Behaving Against Our Interests: Paul Ehrlich (#110 Encore)


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Today it could be argued that human beings daily act against our own self-interests. How? Biologist Paul Ehrlich and fellow scientists tell us we are expanding our population and economy beyond the Earth's carrying capacity - at our peril. Why do we insist on continuing? Ehrlich has been a keen observer of human behavior for over 50 years, and he thinks “we need a millennium assessment of human behavior.” If we can understand how we behave, and why we behave that way, perhaps we can figure out how to behave as though we want to hang around another thousand years. We're sharing the best episodes from Season One while we take a break and fundraise for Season Three. Please check out our story and pitch in a little at to make sure the series continues. Ehrlich is best known for authoring The Population Bomb, published in 1968 at the suggestion of the Sierra Club’s first executive director, David Brower. Paul’s wife, Anne Ehrlich, co-authored the book (though the publisher insisted only Paul’s name adorn the book). Paul and Anne preferred a different title, Population, Resources and Environment, as the book was about much more than human population. The book offered dramatic warnings about the impact of the expanding scale of the human enterprise, which included not just the number of people on the planet, but also their behavior – levels of consumption and the size of their economies. Growth boosters have criticized Paul Ehrlich since the 1960s. Some claim his ideas have been disproved and discredited, but generally those detractors have been economists (and not all economists). Ehrlich is a serious scientist with an impressive command of the facts, and the scientific community continues to publish and devour his work. His frank and direct approach, and colorful way with words, have continued to make him a lightning rod for discussion of a question that is central to the notion of sustainability of human civilization: Can technology and innovation perpetually expand the carrying capacity of our planet? In this 2007 interview, only very brief portions of which have ever been released, Paul Ehrlich shares his opinions on population, economics, hunger and poverty, and climate change. He takes aim at politicians, economists, television news, and human beings in general. “It’s not a matter of needing more science to know what do. We can use more science, but the big problem is why is there such a gap between what the scholarly community knows and what the politicians and public know and are willing to do anything about.” Learn more about Ehrlich, find links to his work, and learn more about the series at

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