Wired has the most (un?) intentionally funny line I’ve seen all morning in this interview with Paul Ehrlich:

Ehrlich, now head of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology, has always had a knack for seeing the big picture, even if his specific predictions haven’t always panned out.

I understand that it’s unfair to tag big thinkers for missing a detail here or there. And Ehrlich has (sort of) admirably (kind of) disavowed his demographic classic, The Population Bomb . But he did write 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.” And then, when that didn’t work out, he wrote another book positing the same basic thesis, The Population Explosion , in 1990.

In fact, we now know that the biggest demographic problem facing the world is a population collapse, which looms on the other side of 2050. If fertility rates don’t change, then world population will peak somewhere between 9 billion and 12 billion and then sharply contract within the next 75 years.

Paul Ehrlich may be an interesting thinker, but the opposite of what Wired postulates is true: While he may have gotten a few details right here and there, he’s demonstrated a real knack for never understanding the big picture .

Articles by Jonathan V. Last