Paul Ehrlich Interview: The Population Bomb

Biology professor, author, and environmental activist Paul Ehrlich discusses the grim prospects facing humanity, as outlined in his book "The Population Bomb," unless civilization shifts to less destructive methods of food production and resource use.

| July/August 1974

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    In addition to The Population Bomb, Ehrlich at the time of the interview had also written  Population, Resources, Environment (1970); Human Ecology (1973);and Ark II (1974).
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    Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, in his Stanford University Office.
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    In Ehrlich's view, people who still living in hunter-gatherer societies often seem to be happier than those who live in agricultural societies. 
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    Ehrlich consciously resisted the illusion of power that having access to political leaders in Washington, D.C. can engender.

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Although Paul Ehrlich had already authored three books (How to Know the Butterflies, 1961; Process of Evolution, 1963; Principles of Modern Biology, 1967) and countless papers, it wasn't until he wrote a slim paperback, The Population Bomb, in 1968 that his name became an almost overnight household word. By the time the soft-cover book rules revised and expanded in February of 1971, it had already gone through 22 printings. No one but its publisher (Ballantine) knows how many hundreds of thousands of copies of the title have now been sold.  

Everyone working in the environmental field, however, knows what The Population Bomb has done for Paul Ehrlich. It catapulted him headlong into the very front ranks of the ecology movement's leadership. A position that doesn't particularly impress Paul a great deal: "I suppose," he told a reporter for the British magazine, New Scientist, in 1971, "any scientist who thinks he's any good is egotistical, but my ego is tied up in arcane arguments about numerical taxonomy. I don't have any ego involvement in giving out autographs. At the same time I in not sitting around feeling oppressed about it either, I don't find it difficult to shoot my mouth off.  

Well, Ehrlich (and a few of his detractors) can call it shooting his mouth off if he likes (or they like), Most of the people who are vitally concerned about the future of the planet and its inhabitants, though, do nothing but cheer every time Paul speaks. His credentials are impeccable, he does his homework and many of the predictions he made in the late 60's are already becoming too horribly true.  

Paul Ehrlich was Director of Graduate Studies for the Stanford Department of Biological Sciences from 1966 to 1969 and he is currently a Professor of Biological Sciences at that university. He is also a consultant to Stanford's Behavioral Research Laboratories, Consulting Biology Editor in Population Biology for McGraw-Hill Book Company and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. He holds memberships in the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Society of Systematic Zoology, the American Society of Naturalists, the Lepidopterists Society, the National Pilots Association, the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association and the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales, Australia. Paul is an honorary life member of the American Museum of Natural History.  

In 1970, Ehrlich—with his wife, Anne—published Population, Resources, Environment and 1971 saw the release of How to be a Survivor, which Paul co-authored with Richard L. Harriman. Human Ecology, a text by Paul, Anne and John P. Holdren, was released in 1973 and Ark II, Dennis C. Pirages' and Paul R. Ehrlich's handbook which is subtitled Social Response to Environmental Imperatives, is now available. Paul and Anne are currently working on yet another book, tentatively titled The Ehrlich Guide to a Livable Future ... and, somehow, Paul still finds time to conduct classes at Stanford, make television appearances, do fieldwork, and handle an incredible amount of other tasks.  

How does he do it all? With great good humor, drive, ability and a casual shirt-sleeves attitude. When a MOTHER EARTH NEWS reporter telephoned Ehrlich's Stanford office to arrange the following interview, he was surprised to find that Paul—one of the most sought after names in the environmental movement—answered the phone himself. The give-and-take session which followed some days later was conducted with the same refreshing air.  



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