“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.”
The Doomslayer- Wired Magazine
James Delingpole is the journalist who described the Prince of Wales in The Spectator as a “poisonous loon” and a “terrible prat”. As well as being wise, he’s also witty and, I think, brave, to have published an expose of the people he calls “Watermelons”. A Watermelon is a politician or campaigner who’s green on the outside and red in the centre- a more or less accurate description of the people in charge of our political lives, from David Cameron to Nick Clegg to, yes, Prince Charles.
Delingpole has a lot of fun in contrasting the predictions of the doomsayers, from Malthus, to Erlich, to Al Gore with those of what he calls the Cornucopians- those who look on the bright side of life. Time has shown that the Cornucopians are always right, the doomsayers invariably wrong. There’s a delicious episode where the economics professor Julian Simon (a rare Cornucopian in the dismal profession) challenges Paul Erlich to put his money where his mouth is. Paul Erlich had predicted in “The Population Time Bomb” that population growth would lead to natural resources becoming scarce and prohibitively expensive. Professor Simon challenged Erlich to choose any 5 commodities and bet him that over ten years they would fall in price, after adjusting for inflation. Erlich chose five and, as Simon predicted, they all fell in price. Erlich paid out, but the strange thing is that even though in this, as in every other prediction of gloom which he made, he was proved spectacularly wrong, his reputation as a sage didn’t suffer. It seems that we’ve got an inexhaustible appetite for gloom.