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The Bet

The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future

Paul Sabin
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Bet
    Book Description:

    In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals captured the public's imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom. Ehrlich, author of the landmark bookThe Population Bomb,predicted that rising populations would cause overconsumption, resource scarcity, and famine-with apocalyptic consequences for humanity. Simon optimistically countered that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets, technological change, and our collective ingenuity.

    Simon and Ehrlich's debate reflected a deepening national conflict over the future of the planet.The Betweaves the two men's lives and ideas together with the era's partisan political clashes over the environment and the role of government. In a lively narrative leading from the dawning environmentalism of the 1960s through the pivotal presidential contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and on into the 1990s, Paul Sabin shows how the fight between Ehrlich and Simon-between environmental fears and free-market confidence-helped create the gulf separating environmentalists and their critics today. Drawing insights from both sides, Sabin argues for using social values, rather than economic or biological absolutes, to guide society's crucial choices relating to climate change, the planet's health, and our own.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19888-1
    Subjects: Economics, Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The lanky man with short black hair and sideburns almost to his chin sat down next to late-night host Johnny Carson, forThe Tonight Show, in early January 1970. Paul Ehrlich, a thirty-seven-year-old biology professor at Stanford, leaned forward in his seat, determined to alert his national television audience to the threat he saw imperiling humanity and Earth—the danger of overpopulation. Ehrlich had made his name two years earlier with a blockbuster jeremiad,The Population Bomb. “The battle to feed humanity is over,” Ehrlich warned in his book, predicting that hundreds of millions of people “are going to starve...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Biologist to the Rescue
    (pp. 10-61)

    It was the winter of 1968, and David Brower wanted to recruit Paul Ehrlich. The longtime executive director of the Sierra Club had heard Ehrlich on the radio predicting disaster: food shortages and famines, a deteriorating natural environment, and increased conflict on a crowded planet. Now Brower wanted the thirty-five-year-old Stanford biologist to write up his ideas as a book for a Sierra Club series of paperbacks published by Ballantine Books. Ehrlich agreed. In a fit of feverish productivity, Ehrlich collaborated closely with his wife, Anne, to write the manuscript over the next few months. He wrote the draft “as...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Dreams and Fears of Growth
    (pp. 62-95)

    While Paul Ehrlich spent the winter of 1970 racing around the country speaking on national television and radio and to mostly adoring crowds, Julian Simon stayed at home in Urbana, Illinois. No one cared much about what the little-known professor of economics and marketing thought of environmental problems. In late February, however, the prominent psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton canceled a planned speech on the youth movement to the YMCA/YWCA Faculty Forum in Urbana. Julian Simon agreed to speak in Lifton’s place. Simon’s talk, “Science Does Not Show There Is Over-Population,” laid out the themes he would pursue over the next...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Listening to Cassandra
    (pp. 96-130)

    In June 1974, Paul Ehrlich and his close friend John Holdren flew from California to Washington, DC, to testify before Congress. They had been invited to share their thoughts on a proposal to require government economists to gather and share data on key commodities and materials. The Senate hearing revealed how muchThe Limits to Growthand fears of scarcity gripped the imagination of Congress in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo, which quadrupled oil prices and created the sense of a national energy crisis. Washington senator Warren Magnuson, who chaired the hearing, declared that the “choking off” of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Triumph of Optimism
    (pp. 131-180)

    The path to Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich’s bet led through the intellectual jousting of scholarly journals and newspaper op-ed pages. Simon and Ehrlich clashed in print directly for the first time in the summer of 1980. In the June issue ofScience, Simon launched a blistering attack on environmental doomsayers. He opened the article by debunking aNewsweekand United Nations story that more than a hundred thousand West Africans had died of hunger caused by drought between 1968 and 1973. In fact, only a small fraction of that number had died as a result of the drought. Exaggerated...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Polarizing Politics
    (pp. 181-216)

    One day in October 1990, Julian Simon picked up his mail at his house in suburban Chevy Chase, Maryland. In a small envelope sent from Palo Alto, California, Simon found a sheet of metal prices along with a check from Paul Ehrlich for $576.07. There was no note.

    Simon had prevailed in their bet, by every measure. Despite a record increase in the world population from 4.5 to 5.3 billion people, the prices of the five minerals—chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten—had fallen by an average of almost 50 percent. Twenty years after he had publicly attacked Paul...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Betting the Future of the Planet
    (pp. 217-228)

    Extreme voices have come to dominate American politics, and the partisan divide has deepened. Contributing to this division are profoundly different ways of seeing the world, such as the divergent perspectives of Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. Each had important insights to offer about science, economics, and society. But neither presented a vision that can stand alone. The history of Ehrlich and Simon’s conflict instead reveals the limitations of their incompatible viewpoints. Their bitter clash also shows how intelligent people are drawn to vilify their opponents and to reduce the issues that they care about to stark and divisive terms....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 229-266)
  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 267-291)
  13. Index
    (pp. 292-304)