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Paul Ehrlich on the Fate of the Earth

Paul R. Ehrlich received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Co-founder with Peter H. Raven of the field of coevolution, he has pursued long-term studies of the structure, dynamics, and genetics of natural butterfly populations. He has also been a pioneer in alerting the public to the problems of overpopulation, and in raising issues […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions. My name is Robert Harrison
and we're coming to you live from the Stanford campus.
There is no end of evidence to back up Aristotle's claim that man is a social animal.
The very essence of the human is sociality.
We learn from each other, depend on each other, love each other,
loathe each other, we emulate one another, kill one another,
enslave one another, engross ourselves in one another.
We are so damn social that we scarcely pay attention to anything that falls outside of the sphere of human interaction.
We're far more interested in our neighbor than we are in the origin of the universe
or the astonishing life of plants or the planetary migrations of birds.
What matters to us is the human story.
Anything else is hard to get worked up about.
Let me take this occasion to recall one of my dear friends, Jean-Claude Gees,
whom I knew since I was a boy growing up in Turkey,
and who passed away prematurely a few years ago.
Jean-Claude was the very exemplar of the social animal,
an irreverent storyteller, and a socialite,
a great diagnosis of other people's defects and plant fable.
I remember driving within one summer afternoon along the Turkish coast.
The air was exceptionally clear that day,
and some ten miles off the coast, the Greek island of Kyos, rose up from the sea like a colossus,
close enough to touch.
It was really quite glorious, but Jean-Claude, oblivious to it all,
was carrying on about this so-and-so, and that so-and-so.
When I interrupted him impatiently and asked him why he couldn't give it a break for a minute,
and appreciated the scene of nature around us.
He looked out the window for a second, and then told me something I'll never forget.
"Lanachu, nekuludiko, de nothur tajidi."
Nature is but the setting of our tragedy.
Those of you who've ever seen an ancient Greek amphitheater know that this was literally the case during the staging of Greek tragedies.
These open air amphitheaters were built in the most spectacular natural settings.
Usually in full view of the sea and the surrounding mountains,
the fact that nature remained an impassive backdrop to the human sufferings enacted on stage,
no doubt added to the tragic effect of the performances.
By the same token, this would have been part of the consolation, too,
knowing that the decor was permanent, that it had been there long before you,
and would be there long after you, more or less unchanged.
In those days people used to believe that the setting had little if anything to do with the pity and terrors of our dramas.
Many people still believe this, but it's unclear how much longer we can go on deluding ourselves.
It's becoming more and more obvious lately that our human tragedies are no longer confined to the stage of history.
They have begun to convulse the decor itself.
In fact, now that we're approaching the denu maw, it turns out that the setting is what the story was all about in the first place.
Who would have ever thought so?
Nature has been drawn into the vortex of human action, and all of a sudden there comes this terrifying revelation,
that its downfall is a distinct possibility.
All of a sudden the storyline has shifted, and we're in an altogether different drama now.
One, we're the setting threatens to collapse and bury the stage in a pile of rubble.
Ludikko denu trutajidi is turning into datajidi denu trudikko.
In his poetics Aristotle speaks of the moment of an agnodesis or recognition as the climactic turning point of classical tragedy.
There is every reason to believe that in the history of our relations with the earth, we are at such a turning point.
I have with me in the studio a person who was among the first to recognize the crisis in its manifold dimensions.
His name is Paul Erlich, one of Stanford's great luminaries.
Paul Erlich is the being professor of population studies and professor of biological sciences.
Ever since his book the population bomb exploded on the scene in 1968,
Professor Erlich has steadfastly devoted himself to raising our awareness about the sustainability of life under present-day conditions of mass consumption, resource depletion, and fossil fuel dependence.
He has authored several major books since the population bomb, many of them in collaboration with his wife Anne Erlich,
and their most recent book is entitled "One with Nineveh," which came out in 2004.
We are going to talk to Professor Erlich today about the fate of the earth in the 21st century,
and about the new biology one course, human evolution and environment, which he will be teaching here at Stanford this spring quarter.
Professor Erlich or Paul, if I may, welcome to the program.
Great to be here. Wonderful introduction too.
Thank you. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you.
It's all yours. We have, the property rights are equally shared on the show.
Nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you.
So Paul, in the afterword of the 2005 edition of your new book, "The Paperback Edition," you quote Walt Reed,
coordinator of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, who in 1993 summarized the results of that assessment in the following words.
The bottom line of this assessment is that we are spending earth's natural capital,
putting such a strain on the natural functions of earth, that the ability of the planet's ecosystems,
to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.
As you see, the situation has worsened considerably since that pronouncement in 1993.
Is it fair to say that in your view, the 21st century will be the most critical century in human history
when it comes to the fate of life, including human life on earth?
Well, I think it'd be fair to say that it will be the critical century in terms of human life.
I would expect life in some form to persist on the planet, at least until the sun heats it up to the point where nothing,
where proteins can't survive and so on. So our kind of life will disappear.
