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No, Paul Ehrlich, Humans Aren’t Bags of Garbage

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In a new mini-documentary, the New York Times kindly confirms what we already know about Paul Ehrlich. His predictions about overpopulation have been astoundingly wrong, and his views about humanity are no less perverse.

Author of the famous panic manifesto, Population Bomb, Ehrlich made a name for himself by predicting mass starvation and catastrophe due to over-population. If left to our own devices, Ehrlich argued, we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. His solution? Targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the “selfish” and unenlightened. If the Earth is to endure, we must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

The documentary summarizes these views quite well, and includes a series of striking interviews with former disciples who have since rejected his theories. As for Ehrlich, he remains steadfast in his doubts about human value and possibility. “My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” he says.

Watch it here.

Even in countries like India, where Ehrlich’s predictions were the gloomiest, population growth is curbing and economic and ecological transformation has allowed it to become an exporter of goods.

And yet, when challenged on why his predictions never came to pass, Ehrlich gives an answer characteristic of central planners and prognosticators of doom everywhere. Such predictions, he argues, mean something “very, very different” from what they do to we pea-brained plebs. The apocalypse is still nigh, and humans are still to blame.

One can’t help but be shocked by such blind denial, but even more troubling is the fundamental view that drives it — a distorted view of humanity that’s far more prevalent than Ehrlich’s specific population predictions, whether among the master planners of foreign aid or the foot soldiers of “family planning.”

population-bombFor Ehrlich and many others, humans simply take, take, take; there’s no make, make, make. And thus, the struggle for provision, prosperity, and human flourishing is quickly reduced to a mere battle over consumption. We are leeches, drainers, and destroyers, a virus on the Earth that must be curbed and contained, if not wiped out completely (a “cancer,” as Ehrlich sometimes prefers).

Take, for instance, one of his lines in the video above: “The idea that every woman should have as many babies as she wants is, to me, exactly the same kind of idea as everybody ought to be permitted to throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.”

Humans = bags of backyard garbage. NBD.

Fortunately for us (and for Ehrlich), humans aren’t globs of trash and the “global community” isn’t some morbid zero-sum realm wherein every new baby represents a dead mushroom on a distant mountaintop.

As Julian Simon famously observed, humans are the “ultimate resource” — valuable assets to our families, neighbors, distant strangers, and, yes, Planet Earth herself. We were created in the image of a creator-God to be co-creators and gift-givers, sharing, exchanging, collaborating, and innovating alongside the grand family of humankind. Each new child represents not some bag of waste, but a a creator and a dreamer — a unique and precious person born for relationship and brimming with capacity for production, investment, and love.

Unlike Ehrlich’s, this is not fancy theology fit for a convenient ideology. History has proven it quite sufficiently, as organizations like PovertyCure and folks like Simon, Matt Ridley, and Jonathan Last are quick to illustrate. More than tweaking their numbers and predictions, it’s about time Ehrlich and others change their perspective accordingly, recognizing God’s gift of humanity and working to create a world that relishes it to the fullest.

Population boom, anyone?

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, Intellectual Takeout, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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