The Heretics: Dr. Julian Simon

Rich Trzupek is a veteran environmental consultant and senior advisor to the Heartland Institute. He is the author of the new book Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry (Encounter Books).


If there is a grandfather of modern day environmental skepticism, that honor should be bestowed on one man: the late Dr. Julian Simon. An unrepentant optimist who believed that science and industry continually improve the human condition, Simon, who passed away in 1998, spent the better part of his career shredding the dire – and wildly inaccurate – predictions made by alarmists of every ilk. Most famously, he discredited Paul Ehrlich’s now famously wrongheaded prediction that the world would run out of vital natural resources over the course of a few decades.

Where Simon led the way for today’s generation of independent skeptics, Ehrlich was perhaps the most important founder of the doom-and-gloom school of thought that gave rise to what we now call the environmental movement. Ehrlich, then employed as a professor at Stanford University, published The Population Bomb in 1968. In it, he declared that the world was careening towards disaster caused by over-population and rapid depletion of natural resources. In his book and subsequent lectures, Ehrlich predicted, among other things, that the world would enter “an age of scarcity” by 1985 in which key mineral resources would no longer be available; that the world’s population would drop to 1.5 billion by 1985 because of widespread famine; that the average life expectancy of Americans would drop to 42 by 1980 due to the use of pesticides; and that the total population of the United States would be reduced to 22.5 million by 1999.

Nonsense, Simon countered. Indeed, for Simon, Ehrlich’s doom saying was dangerous nonsense. In Simon’s view, the world had made and would continue to make remarkable progress. The worst thing that could happen would be to hinder that progress by changing course to address a non-existent emergency. Taking Ehrlich and his admirers into his sights, Simon, then employed as a business professor at the University of Illinois, fired back. In his 1981 book The Ultimate Resource he argued that the human ability to adapt, along with technological progress, meant that fears about over population and depletion of natural resources were nothing but baseless alarmism. Left alone to work its magic, the free market would come up with new ways to find new resources, reuse old resources and feed the world.

Simon put his money where his mouth was. In 1980, he challenged Ehrlich to make a bet. He allowed Ehrlich to pick any five metals he wished and predicted that the cost of those metals would decrease by 1990 rather than – as Ehrlich held – climbing to heights that would prove the alarmist case right: that depletion of mineral resources would make some natural resources unaffordable. Ehrlich eagerly took the wager and, with the help of fellow alarmists John Harte and John Holdren, picked tin, nickel, tungsten, chromium and copper as its basis. Ten years came and went and, in 1990, the results were in: Simon won, across the board.

Then and now, Ehrlich’s apologists tried to make excuses for their leader’s dismal failure. New exploration techniques made it easier to find new mineral deposits. Better refining methods dropped the prices of some metals. Changes in technology reduced demand for other metals. But all those arguments did was buttress Simon’s point: the free market and technological advances figure out a way. That’s what happened and, absent an over-bearing, interfering government presence, that is what should continue to happen. Just as the need to feed a growing world led to the “green revolution” in the 1970’s, which saw stunning advances in agricultural production, so did the market pressures for cheap metals and alternative materials drive down the price of the five natural resources that were at the center of Ehrlich and Simon’s dispute.

The population dud: Paul Ehrlich’s predictions of global environmental disaster were discredited by Julian Simon’s work.

When global warming hysteria began to heat up in the 1990’s, Simon recognized this latest environmental call to arms for what it was: another way to derail free markets in the name of a supposed global emergency. He had been around long enough to realize that many of the same scientists who had been at the forefront of the “global cooling” hysteria during the 1970’s, like Stanford University’s Stephen Schneider, had switched sides in order to declare that human activity would turn the world into a tinderbox, rather than an icebox. Simon pushed back, recognizing “climate change” alarmism for what it was: another way to derail progress in the name of environmental protection that would ultimately result in increased statist control at the expense of the free market he so admired.

Were it not for his death in 1998, Simon undoubtedly would be leading the way for healthy skepticism today in his cheerful, ever-optimistic way. Yet, his legacy lives on, not only among today’s generation of skeptics, but through organizations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which established the Julian Simon Memorial Award and The Institute for the Study of Labor, which created the Julian L. Simon Keynote Lecture.