But in terms of human life, I think you can already see the signs all around us.
There are very few advantages to getting older, but one of them is you can get sort of a historical perspective on things.
And for example, I can remember really weird things like when you could get on an airliner without being searched.
And when the sky actually was blue over most cities rather than a weird color of something else,
when I, when we wrote the population bomb back in 1968, there were three and a half billion people on the planet.
And lots of critics came up and said, "Ah, look, you're crazy to be worried about the size of the population.
Let this explain to you that it'll be very easy with modern scientific advances and all the things we're going to be able to do to give a wonderful life, food, health, education, and so on.
To four or five billion people should we ever get to that number?"
And of course now we have 6.5 billion people.
We're three billion of them. That is one and a half times the number that we're alive when I was born, a living in misery by the simple standard that they only get $2 a day or less.
600 million of them are extremely hungry.
Three billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.
We're beginning to fight each other over oil. We have already done that now for almost a century.
We're starting to have water wars.
So all the signs are there and of course the most recent ones, long predicted by the biological community, are that we're going to see more and more epidemics.
The AIDS epidemic in essence was fully predicted and we're going to see dramatic climate change, which is going to do things like screw up agriculture and cause more serious food problems.
So yeah, we're already seeing the signs sadly.
In 1996 I believe it was for some reason invited to a conference in Maine University of Maine.
It was a kind of commemoration of Senator Muskeh and the topic there was sustainability.
And at that point I read a lot of your work and in particular your book healing the planet.
And I found it very demoralizing not just the extent of the environmental problems that we're facing or we're facing, but because that can be scary, what's demoralizing is that we had known about those problems for a long time.
They had gotten worse and worse and worse.
Since 1996 they've continued to get worse and the question arises whether there's ever going to be a moment at which human societies, first world societies in particular, take cognizance of what's going on and do something about it.
You're going to leave me very depressed at the end of this program, but actually the conclusion that I and many of my colleagues have formed is that we know more than enough scientifically about the directions we ought to be going at least in our opinion, not just on environmental problems but on related problems like racism and sexism and the still horrendous threat of large scale nuclear war that most people are totally unaware of.
We know what to do, but we're not doing it. And so I have shifted my research, others have shifted their research much more into what used to be thought of as the social sciences here at Stanford we've started a test of what Ann and I named the Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior to try and get open forums in which these problems are discussed and their ethical dimensions.
I mean sustainability has a huge ethical component in it, how much are we able to risk the future of coming generations by saying well we'll use up all the fossil fuels today and we won't worry about what happens to the atmosphere because they'll have such good technologies then that they'll be able to avoid catastrophe, but we don't know they will.
There are really difficult ethical questions which are not discussed in our society at all.
In antiquity, in pagan Greek and light and Greek philosophy, it was believed that it was a sufficient condition to do the good if you knew the good and that anyone who knew where the good lied had no choice but to follow it.
And of course, the Christians were very skeptical about that when you have St. Paul saying I know where the good lies but I opt for the bad.
One has to wonder whether, that's why I really applaud what this turned to the social sciences because clearly knowledge alone is not going to lead to the kind of revisions in our relations to the earth that are required.
I think it's a kind of moral turn around too, I would imagine.
Well, you know, if you think back to the reformation, I'm still on the side where one has to do good works that it's not a salvation by faith alone or by science alone.
And one of the things that strikes me is back in the olden days, there were Greece and in Rome at least in probably in most societies, what you might call practical philosophers.
They weren't the truly greats, they weren't the Plato's and the Aristotle's, but philosophy in itself and ethics was a matter of normal everyday discourse and what we have left today is Rush Limbaugh.
We're in trouble.
Yes, I would agree.
So, Paul, if I can ask some questions here about the real deep problems that are facing the biosphere as a whole.
Again, I'm going to refer to a few things I read in some previous books of yours, but you and your wife Anne say that the symptoms of our ecological ills are evident to everyone.
So we have acid rain, small mountains of garbage, beaches of Washington sewage, ozone depletion, toxic substances in our drinking water and so forth.
And we pay a lot of attention to these symptoms in the public environmentalist, but you say that we don't pay attention to the underlying disease, which you define, you and Anne define as a steady deterioration of the life support systems of the planet and the consequent lowering of the Earth's carrying capacity.
And that this disease has very determinant causes and they are in your diagnosis.
And I'm quoting here, "overpopulation and continuing population growth, rising for capital consumption, economic growthism, governmental bungling and inaction, and the use of inappropriate technologies and the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources."
It sounds right to me.
I wrote that clearly a genius, but the only thing I would, the only caveat I would add in there if I were going to reel through that again, it'll owe it's really contained at the end, is it's over consumption among the rich.
In other words, there is a large segment, I think I just indicated that needs to increase its consumption.
In fact, it would be entirely beneficial, for example, if the poor or three billion people could get some transfer from the richer.
Right now we're having what I think one German Chancellor described as a transfusion from the sick to the healthy.
