William Ophuls: The Economy vs the Environment

A Plowboy Interview with William Ophuls, whose 1973 PhD dissertation was on the management of political, social and economic problems arising from the environmental crisis.


| January/February 1974



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Because we are likely to exceed the Earth's carrying capacity for human population, society can be expected to crash to pre-industrial forms.


MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Ain't Nature grand! She simply willnot tolerate a vacuum. Sure, the old order is dying on its feet of greed, corruption and resource mismanagement. But there's a whole new breed of still little known but keenly discerning movers and shakers coming on. We may not always like what they have to say . . . but their vision of the future — unclouded by under-the-table campaign contributions and wishful thinking — simply screams for our attention. 

One of these hitherto virtually unknown men isWilliamOphuls. Ophuls was the U S. State Department's political analyst for Afghanistan for two years. From 1961 to 1963, he served as vice consul and political officer at the U.S. Embassy in the Ivory Coast and, later, he was an assistant to United States ambassadors in Japan. Ophuls left the Foreign Service in 1967 and began work on a Ph.D. at Yale. He received that degree in June of 1973. 

Ophuls' Ph.D. dissertation was on the management of political, social and economic problems arising from the environmental crisis, and it was good enough to win the John Addison Porter Prize. It was also good enough to lure Ophuls into expanding the paper into a somewhat more speculative book — still being written — on the same subject. 

What will be the consequences if we adopt this approach over that one in our efforts to solve the environmental problems which mankind daily creates? William Ophuls is now living in California and devoting all his time to answering these thorniest of all questions. And he is coming up with (sometimes unpleasant) answers . . . as Stephen McNamara, editor and publisher of the Pacific Sun, found out last fall when he visited Ophuls at his home. 


PLOWBOY: When shortages of things such as gasoline first cropped up months ago, some people said that in truth there was no real problem . . . that the shortages had been caused by suppliers as excuses to raise prices. Is the problem a real one?

OPHULS: There's a certain amount of truth in the allegations that some part of the gasoline shortage is manufactured. And it is definitely true that we haven't yet encountered physical limits in petroleum production. There's still oil coming out of the ground. The gasoline shortage is largely due to mismanagement on the part of both companies and the federal government. But this kind of mismanagement is an integral part of the entire environmental crisis. Growth now moves very fast. When you start from a very high absolute base, you are hard pressed to keep up with it. It's not so easy to manage growth when it involves very large numbers . . . when you have to consider bringing 10 supertankers a day into a port. And, of course, these management problems are compounded by political difficulties like the Arab oil boycott.





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