Simon enjoyed great success exploding the more fanciful environmentalist projections, yet he was not above making predictions of his own. “This is my long-run forecast in brief,” Julian Simon once said. “The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today’s Western living standards. I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse.” Recent history has proved this maverick entirely right.

  • USMCSnpier

    The ideal world of environmentalism is not twenty-first-century Western civilization; it is the Garden of Eden, a world with no human intervention in nature, a world without innovation or change, a world without effort, a world where survival is somehow guaranteed, a world where man has mystically merged with the "environment." Had the environmentalist mentality prevailed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we would have had no Industrial Revolution, a situation that consistent environmentalists would cheer–at least those few who might have managed to survive without the life-saving benefits of modern science and technology.

    The expressed goal of environmentalism is to prevent man from changing his environment, from intruding on nature. That is why environmentalism is fundamentally anti-man. Intrusion is necessary for human survival.

    • badaboo

      Tell that to the Native Americans , they seemed to have been doing quite well for several millenia .
      I buy your intrusion bit USMCSniper , but not mindless intrusion , rather intrusion with some foreknowledge and intelligence .
      In Reality that which you conserve , preserves you .

  • Wayne

    "…took the wager and, with the help of fellow alarmists John Harte and John Holdren…,". Could this be the same moronic John P. Holdren that is now Obama's Science and Technology Czar?

    • Redbone
      • Wayne

        "…enforced population controls, including forced sterilization for women after they gave birth to a designated number of children…" — From the Wiki. Decades after making such a statement and he's still a respected public figure – these people have absolutely no shame!

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

        Here's another good intro to Holdren:

        http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=112073

  • BMR

    why doesn't the moderator remove this rubbish?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/DavidSwindle DavidSwindle

      Happy now?

  • badaboo

    To Wayne , you know as well as I that the views on enforced populkation controls are no more mainstream anong environmentalists than the Posse Commitas is to the mainstream of poltics . Cherry picking screwballs , no matter which side your own is rather disingenuous .

    • Wayne

      You're wrong on all three of your il-lucid assertions.

      1) Environmentalist's regard the sanctity of a termite mound above that of human life, thus population control = environmentalism. Re-read USMCSniper's post, and the above article for clarification.

      2) "We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as POWERFUL, just as STRONG, just as WELL-FUNDED." — Barack Obama. Sounds like Posse Comitatus to me.

      Besides, it's not that the notion hasn't yet become mainstream (only because it's not repeated in public), it's that the left actually "thinks" this way.

      3) "Cherry picking"? Really? I ask a question about a specific person mentioned in an article and I'm cherry-picking screwballs? Time permitting I could go on… with the Obama quote recited above I should start with him…

      And please spare me a nuanced apologetic. It only proves the left's lack of principles.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

        Wayne's exactly right.

        The ultimate goal of the GREENS is to return the earth to its pristine natural state with vast natural uninhabited areas, and a few small self-contained communities created for human habitation.

        That plan, which was formalized at the UN's 1st Earth Day in Rio in 1992, is called
        "Agenda 21", their comprehensive plan for the 21st century.

        BTW: Their utopian "plan" calls for a maximum human population of 500,000,000, which means that 6.2 billion of us have to go !

        This may not be the vision of the future that most of the rank & file of environmentally concerned people foresee, but it most certainly is the vision shared by all of the top progressive leaders of the developed nations in the UN, and the UN leaders themselves, who seem to envision themselves as the lords of the manor once all national sovereignty has been eliminated, and they become the one central government of the planet.

        Isn't it ironic ? When you think back to all of the megalomaniacs throughout history who we've survived, who's burning ambition was to "Rule the World", the ones who will finally pull it off will be the group we formed to keep us all safe from future megalomaniacs.

        • badaboo

          You're off your meds Swemson , hey are you hiding under your bed banging away on your keyboar . YEA IT"S CHERRYPICKING CHUMP .
          When you attach a moron who made the statements you allege , and try an broadbrush all environmentalism under such a banner , all I can say is , it takes another moron to even give pause to such an outlandih notion …6.2 billion of us have to go huh ?