And if we are going to get together and solve the environmental problems, the war problems and so on, we're not going to be able to do it with a large portion of the planet hanging on by its fingertips.
So I could give you some cheer since that was written and that is the last 15 years I've been working more and more closely with some of the best economists on the planet, including Ken Arrow here with Nobel Laureate,
Parthodas Gupta, who was the president of the European and the British Economic Association, so we all just published a joint article in the most prestigious economics journal in the world entitled, Are We Consuming Too Much and starting to look at this question.
I think everybody who's alertable to the problem of population growth is alerted, but most politicians and many economists still think that consumption is always a good thing.
And we know better and the economists are coming around and I'm sorry to ask the difficult questions about what kind of limits might be put on consumption, how do you do it, what are the different kinds of consumption, which ones do you want to limit.
And in fact there's a growing feeling in the economics community in general that we'd be better off taxing ourselves with consumption taxes rather than with income taxes.
So with progress as being made, unfortunately the progress is going on slower than George Bush can wreck the planet faster than the smart people can save it on the free.
Well yeah, destruction is far more efficient.
And it quickly sets us mind and quicker than the painstaking attempts to heal the planet as you say.
Talking about overpopulation and consumption, one message of yours that I think bears reiteration over and over again to the first world and especially to us in America is that we think that overpopulation is a third world problem.
And if the unwashed multitudes would just stop mass producing babies, then we wouldn't have these problems.
But as you point out time and again overpopulation is first and foremost a first world problem, precisely because of the rates of consumption that first world citizens are committed to and especially Americans.
So I was looking at a book by Paul Kennedy, it's preparing for the 21st century, and he says that according to some calculations the average American baby represents twice the environmental damage of a Swedish baby, three times that of an Italian, 13 times that of a Brazilian, 35 times that of an Indian and 280 times that of a Chadian or Hyecian, because the level of consumption throughout its life will be that much greater.
So clearly overpopulation is more than just a question of numbers.
And you and you have a formula for measuring this, which is I equals P times A times T. In other words, impact is measured by population times affluence times the damage done by the technologies employ, employ to supply what is consumed.
Well, those ideas go back was Ann and me and John Holdren a long time ago, trying to emphasize exactly I mean we actually did some of the first calculations of the sort that you just mentioned trying to emphasize that you can't just look at how many people there are.
In some respects, of course, the number of people is a direct factor, but also their consumption patterns.
And to this very day, you will find population being at Taboo subject.
For example, anybody who can do arithmetic knows that the more people we have, the more carbon dioxide we're going to be putting into the atmosphere, and the more rapid the climate change that's going to threaten the number of people we can support.
The news recently has had a story of the tragic burial of a couple of thousand people in the Philippines under a landslide.
What they didn't mention is a Philippines is vastly overpopulated.
One of the symptoms of that is clearance of far so long slopes.
One of the results of that is much more frequent landslides of this sort.
And the people who have worked very hard to make sure that the Filipinos keep their population growing don't seem to accept any responsibility for this sort of event.
Similarly, the great tsunami disaster was in part human-made and related to population.
If we hadn't had huge populations farming shrimp along the shore and destroying the mangroves that naturally protect shorelines, overfishing the coral reefs and destroying them, the impact of the tsunami, the waves would have gone less far inland.
And if we didn't have so many people in so many of the moving to shorelines, about half the people live in a world of a few kilometers of the coast, we wouldn't have had anywhere near the level of tragedy.
So people are not not educated enough to do these kinds of calculations and the non-education goes right up to the very top in our society.
That's where sometimes natural disasters is a big misnomer in the majority of cases.
The majority of cases it's a social disaster which creates the conditions for natural disaster.
And in fact, you're talking about deforestation as one of the main causes of these things.
And this is where I believe also the title of your most recent book at one with Nineveh.
Do you want to say what no?
Oh, yeah.
It's deforestation is involved in there.
I'll tell you the truth.
We were having a big argument about what the title of the book, because we put population in the title, people say, "Ah, it's just one more population."
Oh, yeah, right. And we did want to emphasize consumption. And we had a number of possible titles, two optimistic, two pessimistic.
And then I remembered one of I've always enjoyed Kipling's poetry at his short stories.
And I remembered a poem which was eventually made into a hymn written for Queen Victoria's 50th anniversary.
And it struck me that it would make a great title for the book with a subtitle to explain it.
One with Nineveh comes from a story based on what happened to the Assyrian Empire.
And its capital was Nineveh. It was a very big, very fancy capital. It was a very successful empire.
But when the British archaeologist got there in the middle of the 19th century, it was just a pile of dirt.
And the pile of dirt is in the outskirts of Mosul in Iraq, where US tanks are now roaming around trying to maintain control over Iraqi oil.
And it just seemed to me that Kipling's line from the recessional was very suitable.
And he was looking back on Britain's empire. And he said, "Far called our Navy's melt away on Dune and Headland sinks the fire."
And the low, all are pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre, Tyre being a Mediterranean port.
