding a few (six?) weeks of water, because under 'normal' UK weather conditions, there will be sufficient rain to top the system up. With changing weather patterns we haven't been having the 'normal' patterns of rainfall and hence water shortages have become more frequent, even though total annual rainfall has not changed very much.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: he omitted the piece about our rate of consumption outstripping supply

          Commenting without reading again I see. Tim addressed precisely this point when he noted that as current "supplies" diminish the price goes up. Increasing prices coupled with increasing creativity yield increased production which replenishes supplies.

          I believe Tim's money quote was that just in the ocean we have more supplies of the supposedly limited resources than we could consume at 10 times our current population. What we don't have at the moment is an economical way to separate them out.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: he omitted the piece about our rate of consumption outstripping supply

            @Tom 13 - "Commenting without reading again I see."

            Commenting without thinking? :)

            Tim's point was correct at the macro level, however, Tim didn't really address the here-and-now of the real world, particularly around essentials, during that period of adaptation ie. when demand outstrips supply.

            Taking the UK water supply as an example. It doesn't really matter what the price does, at the point when supply diminishes ie. there is a water shortage, there is still a need and hence demand for water. Likewise with respect to the "bacon in the fridge", there are still mouths to be fed.

            Now as such events become more frequent, adaptation will occur, however that takes time. In the case of water we have seen: investment in water infrastructure ie. a national water grid, in an attempt to mitigate local shortages. Industry taking steps to conserve water and in some instances securing their supply - because what is more costly isn't so much the price of water but the price of having plant (and people) standing idle. However, we still have a population that requires water and (humanely) reducing the population takes time...

            Hence my response elsewhere the real question isn't so much whether or not the scientists are right or not, but whether we have sufficient time to (humanely) adapt when we encounter crunch points...

      2. MrSkippy

        Re: On the limits of growth

        I've listened to Tim Worstall's talk and he's a very good speaker. I still find his arguments somewhat specious.

        To begin with the bacon in the fridge analogy is flawed. It assumes supply keeps up with demand; it also assumes that bacon farmers and indeed the pigs are not killed by the process of extensively farming pigs. This is somewhat negated by the point that using economic theory you find that bacon farmers are substitutable by say, robots.

        The point about mineral resources being so largely finite we won't run out of them I agree with; I'm a chemist I have some understanding of this. Most of his talk is spent belabouring this point. However, we are beholden at the moment to resources that are finite. Habitat is one fundamental one. Oil, coal and gas are others. Pollution is a problem; it is a negative feedback loop right now; with our current technology; resource extraction produces pollution that lessens habitat.

        It doesn't really attempt to address the problems of exponential growth; no matter what the compound interest is, sooner or later the curve goes pointy and you really don't want to be sitting on that bit. The limits to growth team did model scenarios where we reach stability. They did not really predict the end of the world; any more than you could predict you would die if you drove your car towards the end of a cliff.

        The curve we are on however does match a scenario where we are heading straight for the edge of the cliff. With what we know and are able to model, we can say there is a very real risk we will go over the edge unless we do something.

        If he were to claim 'resource extraction is never going to be a problem if we do it with no damage to the environment' I'd be tempted to agree with him. But he doesn't.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: On the limits of growth

          @ MrSkippy

          "Habitat is one fundamental one. Oil, coal and gas are others. Pollution is a problem; it is a negative feedback loop right now; with our current technology; resource extraction produces pollution that lessens habitat."

          I am not convinced by that as a problem in the same way as the other resources are so largely finite as not to worry us. Habitat is an interesting one, we actively waste land because its there, a key proof being our desire to destroy so much to make wind farms that produce so very little. Oil and gas has fairly large reserves and we are accessing more, but people want to destroy land for monuments to a wind god but not fracking to access the plentiful oil/gas. We have issues with pollution but we reject nuclear which is fairly abundant and safe, and for the same reasons we dont like reprocessing the waste. And thats before we hit on bio-fuels and other wastes of land even with the growing population. We choose to waste until it becomes a problem, either for profit or ideology.

          "It doesn't really attempt to address the problems of exponential growth; no matter what the compound interest is, sooner or later the curve goes pointy and you really don't want to be sitting on that bit."

          Very true but pulling back from wasteful approaches should help. Helping countries to develop would be a good start as developed countries grow through immigration over local reproduction. Instead of hitting the brakes we need to let them race off but with the benefits of our experience.

          1. MrSkippy

            Re: On the limits of growth

            @codejunky

            I didn't just mean *our* habitat... or habitat on a local scale.

            Our food production takes other ecosystems habitat currently for example. One particular crunch point is soybeans right now; its fed to livestock. China's production has fallen well short of demand; by in the region of 50-60 million tonnes, for years.

            http://www.agrimoney.com/news/chinese-soy-imports-to-fall-short-of-forecasts-in-2014-15--8048.html

            One of the largest growers of soybeans is Brazil; it converted 2 million more hectares to this crop in the past year. The represents a significant pressure on rainforest habitat. No Brazilian rainforest is likely to cause habitat loss on a global scale.

            "We choose to waste until it becomes a problem, either for profit or ideology."