          Dark Global Conspiracies ….Wooooooooo, them evil environment people , pinko commie rats and lefties …. oh brother , what grade are you in in grammar school Swemson ? And I know Johnnies desk is right next to yours . Hey man …ther's 6.2 billion poeople out there THAT GOTTA BE WARNED ……GO TELL'EM SWEMSON , BEFORE IT 's TOO LATE !!!!!!!!

          • badaboo

            And don't forget to tell johnnie to make alot of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches , you vguys are gonna be gone a long long time .I'll be back here cheering for ya …hmmm…let me see how many square hectares of land on the Earth -divided by 500,000, 000 ? I want mine in waterfront property ….. I figure you and johnnie get the whole Sahara desert ….didn't you say "Warm was good " ??

  • badaboo

    To USMCSniper , no pal survival is not guaranteed , nor can it be guaranteed , nor is anyone trying to guarantee it , however you can increase the odds . The ability to recognize any detrimental effects industry may have had on people and the land in the 18th and 19 century was based on scientific knowledge available at the time . There was ignorance of such things [but not all in those times [like asbestos and its effects on humans ] Stip mining of coal , is a good example and that battle continues between the pros and cons . If not for environment concern , the Coal companies would feel no obligation whatever to restore the land they destroyed , which was proven to cause larger problems such as flooding , scarcity of wild life , and overall degradation of the land and surroundings …this battle continues , as incidents of collapse of company damns go on and several still remain a threat to human life ..that threat has been proven by experience and the loss of life . So you dont throw the baby out with the wash water .

    • johnnie

      This is addressed to badaboo, and to some of the comments made re: harmful effects made/caused by industry.
      IF, that was the sole expressed purpose of Paul Erlich and ilk that would have been sufficient for Julian Simon and his side.
      Since, clearly, that is NOT what the ilk were interested in claiming, the ilk in fact restorted to chicken little apoplpectic dire predictions often in sciences they knew little about (Paul Erlich's expertise is in the field of study of butterflies and insects, how does that qualify him to make scientific observations re: climate change, human populations etc, Answer: It doesnt.)
      and since this article is SOLELY concerned with Erlich's ilk vs Simon's like, THEN we have to assume you are either a bold faced LIAR or simply did not read the article clearly enough. Maybe the meds or ritilin werent strong enough today, who can say.

      • badaboo

        I stated in a previous post , that it was disingenuous to cherry pick the screwballs , and I thought i made it clear by inference that the use of the word "screwballs " was applied to Ehrlich . Concern for the environment is a legitimate concern and does not , nor should not rest entirely in the domain of the LEFT or RIGHT . There ARE scientifially and empiracly proven negative effects that have been visited on the environment , they have cost lives , livelihoods , and have destroyed wildlife which is both necessary as FOOD , and part of the food chain up and down the line . Pollution by mercury and farming fertilizer runoff has destroyed Florida Bay , The net rsult for the styate fishing industry is a 90% decrease in fish caught by fisherman bot in the industry and private sectors since 1910 .These are not alarmist statistic . They are REAL and PROVEN figures .

        • badaboo

          I worked merchantmen for 7 years , and I can tell you , that you can saee it on the high seas .On a voyage from NY to Bremen , upon entry to the North Sea , there wasn't an hour that went by , where you couldn't see floatsam in the water , everything from beer and soda cans , bottles , dunnage [which wreaks havoc on ships propellors , and yes plastic six pack wrappers and the like , from the exit of the Channel all the way to Bremen . As a kid i fished Jamaica bay , and the fish were plentifull , everthing from eels , striped bass , flounders , clams crabs , you name it …by the time I was sixteen you couldn't eat any of it , it was polluted . The more the NYC Garbage barges dumped ,the worse it became until you needed a bloody fishing boat to take you 20 miles out to get clean fish .Scientists ,not alarmists sqwauked and something was finally done .THAT is activist environmentalism . If anyone is against THAT , then they need to get a rounded education .
          Oh …and please tell , how you come to the conclusion that I am a LIAR , based on the 3 posts I have put up .

          Better brush up on your reading comprehension pally .

  • badaboo .

