Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The study of evolution examines the past, but what about the future? Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies and biological sciences at Stanford University, discusses how the human ability to adapt to the environment could have catastrophic consequences. He and Anne Ehrlich are the authors of The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment (Island Press, 2008.)


Paul Ehrlich

Comments [22]

NP from Brooklyn

Evolutionary psychology is a vibrant frame by which to view human behavior. It's a new science, and as such, is completely foreign to blinkered types like Ehrlich, who espouse a 19th Century clunky way of thinking. To dismiss it as "bunk," is as dumb as claiming we would be dead in 1970 from overpopulation.

Jul. 31 2008 02:41 AM
tg from new jersey

I commend you for putting Professor Ehrlich on the show. I am so glad he said that the population is growing too fast. I think the Chinese and their one-child policy is the only way to stop the unlimited growth of the planet. The economic, environmental and psychological harm it is doing to the generations to come is catastrophic. I only wish he had the ear of the governments of all the nations of the world. Thank you again for having this subject discussed. I have asked repeatedly for the topic of population control to be discussed. Please have more on the subject.

Jul. 30 2008 04:31 PM

I'm sure E.O. Wilson and Stephen Pinker would be surprised to learns that their very well supported theories are "bunk."

Jul. 30 2008 01:48 PM
Justin Allen from Bronx

I feel the conversation should have been more in depth in regard to cultural cultural practices propagate themselves through it religion, politics or any social convention. Sometimes it's mutually beneficial and symbiotic; other times parasitic, furthering the practice ultimately at the expense of people. Usually why a practice survives because it does have some net benefit. Though over a longer time frame it may be very self-destructive. For the most part, emotional identification with culture group overrides rational judgment. This is such an important topic and large in scope. If this awareness cannot be popularized and introduced we are simply doomed!!!

Today's conversation was really short and focused on population in a pretty topical, generalized way I thought and did not shed much light on the mechanics of cultural evolution.

Jul. 30 2008 12:09 PM
B Marx from Downtown

What happened to the right to peaceably assembly

Jul. 30 2008 11:38 AM
GTA Bath from brooklyn

laughed out loud at his defense of scenarios!

If they weren't somewhat plausible, what's the point. And if he couldn't be bothered to try and state how plausible or not they were, its just suggestive innuendo without responsibility...hilarious.

Jul. 30 2008 11:30 AM
Hugh from Crown Heights

Have to disagree with Paul Ehrlich on E.O. Wilson's "science" when On Human Nature came out. Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould were among many scientists who shredded the Wilsonian just-so stories of human behavior.

Wilson was and is a great entomologist. He is no geneticist at all.

Jul. 30 2008 11:25 AM
Mike from nyc

The simple fact is that overpopulation did not turn out to be the "bomb" Erlich claimed it was. His chutzpah simply amazes me. The population bomb must be in same bunker as Saddam's WMDs. I love the way he hides behind the fact other scientists felt the same way. What does that say about the notion of "scientific consensus" as an arbiter of public policy.

Jul. 30 2008 11:24 AM
Hugh from Crown Heights

The vast majority of Republicans and many moderate and conservative Democrats simply reject out of hand what Paul Ehrlich argues.

Certainly, conservatives think that population can grow without bound.

True story: I once heard a conservative member of Congress say that when we run out of resources here, we could just go to Mars (or someplace).

We have a delusional political class and a mostly delusional journalistic class (witness John Tierney or Thomas Friedman), so what are we to do?

Jul. 30 2008 11:21 AM
David from Greenpoint

I wonder if Mr. Ehrlich has any thoughts on the use of so-called psychedelics as catalysts of cultural evolution. The escape of LSD from the lab in the 60s arguably sparked the most rapid cultural evolution in generations and perhaps sped up the technological revolution and the green revolution. Could these so-called drugs be ways to reintroduce the concept of sacred to our culture and help wake people up to problems like over-population and the destruction of the systems that sustain us?

Jul. 30 2008 11:19 AM
Zach from Upper West Side

For a really good explanation of the process behind both genetic and cultural evolution, read Richard Wright's Non-Zero. The idea is that both life and culture tends towards complexity because of the trend for all entities, whether a molecule or society, to benefit from cooperative acitivities (non-zero sum activities, where both parties beenfit, rather than one). Cooperative breeds complexity. Human cultural evolution proceeds as it does because groups that work more cooperatively (which implies a high-degree of trust, sometims ensured through "laws") allow for more people to be part of the process, creating a positive feedback look and are more successful.

Jul. 30 2008 11:17 AM
Mike from nyc

Given his misgivings about the use of "scenarios" now, does Erlich have any comment on their use in Global Warming discussions like "An Inconvenient Truth".

Jul. 30 2008 11:17 AM
the truth from Atlanta/New York

I watched a documentary the other night...China has a one child per family law in effect..their abortion rate and child abduction rates are through the roof! Is that what we want?

Jul. 30 2008 11:16 AM
Steve (the other one) from Manhattan

Peter is right - we're finished. China and India want more cars, refrigerators, and all that crap, and the first world does little to change its behavior. We tear up the earth to make sneakers with lights in them. George Carlin was right - the planet isn't going anywhere ... we are! Probably run out of drinking water first.

Jul. 30 2008 11:14 AM
Robert from NYC

What Brian, did you forget about Ethiopia in the 80s and the other famines that have continued until right now?

Jul. 30 2008 11:13 AM
Robert from NYC

Bravo on that Professor Ehrlich, Bravo!

Jul. 30 2008 11:11 AM
Owen from Rochester

Critical Mass is a "protest rally"? C'mon, Brian. Critical Mass is a mass public bicycling event which can, admittedly, be annoying to a lot of people. But it's _not_ a "protest." (For some reason the website wouldn't let me comment under the Critical Mass section.)

Jul. 30 2008 11:09 AM
peter from manhatten

hjs: sorry but we are not smart enough. you only need to look back through the past few hundred years of history to know that. to quote the terminator, "it is in your nature to destroy yourselves" :)

Jul. 30 2008 11:08 AM
GTA Bath from brooklyn

The MTA: testiment to humans' ability to adapt and survive anything.

Jul. 30 2008 11:00 AM
hjs from 11211

checks and balances: there's nothing that can stop human expansion expect a virus. but those virus just aren't killing enough people, we are just way too smart.

but humans are the only animals who are smart enough that can change that.

Jul. 30 2008 10:45 AM
Lance from Manhattan

We may be dominant among mammals.
But I think plenty of *insects* species have us beat among all animals. (I guess that doesn't make for a good title though.)

Jul. 30 2008 10:43 AM
peter from manhatten

about 99% of species that have ever existed are extinct; so the fact that we're doomed should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands evolution.

Jul. 30 2008 10:12 AM

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