I actually found myself being amused by some of Julian Simon’s laments below. Julian is the economist that famously bet against Paul Ehrlich that the price of 5 metals would go down, not up, over the course of the 1980’s, and that the addition of 800 million new people on earth would not cause the metals to super-spike in price. The outcome of this wager was a complex matter involving technological changes (such as fibre optics in phone lines and plastic plumbing in construction both reducing demand for copper), and reduced demand for metals worldwide due in part to the 80’s oil shocks, but yes, Ehrlich lost his bet.
His concerns regarding human population growth and the effect on the biosphere still stand. We can see the effects of overpopulation today! But I have come to regard Paul as an extremist. His more recent talks mention he thinks the ultimate sustainable population in a post-oil world might be somewhere around 2 billion. It’s as if he hasn’t heard of GenIV reactors and the abundant cheap energy available to us through them, or that massive adoption of New Urbanism over the next generation could free up 90% of the suburban sprawl we currently occupy for other purposes. These 2 factors alone should give grounds for hope: let alone the many other “Radical Rules” I list (Replenishing the soil, Repairing Ecosystems, etc).
So I sometimes find myself even sympathising with an old ideological ‘enemy’, Julian Simon, the techno-utopian optimist who says:
All of [Ehrlich’s] grim predictions had been decisively overturned by events. Ehrlich was wrong about higher natural resource prices, about “famines of unbelievable proportions” occurring by 1975, about “hundreds of millions of people starving to death” in the 1970s and ’80s, about the world “entering a genuine age of scarcity.” In 1990, for his having promoted “greater public understanding of environmental problems,” Ehrlich received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award.” [Simon] always found it somewhat peculiar that neither the Science piece nor his public wager with Ehrlich nor anything else that he did, said, or wrote seemed to make much of a dent on the world at large. For some reason he could never comprehend, people were inclined to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they were immune to contrary evidence just as if they’d been medically vaccinated against the force of fact. Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days “experts” spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker.
However, I have not joined Simon’s ranks. Human overpopulation is a concern if we do not adopt the technologies and solutions I have listed on this site. Yet as we begin to deploy these schemes and others that turn up along the way, then I am sure that we can look after our grandchildren, based on current population projections anyway.