It was also a ruin. And so the enormous hubris of our leaders in thinking we can democratize the world and the process, steal its oil.
It just reminds me we were heading in exactly the same direction as Nineveh because Nineveh was very successful.
And what I didn't notice was that their irrigation canals were sulting up, hurting their ability to grow food.
And one of the reasons that was happening was they deforested the Zegro's mountains, which are nearby because they had huge palaces.
But if you have huge palaces, you got to have big beams to support the roofs.
And you got to have lots of logs to burn to warm them in the winter.
And so they got flooding, sulting in their canals, and eventually of course the empire fell.
And right now we have people who are totally clueless about what's going on.
And so not just the President of the Administration in Congress, but most of the people in charge in Washington have no idea what's going on.
If you watch the Sunday morning shows the face of the nation meet the press and so on, you never hear a coherent technical sentence mentioned.
The Koki Roberts and I can't even remember the names of all of them.
They don't know the difference between a kiloton, a kilobyte, a kilowatt, or a kilobase.
Our science is at least half of our culture.
And yet people remain utterly ignorant of what science says to them about their future and what's going on.
And I don't do to say this in any way to denigrate the humanities, which are my favorite area actually.
But we don't not have balance in the education of our people, and that makes it very difficult.
Okay, well Paul, I'd like to go back to the question of consumption because sometimes it's, it lets us average citizens off the hook a little bit too easily.
In my opinion to say that the people in Washington know what's going on, the other Philippines and that somehow if our leaders could just get it together, things would get on the right track.
So here's where I'd like to indict the average American, let's say, standard of living.
The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant was famous in his moral theory for proposing what he called the categorical imperative.
And this would have been a criterion for judging your moral actions.
So the idea was that if you asked yourself before you commit an act, what would happen if I, if this, what I'm going to do,
if you order a person, steal from a person, if everyone in the world were to do the same thing.
Well, obviously in some cases society could no longer exist, everything would, everything would collapse.
So, but if you materialize this idea of the categorical imperative and ask, if we ask ourselves, what would happen to the planet if all six and a half billion of us enjoyed the average American lifestyle?
In other words, if all six billion of us owned a car, no big deal, no, had a refrigerator, heating, air conditioning, traveled in airplanes,
received piles of junk mail, took vacations and desirable locations, eight hamburgers made of beef grown on pastures car from the tropical force of Central America and chopped and sprawling shopping.
In other words, things that we take for granted as not even very excessive or extreme, we cannot universalize this standard.
If this standard of consumption around the planet and therefore, we have to also turn a little bit of the light on ourselves and ask whether what we take as almost God given right to a certain standard of life is something that actually belongs to a kind of aristocratic first world class of people that are not
actually ever be opened up to the rest of the world.
Well, of course, as you know, the American way of life is not negotiable.
No, I think the important point is that, well, first of all, the average America has never heard of Kant's categorical imperative or the theory of, oh, the veil of ignorance.
Well, Alzheimer's has got me now, but very much more modern philosopher who said basically that you have to decide if you were going to decide how people should act, you'd have to do it from behind a veil of ignorance where you did not know where in society you would fit, whether you would be a starving villager in Southern Africa or whether you were going to be a Beverly Hills millionaire.
And I think the two things to say about that, one, of course, you're absolutely correct, two, again, I think it reflects on our job of education that most people have never been led down that particular court or there's a very fine philosopher.
I don't always agree with at Princeton, Peter Singer, who if you follow his logic could get me to the point where I would have to agree that my concern for a starving 12 year old child in Africa ought to be identical to my concern for my 12 year old grand old.
I think our kinship relationships make that very difficult, but people ought to read that kind of thing and think about it.
And I wish more people understood about Kant because it's for me morally difficult to live in a world where I know where I see when I travel a lot in poor areas and course of my work and so on.
And it's painful. I think it takes away from your own enjoyment of life where you do feel work, for example, in Costa Rica, which is thought of as a relatively well off.
Second world country and yet seeing kids in the field that are obviously malnourished is quite common, particularly far from the center of the country.
And there's an even bigger problem in how one gets help to them, which we try to do just because we know them personally without insulting them.
In other words, can you bring them presents which will give them more money to buy food or a form of food that's seen as a gift, you know, that sort of thing rather than bringing them a sack of rice and a side of bacon or something.
So it's a tough world and we are the most overpopulated nation in it by the simple standard that we have a huge population. Third largest in the world.
More than twice the number that anybody's ever come up with a semi-seen reason for having a live at the same time in the United States. And we have this gigantic level of consumption per capita.
Is there any chance that a nation like our own could ever be persuaded to embark on a course of attenuation or reduction in the standard of life?
And is there any way our economy which is so predicated on growth because our economy cannot still otherwise it kind of sinks, it either grows or or it perishes?
Well, this is something actually we're discussing a lot with the economists. First of all, we know perfectly well that the current kind of economic growth is a relatively new and certainly short term phenomenon.