    …and NO …USMCSniper , the purpose is not to prevent man from changing his environment , but from changing it to man's own detriment . There is a difference , once considered after putting aside the alarmists ./

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

      Everything you're saying is based upon grossly incorrect assumptions, all stemming from the Global Warming hoax:

      1: Warming is good. The only type of climate change that poses a threat to mankind is extreme cooling, and we can't do anything about either other than learn to adapt to it. If you doubt this, ask yourself where you'd prefer to live, on a balmy island in the tropics, or in Northern Greenland with the Eskimos. Anyone with an IQ over 10 knows which type of environment is more conducive to life.

      2: CO2 is a beneficial trace gas which has a statistically insignificant affect on global temperatures at most. The amount of it in our atmosphere that come from man's use of hydro-carbon based fuels amounts to only 4% of total CO2, or 16ppm which = 1 molecule in every 62,500 in the atmosphere. If you think that's enough to affect our climate, you need a lobotomy.

      • badaboo

        What ? hey slick my IQ is over 10 , and it seems to be light years above yours . First learn to read , then critrize what I have actually said , rather than what your one way biased mind is squirming about . And it seem you've already had your lobotomy , and they took out too much .

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/Swemson Swemson

        You're just an ignorant troll.

        GO AWAY!

        • badaboo

          I didn't refute your off topic thrown in statement , because it is irrelevant . "Everything I'm saying is ".?…. I didn't say anything about climate change or co2 , so what are you talking about ? You need attention ?

          PAY ATTENTION .
          I think with some here , just mention the words conservatiuon or environment and YOUR wild eyed pavlovian responses ensue like swarming mosquitoes

  • johnnie

    part 2

    Example: In 1961 Rachel Carson in Silent Spring declared that DDT would harm the entire human race. NO SCIENTIFIC WRITTEN PEER REVIEWED EVIDENCE WAS PRESENTED, MERELY HER ASSININE ASSERTION THAT THIS "could" HAPPEN.
    In her 1995 book Trashing the Planet Dixy Lee Ray called this propaganda for what it was…hysterical and a lie. DDT never killed one single human being. A fact. It was actually reducing world wide deaths from malaria. But…US and other countries rushed to ban DDT before all the scientifc data were in.
    Yes, skepticism doesnt accept blindly everything business says, it also casts aspersions on the other side's mistakes. HOWEVER, the point of this article was clearly stated in the title. So either you're a liar or someone not very keen on the
    If you want to start an agit prop alliance for all the "sins" of big business, they only want to pollute poison the world, etc. that's your 1st Ammend. right. Go ahead. But in future, try sticking to what the articles content actually focuses on….with or without your meds and ritilin.

    • Swemson

      John;

      Don't waste your time with this idiot. He's a troll, and all you're doing is playing his game.

      The more we ignore these cretins, the less they'll bother us.

      • badaboo

        LOL….Oh , you're " bothered " Swemson ? Really ?
        troll /idiot / cretin = anyone who disagrees with your party line , eh Swemson .?

        LOL…but you haven't ignored me , everything but …hissy fits and ad hominem attacks ..try some midol sport .

  • badaboo

    You make a good parrot johnnie , look face it man , you're a true-blue brainwashed Limbaugh boy . If you think man hasn't changed the environment , especially on a local level in several detrimental ways , brother you've been living in a cave . Denude land , you get a desert , there are many examples , some has been recovered but at great cost , pollute a seacoast like the spills off France ,and Alska , and livelihoods are ruined , for decades …do you deny this ? I dont give credence to alarmists like Erlich , or the cherry picked screwballs you choose to focus on , I made that clear , and all this blather from you and likeminded parrots , basically from one statement made , "not throwing the baby out with the washwater " ….if your unfamiliar with the english vernacular , it is a euphemism , and it simplly meant that you dont reject a whole body of science , or the notion of environmentalism based on the statements made by someone like Erlich .

    You are doing nothing more than looking for an excuse to attack that which you've been pablum fed and trained to attack .

    Go take a smart pill , you're in dire need of one .

  • tommy boy

    How about a class action suit against algore. After all he has profited in the hundreds of millions with his junk science. Any Lawyers listening?