Ehrlich earned a B.A. in zoology in 1953 at the University of Pennsylvania,
an M.A. in 1955 at the University of Kansas, and a Ph.D. in 1957,
also at the University of Kansas. During his studies he took part
in surveys of insects on the Bering Sea and in the Canadian Arctic,
and then on a National Institutes of Health fellowship, investigated
the genetics and behavior of parasitic mites. In 1959 he joined
the faculty at Stanford, being promoted to full professor of biology
On December 18, 1954, Paul Ehrlich married the former Anne Fitzhugh
Howland, a research assistant. They remain married and have one
child, Lisa Marie.
Ehrlich is president of the Center for Conservation Biology at
Stanford University. He is a fellow of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
research group at Stanford currently works extensively on the
study of natural populations of checkerspot butterflies (Euphydryas).
Along with Dr. Gretchen Daly, he has conducted work in "countryside
biogeography", or the study of making human-disturbed areas
hospitable to biodiversity. Ehrlich continues to conduct policy
research on population and resource issues, focusing especially
on endangered species, cultural evolution, environmental ethics,
and the preservation of genetic resources.
Ehrlich has written numerous books on the subjects of ecology,
entomology, overpopulation, and related subjects. His best known
book is The Population Bomb, published in 1968. A complete list
of his writings can be found below in the "Writings"
Population Bomb was written at the suggestion of David Brower,
at the time the executive director of the Sierra Club, following
an article Ehrlich wrote for the New Scientist magazine in December,
1967. In that article, Ehrlich predicted that the world would
experience famines sometime between 1970 and 1985 due to population
growth outstripping resources. Ehrlich wrote that "the battle
to feed all of humanity is over... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds
of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash
programs embarked upon now."
also stated, "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million
more people by 1980," and "I have yet to meet anyone
familiar with the situation who thinks that India will be self-sufficient
in food by 1971." These predictions wouldn't come to pass
at those dates. In the book's 1971 edition, the latter prediction
had been removed. An oft-cited cause of these famine aversions
is the "Green Revolution", as it was called by the U.S.
Agency for International Development in 1968. Another oft-cited
cause was the sharp drop in the fertility rate which occurred
in the developed world during the 1960s and 1970s.
has stated that despite his other work, the predictions of his
first book are regularly cited as proof of extensive flaws in
the environmental movement. At the same time, Ehrlich also notes
that many things critics claim were "predictions" were
actually scenarios. In the first edition of The Population Bomb,
Ehrlich wrote: "The possibilities are infinite; the single
course of events that will be realized is unguessable.
can, however, look at a few possibilities as an aid to our thinking,
using a device known as a 'scenario'. Scenarios are hypothetical
sequences of events used as an aid in thinking about the future,
especially in identifying possible decision points...Remember,
these are just possibilities, not predictions." (p. 72)
Ehrlich was one of the founders of the group Zero Population Growth
in 1968, along with Richard Bowers and Charles Remington. Supporters
point to the impact of The Population Bomb and the ZPG organization
in helping to raise awareness about overpopulation and in helping
to change U.S. laws to make birth control and other reproductive
health care more easily available. The U.S. fertility rate dropped
from 3.42 children per woman in the early 1960s to 1.8 by 1975,
and ZPG credits Ehrlich's influence along with the efforts of
National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood of America,
the American Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Supreme Court
for helping to bring this about. However, since similar declines
occurred throughout the developed world, the causality of these
influences is far from clear.
and his wife Anne were on the board of advisors of the Federation
for American Immigration Reform until 2003. With Stephen Schneider
and two other authors, writing in the January 2002 issue of Scientific
American, he critiqued Bjørn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist.
Critics have compared Ehrlich to Thomas Malthus for his multiple
predictions of famine and economic catastrophe. The leading critic
of Ehrlich was Julian Lincoln Simon, a libertarian theorist and
the author of the book The Ultimate Resource, a book which argues
a larger population is a benefit, not a cost. To test their two
contrasting views on resources, in 1980, Ehrlich and Simon entered
into a wager over how the price of metals would move during the
1980s. Ehrlich predicted that the price would increase as metals
became more scarce in the Earth's crust, while Simon insisted
the price of metals had fallen throughout human history and would
continue to do so. Ehrlich lost the bet. Indeed such was the decline
in the price of the five metals Ehrlich selected, Simon would
have won even without taking inflation into account.
Ehrlich's books, many predictions are made, for example, The Population
Bomb begins "[t]he battle to feed all of humanity is over.
In the 1970s the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions
of people are going to starve to death," while in "The
End of Affluence", Ehrlich stated, "One general prediction
can be made with confidence: the cost of feeding yourself and
your family will continue to increase. There may be minor fluctuations
in food prices, but the overall trend will be up". According
to Ehrlich, the United States would see its life expectancy drop
to 42 years by 1980 because of pesticide usage, and the nation's
population would drop to 22.6 million by 1999.
Ehrlich on similar grounds as Simon was Ronald Bailey, a leader
in the wise use movement, who wrote a book in 1993 entitled Eco-Scam
where he blasted the views of Ehrlich, Lester Brown, Carl Sagan
and other environmental theorists. While of the repeated theorizing
Simon complained "As soon as one predicted disaster doesn't
occur, the doomsayers skip to another... why don't the [they]
see that, in the aggregate, things are getting better? Why do
they always think we're at a turning point -- or at the end of
his book Betrayal of Science and Reason, Ehrlich discussed these
earlier predictions of his and re-affirmed his stances on population
and resource issues. Ehrlich also has critics on the political
left. These include Betsy Hartmann, author of the 1987 book Reproductive
Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control &
Contraceptive Choice. Hartmann accuses Ehrlich and other environmentalists
who focus on population control of misanthropy, and believes that
such focus is antithetical to activism on issues of social class
In a question-fielding Grist Magazine interview (published on-line),
Paul Ehrlich acknowledged some specific predictions he had made,
in the years around the time his Population Bomb was published,
that had not come to pass. However, as to a number of his fundamental
ideas and assertions he maintained that facts and science proved
them valid. (The Grist interview can be accessed via an external
link provided near the bottom of this Wikipedia article.)
other things Ehrlich had to say was the following:
I wrote The Population Bomb in 1968, there were 3.5 billion people.
Since then we've added another 2.8 billion — many more than
the total population (2 billion) when I was born in 1932. If that's
not a population explosion, what is? My basic claims (and those
of the many scientific colleagues who reviewed my work) were that
population growth was a major problem. Fifty-eight academies of
science said that same thing in 1994, as did the world scientists'
warning to humanity in the same year."