So there's a huge periods of human history including recorded history in which there wasn't any economic growth of the sort we have now. A simple arithmetic tells you that.
And so the answer in some sense is yes, but I think the best way to look at it and persuade society or start persuading society that we ought to do things differently is I can mention a bunch of things that would reduce our GNP, at least reduce our growth rate, that I think almost everybody would find desirable almost everybody.
If we did it gradually and started doing it over the next day for the next have a hundred year plan. We turned this nation over to the automobile rather than people in about a hundred years.
And I think we should be redesigning the country so that most people can walk or bike to work so that there's more you know TV you know you are getting to the point where more people are actually you know working from their homes.
Concentrating our people rather than sprawling them all over the map. I think lots of people could have better ways of living than driving an hour and a half each direction to work and being shot at on the freeways and doing it in smog.
So if you if you work on the positive side of it by simply restraining the car culture here and elsewhere you could make enormous progress and of course slowly a slowly declining population towards a sustainable number.
Would be something where people could focus on the quality of their kids the quality of their kids education so and not on how many children.
They wanted to have and happen to have it can start thinking about what kind of world the kids are going to live in and so on focus a little more on their children than on their egos.
I think that that a lot of progress could be made that would lead to lower consumption but would not be viewed as all we're just stopping consuming.
It would be in rich it would be a different kind of enrichment.
I'm here at the city of Ontario.
One of the reasons I have stated is one of the main reasons I stayed at Stanford for my entire careers. I've always been in a position to walk to work.
I consider that an enormous benefit because so as a postdoc in Chicago I had a commute by car and you know I came home exhausted every night. I hated the thought of leaving in the morning.
Yeah but Paul I walked to work too but I'm there in the campus area but there are no sidewalks on the streets that we got to redesign our cities.
I think you know the sorts of things that seem far out but I think would be something that could be worked out very practical.
Practically is for example if people live in high rises to a large extent they could share cars.
So most of the time one of the cars do.
Either they're competing with each other for commuting and we certainly don't want to commute by car.
But there are things we do want to go to Yosemite.
Teenagers want to go out and make love if their parents are backward.
You know this sort of thing.
So you got to have cars that are available but most people don't need a car all the time.
And for you know five ten families sharing two cars maybe one in SUV so they can go camping it.
The other one for other kinds of short trips and so on and have good cab systems.
All kinds of ways where we could save money we wouldn't heat our homes to 100 degrees in the winter and cool them down to 45.
In the summer you know a lot of sane things we could do that would reduce our consumption enormously and at the same time increase our quality of life.
There is no sign whatsoever that as Americans have increased their consumption since 1950 multiplying their GNP many times that there has been any increase in satisfaction.
In fact all the polls show no increase or a reduction in satisfaction because for instance when I was let me excuse me for raving at you but when I was young I was able even with a Stanford salary.
I worked and and raised our daughter for the first five years basically I'm not saying that's a desirable split but we only needed one income.
Nowadays virtually everybody I know here and in Europe is both members of young couples have to work in order to keep up with the rat race of consumption.
I think most of them would rather be able to each of them have half time off enjoy the kids enjoy life and not worry about whether or not they have a brand new car.
I think most of the citizens would be with with you there the question is whether the vested interests.
Could ever be persuaded I mean the car industry is that's a huge monster and and lots of people are employed by it I mean about one in six in the United States over.
I'm a fan of Michael Moore but again when he goes there and and you know the immense the fact that workers are laid off because of the automobile industry it's it's it's a pair.
It's ironic that one has to also sequence even modest living from the you know an industry which continues to terrorize the earth in fact I think the car bomb.
Is a such an app metaphor not you know for terrorism but for what the automobile has done to human societies on one hand and also the the natural world on the other it is this kind of internal combustion that has you know.
Terrorize the earth in many ways well I think in 1970 a political scientist friend of mine myself wrote an op ed in the New York which which was called what if all the Chinese had wheels.
And now they're getting them there but I think but that's why two things that I said one is that's why I say a hundred years.
And two that's where we need the help of the economists but there are all sorts of ways of thinking about redesigning our economy and our society if we have the time to do it.
That would could lead to very much more pleasant results and one of them for example is.
Not thinking about always having everybody working full time that we can easily you know it would be nice we could move towards the European model in which.
People get three or four weeks of vacation and shorter work hours and someone you divide the work up more and the technical issues of the economy are clearly soluble we have had.
A economy that we're not growing in a material sense before and the issue is not whether we can increase the economy in the sense of.
Increasing our human capital that is our education of our people our social capital how well our institutions work how well our social relations all those kinds of increase in economic value can be had the issue is this.
Slow down or stop the throughput the amount of natural resources that we turn into junk in order to keep the economy going.
Yeah and they could read more for example with a little bit of job sharing or something.
Paul I'd like to I like talking about all the constructive things that one can do to envision how we could live differently and organize our social relations and economic policies differently.
But just a thing on the third world again because I would I was very alarmed to read that.