            The way our civilisation currently seems to work is mainly biased towards the profit side of things. But profit over a short term, 5-10 years. This will never address problems that take, say 40 years to create.

            The issue of wind farms / fracking as regards to habitat loss only looks at local habitat. Windfarms may take local habitat, but if over their lifetime should be carbon-negative. From an energy supply point of view they may be less useful than fracking; but fracking will contribute to habitat loss on a global scale.

            I agree nuclear fuels are not all bad. Further research into using a more modern technology; (rather than one historically tweaked for weapons grade fissile material) should be done.

            "Instead of hitting the brakes we need to let them race off but with the benefits of our experience."

            Again historically our record or managing growth in developing nations; using our primary tool of the free market economy has not been good. I agree we should assist in their growth; but it will be difficult direct it in a sustainable direction, if our economy isn't doing it itself.

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: On the limits of growth

              @ MrSkippy

              The brazil/china issue is a profit problem which will likely be solved due to profit. The link you posted suggested attempts at other crops to reduce the problem and solutions will be found due to market concerns.

              The windfarm issue is ideological and will only be solved when science overpowers religion either in the public eye or the religion pushes people to the brink. I say this not against reducing co2 even though the jury is still out on that one, but because wind farms are proven to fail on every level. They are not carbon neutral never mind negative and that is after destroying as much land as possible (no idea what it does to the sea as nobody really cares, yet).

              Fracking has yet to be demonstrated as a problem. For all the propaganda against it there is little fact to oppose it, but that doesnt mean going wild. It means using fracking but monitoring its effects and mitigating risks. Pretty much what we already do with it.

              Nuclear advancements seem to have come a long way but I dont know enough about such advancements to comment. What I do know is the second worst nuclear disaster to doom the world caused 0 deaths currently and measurable going forwards and was caused by 2 natural disasters that actually killed many.

              "Again historically our record or managing growth in developing nations; using our primary tool of the free market economy has not been good."

              I dont see how this is right. The free market economy has improved various developing nations and improved the lives of many. And they gain the advantages of our improved technology without the dirty and dangerous problems of developing it themselves.

  27. nethack47

    I don't mind reading predictions but what bothers me is news outlets retelling it as fact while it the science hasn't gone through any real testing.

    We get this a lot with the what we should eat science and over a period of 10-20 years we'll be full circle.

  28. Bucky 2
    Paris Hilton

    Imminent Extinction

    I'm missing something about the "everybody goes poof" thing.

    Aren't his predictions based on an underlying presumption that food distribution behaves like an ideal gas or something?

    How does everyone in India go extinct, all at once? Wouldn't that leave all that Indian arable land for the rest of the world to work for their own food, then?

    1. Acme Fixer

      Re: Imminent Extinction

      Indians already have an extinction problem. They hold cattle sacred and cattle die in the street. They drag the carcass out to a field to let the predators have them. But the predators like vultures are dying off, so now they have a rotting field of cattle carcasses spreading disease and not being recycled by nature. I think they might have to start changing their ways and treat cattle as food.

  29. mac42

    Not to be pedantic, but...

    Bees don't fertilize crops, they pollinate them.

    Cattle, pigs, chickens and horses fertilize crops. (Deere do also, if their first name is John)

    1. Acme Fixer

      Re: Not to be pedantic, but...

      But if a bee dies and falls to the ground below a plant, then she does turn to fertilizer. They only live for two weeks or so. But overall I agree with you.

      If Erlich survives the mass extinction, he most likely won't have anyone to tell, "I told you so!" :-/

  30. cambsukguy

    The population is levelling off

    To stabilize at around the 11 billion mark, high but bearable, possibly even sustainable given the right level of technology.

    One suspects that it may well then decrease if the birth rate of developed economies is anything to go by.

    We probably need to ensure that those people can all have electricity etc. so sustainability and CO2 reduction would seem to be the biggest risk factors.

    There is a lot of coal in the earth, people will use it if they have to.

  31. John Savard Silver badge

    Well, one can't really fault Paul Ehrlich for failing to predict the success of the "Green Revolution". After all, its architect, Norman Borlaug, was pretty much an unsung hero until very recently.

  32. cortland

    "If humanity fails to die out on cue this time ... the prof's chances of ever being taken seriously - already pretty poor at this point, to be honest - will plunge to zero."

    If we DO die "on cue," no one will be around to congratulate him.

  33. Rik Myslewski
    Thumb Down

    Sigh...

    What's more embarrassing, Erlich's sadly solo series of overblown predictions, or Page's embarrassing "arguing from a pre-decided conclusion" silliness that feebly attempts to chip meager flakes off the strong pillars of well-proven climate science?

    Both, I'd say — however, Erlich is an old fart and Page a relatively young man who esteems his childlike "I know better than actual life-long scientists!" arrogance too highly.

    Thankfully, young Lewis still has time to examine the data, pore into the analyses, read the appropriate papers, and do his statistical and climate-science homework before he embarrasses himself further.

    One can only hope.

  34. PeterM42
    Facepalm

    We're all DOOMED...

    ......Oh! Wait!.....

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