When you say that a present humanity is living living off a capital.
That it took the earth many many millennia to accumulate and that capital you say are deep agricultural soils.
Ice age groundwater and biodiversity.
So the aggravated decline of soils the depletion of our non renewable water supplies and the ongoing catastrophic destruction of ecosystems with all their biodiversity that.
These are the real critical problems that we face when we talk about sustaining life as a whole as we know it on this planet.
Is there something that we can do to address these issues.
Well again one just goes back basically to the so called iPad equation and that is your three factors.
Numbers of people each one's level of consumption and the technologies we use.
If you want to address them I feel and many I think most of my colleagues in fact the scientific community feels in 1993.
58 academies of science said what I've been saying now and so did 1500 of the world's leading scientists in the world scientists warning the humanity.
We need to gradually and humanely reduce the number of people.
We have to look very carefully at our consumption who's doing the consuming what we consume and so on and take some of the pressure off that way.
But what excuse me for interrupting but what do you do with the accumulation of ice age groundwater.
I know that when I grow up in Turkey as I mentioned my opening remarks and they've been building like crazy in the last 20 years all around the U. and Anatolia.
I was actually on the coast near Izmir and the house after house there's no very little rain water there and they just assume that they can keep digging the wells deeper and deeper in order to provide all that water that they need.
For these kind of fancy summer villas.
But what happens when that water is gone?
Well I mean it's disappearing everywhere the Chinese have basically no potables water left at all.
That's why in China you can accept the glass of water from anybody because it's always been boiled.
And if you look for instance the first big water war was the 1967 war which was basically over the headwaters of the Jordan who controlled them.
You look at an area like that area the Middle East of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Israel.
The water supply is short to begin with and of course all the populations are growing like crazy.
And so the prospects are grim and so you need to have fewer people you need to be much more careful with your technologies.
That is if you're going to irrigate you're going to have to do it expensively with drip irrigation and so on.
That's a very difficult job.
You just don't keep building villas that require a lot of water big swimming pools and lawns in places where the aquifers can sustain it.
It's particularly important we take pressure off the aquifers early because one of the aquifers being underground rock formations in which water can be stored because if you pump them too fast as we are around the world a number of things can happen.
They can collapse so that they close up and they can't recharge and that's one of the things that that one has to be concerned about if they are coastal.
We already face the problem that they'll be salinized by rising sea level but they'll be particularly rapidly salinized if we pump them out too fast.
We pave over recharge areas a classic example is Long Island which has so much paving that much of the water that would normally percolate into the ground and be available to drink or for industrial processes from aquifers now runs off directly into Long Island sound and is lost the humanity.
It's a matter of again population consumption and technologies and in the case of water the technologies may help in some areas with desalinization but again you get into economics desalinization is very expensive and except for very costly crops or countries that have tons of oil which they can trade for water basically like Saudi Arabia.
It's not going to be an economic process particularly if you live far from the seashore.
If you're right at the seashore then your costs are separating the water from the salt but of course if you're inland you add the costs of generating the electricity to run the pumps and building the pipelines and so on and except for drinking it's not going to be a
the biggest use of water and the most critical one in a sense out so once you quench your thirst is growing plants to eat.
That crops are the key thing. They're going to be what's hit by climate change and California for example is going to lose a lot of its water through climate change because it's stored normally in the form of snow in the Sierra.
You start melting the siaras in the winter we have nothing like the storage capacity necessary to run our present size population and thus real needs and agricultural needs.
Cheery right?
No it's going to have a stiff drink.
That's coming off.
I want to also talk about this course that you're going to be offering but just maybe to conclude on these larger issues.
It's astonishing to me that someone like Henry David Thoreau in the mid 19th century could have diagnosed his own American society to the extent where he already thought that things were in a mode of overconsumption and over-complexification and if I could just quote rather famous passage from Walden where he's again speaking to his nation but it seems so apt, you know 150 years later when he says simplicity, simplicity, simplicity,
I say let your affairs be as two or three and not a hundred or a thousand instead of a million count half a dozen and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.
Simplify, simplify instead of three meals a day if it be necessary eat but one instead of a hundred dishes five and reduce other things in proportion and he goes on and on and ends by saying that we live too fast that men think that it is essential that the nation have commerce and export ice and
and talk through a telegraph and ride 30 miles an hour sounds very point for my point of view but without a doubt whether they do so or not but whether we should live like baboons or like men is a little uncertain.
Well, I mean again you're doing something that's so rare in our society we never discuss what people are for. What lives at somebody my age, the burden of things is something that's real although I also tend to be a squirrel but things get away but it is an important issue of how should we live and what is the best kind of life and you know like other university professors I guess,
a life of the mind, good food and wine and women, the opposite sex is more than enough but you know if you're really into into big cars that's a problem.
Okay, well can we turn to this course that you're going to be offering it, it's a kind of course that I want to sit in on with your information.
It's really quite fascinating, it's called human evolution and environment. Do you want to say something about it broadly?
Well, yeah, it came, one of the things I've always felt about Stanford and universities in general is that we're, it actually represents a, an almost total transfer transformation of my own views.
When I came to Stanford I was convinced that scientists didn't know enough about the humanities and social sciences and that we ought to do something about that.
And I've gradually come to the conclusion that in fact it's the opposite that most of the scientists I know love art, love music, read widely and so on and yet many of the people, excuse me for saying so in the humanities are proud that they have to take off their shoes to count up the 20.
They don't know anything about math, they don't know anything about physics and so on and so forth.
And I plead guilty.
Not only for the mathematics actually.
But, but what the basic point is that I think that we need at Stanford and other universities basically required courses on what one might call how the world works, what the issues are from a science and social science point of view that are necessary for people to be successful citizens.
I don't think it can be a successful, a real citizen in the West without knowing about Kant and Aristotle and Plato and the cave and the shadows and all of that stuff.
That's where our civilization comes from the ethical ideas that are debated today, were to a large degree debated by Plato and people in his age.
So you sort of ought to know where it's coming from. At the same time you ought to know what makes a nuclear weapon work in broad terms and how easy it might be to smuggle one into the country.
You should know how the atmosphere works and why we're dependent on the climate in a general way.
You should know why the number of people makes a difference.
You should know why racism is nonsense and the person's skin color has no relationship whatsoever to his or her qualities.
You should understand why women are basically just as good at math as men are and all of those things which are current issues in our society which have scientific content but which it's very hard to get information on.
It's relatively easy if you seek it at a place like Stanford to learn all you need to know about Kant and Hegel and on and on but it's not easy to get.
And it's partly the fault of, in my view, of the scientific community because science is in high schools and elsewhere pretty badly taught.
I think one of the reasons is that scientists, if you're a math whiz and you go into high school math teaching you can make yourself $13,000 a year and if you're a math whiz and go into a dot com startup you can make yourself $130,000 a couple of weeks and it makes a difference.
But we have bad teaching of what to me is fascinating stuff. I include myself by the way I wish math had been taught to me better. I didn't learn the beauty of math until too late.
It was like learning a beautiful and other foreign languages but trying to learn it as I did once at the age of 55. It's much better to start at the age of four.
And so the basic idea of the course is to at least bring these issues to as many people who want to hear about them. It will be obviously my view of the world to a large extent but if you've noticed in any of the books you've read I've had every one of them vetted by a dozen or two scientists and others social and so on.
And I wanted to discuss exactly with the class exactly the sorts of things that we're discussing here and that I've discussed with freshmen seminars for 20 or 30 years.
And the title there human evolution and environment. I was reading here from the syllabus that you want to stress that these two things are so intricately interrelated that one is really like the effect of the other.
Well yeah and our attempts to deal with them. We are as far as I can see both genetically and culturally a small group animal.
For most of our history we were hunters and gatherers and we lived in groups of 50 or 100 maybe 150 people you do in a lifetime. It's one of the reasons for instance I think that we put so much emphasis on kinship and that kinship is basically our kin, our people we see all the time.
And you can see weird effects of this in a society of six and a half billion people for example six million people went to a lady Diana's funeral.
Now normally funerals are for the immediate family but she was so much on television people you cannot help but identify with people that you see all the time and the proof of that for me or you are I think anybody is with you watch
and you can't help yourself from associating with people people would understand that. That's an important thing to figuring out why the world works, why it does, why advertisers use well known figures to present their stuff because it's study after study in psychology shows that you can get people to change their ways faster if they are not.
So I mean it's just we're going to cover all this kind of stuff. Do you believe that human beings are genetically programmed for a completely different environment than the one we've created since the Industrial Revolution?
I believe that our genetic programming is very limited if there's one thing that we appear to a genetic for biologists the term genetic programming is a very tricky one so I'm I don't believe it.
I'm skipping a lot of detail but if there's a big genetic component in anything that we do it's probably in our kinship systems and the reason I would say that is when you check kinship systems in different societies they can be very diverse but they almost
always map one to genetic relationship that the people can't possibly know and it's undoubtedly tied in with this early familiarity but the idea that we were programmed for say the time of the ice ages we've been around in one form or another let's let's make it conservative for two or three million years.
You get things that were very human in many respects I mean at all if you if you don't count small brained upright hominids as human beings then you know several of our politicians including our presence is not going to qualify but but upright small brained hominids go back five million years that's a long time and they live in all kinds of different environments and so on so.
And we're mostly programmed I think for a social environment to the degree that we have enough genes to program us for anything and that's again goes back to the kinship thing but.
I'm looking here at the second week where you talk about co evolution in the human evolutionary past and.
You're talking about other organisms and butterflies and plants I'm wondering if along with the social one should not add this kind of natural what some scientists call biofilia.
Well there's a natural love of.
Other living things and how miserable and demoralize we get when we deprive ourselves of green in our environment so that's a that's a very controversial area where I would I'd give the Scotch verdict non proven not proven not right not wrong we don't know you I want to the big problems in.
I don't think we need plants around us why do yeah but then again I could introduce you to 150 stock brokers in Wall Street that have never seen a plan here I don't know what one is I mean that's it but.
One of the troubles with science I mean for example in the current silly controversies about evolution people say well do you believe in evolution if somebody says to me do I believe in evolution I say hell no I don't believe in anything.
All of the evidence at the moment points in that direction but if I could show the Darwin was dead wrong I'd go right out of here and write the paper and submit it to science immediately would you would you really or let's say here here's what I'm sure oh yeah I'd be famous I'm well here's let me try this out on you that.
Darwinism arises in the 19th century in the time of the grand theories that you have you know Hegel's theory of history and you have even a bit later you know psychoanalysis and you have marks.
and you have Marxism and almost all these grand theories of the 19th century and early 20th century have fallen by the ways they in other words they went under went a kind of imminent critique from within.
And I'm wondering if it were not for the fundamentalist or for this whole connection between.
The Darwinian theory of evolution and the tension that it's in with.
Religious Christian doctrine I'm wondering if it would not also have been submitted to the same sort of imminent critique I mean a critique from within and that we would have a very different kind of theory.
Oh well first of all it has been and we do in other words it's the theory of evolution today is not what Darwin got one of the really fundamental ideas Darwin and Wallace and that was the role of selection but it's going far beyond that I think that's what separates.
The scientific theory remember also theory isn't speculation in the language of science theory is the best you get it sits the theory of chemical bonding is the theory that Earth goes around the Sun and not vice versa and so on.
And the answer is that there are just.
Many dozens of examples of of tests of evolutionary theory in some cases it succeeds in some case that fails but there's no general.
The things that are absolutely solid as far as we can see is that all life that we know comes from preceding life and it's altered over time and that one of the major factors doing that is natural selection because or artificial selection which you can do in the laboratory.
Easily enough we understand why there's a diversity of life and so on but if you could come up with a.
A non Euclidean theory of evolution if you could really show some major factor if you could show for example that a major force.
Was environmental things that were inherited directly through the genes then you would be indeed gain a lot of fame from it I it's.
And so I think the the the idea that you don't believe in evolution I don't believe in gravity either but in both cases.
I act in my personal life as if they're true because of I ignored gravity and just step off the top of the empire state building I think the results are likely not to be desirable from my point of view and it's exactly the same thing.
With your if your for example trying to keep pests off your crops and you spray.
The same pesticide one day after day after day it's not going to have a result you want because of evolution they have the bugs are going to evolve resistance.
Well here let me just read some of the things you're going to do in the week by week for those students out there that I it's this is obviously undergraduate course that you're not.
No pre no prerequisites yeah and so you start with.
Week one Darwin and Darwinism co evolution and the human evolutionary past.
Then you have two sessions on cultural evolution you have whole week on perception that must be a fascinating guy that that would be.
Really fascinating for me.
I don't mean I'm going to give wonderful lectures I did not know incredible area.
I realize for example how much site being our main if you were a smell animal if we were like dogs we'd view the world of the environmental problems entirely differently.
There's a week on race racism sex and gender bias another week seven on population dynamics where some of the issues we've been talking about today in particular.
Sustainability and history and cross cultural similarities and different the physical environment ecosystems and the human domination of the earth and finally you know population and consumption sounds like.
Nothing controversial quite an agenda laid out there so do you think you can pack all that into a quarter well what we do what I'm doing is we're I'm going to give two lectures a week and.
In some cases it won't be all the packet all in but there's going to I'm giving them three credits for it so there will be two books one human nature's and one one with Nineveh to read where they'll get.
The details if they miss if we can't get a ball into the lectures but I'm also going to try and leave about five minutes at the end of every lecture for questions that's a hard thing for a.
A loud mouth professor to do but I'm going to I'm going to give it a shot it's an experiment good.
But it's it's an experiment that I in this Stanford Institute for the environment I think is you know we are reorganizing part of the university to try and get these issues.
Up front and by the way including people from literature and so on other words that when people say what's literature got to do with solving our problems I remind them of things like Uncle Tom's cabin.
That an awful lot of advances are made through stories show we say people like to listen to stories and they really have them.
The last question does you just want to pre register for the course for those students who are out there listening. Oh anybody can get in it I guess any old time.
As far as I know I don't that's the students know how to do that better than I do.
Well we've been talking with Professor Paul Erlich here about the fate of the earth in the 21st century. Thanks a lot for coming on the program Paul will have you know we hope want to remind you that.
This has been entitled opinions with Robert Harrison you can go to the web our web page by logging on to the Stanford's French and Italian department home page and click on entitled opinions and listen to past shows there if you like they've been archived.
You can leave your comments on our web page.
Thanks to David Lummis for the technical support. Stay tuned deck is coming up with at the cafe Bohemian and we will be with you again next week.
Bye bye Paul bye bye thanks a lot.
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