Biologist and ecologist, Professor Paul R. Ehrlich joins me 50 years following the release of his book ‘The Population Bomb’ to discuss the current state of affairs. We discuss the impact of global agriculture on the population and the impact this has had on our health.
Selected Links from the Episode
- Prof. Paul R Ehrlich books:
- Jane Mayer’s book – Dark Money
- Unstress episode with Allan Savory on the fate of civilisations
- Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere – MAHB website
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Hello and welcome to “Unstress”. I’m Dr. Ron Ehrlich. Now some fifty years ago a book was published about the global challenges of overpopulation. At the time the world’s population was 3.5 billion people, and the book was called “The Population Bomb”. It caused quite a stir. It was followed up in 1990 by another book by the same authors “The Population Explosion”. The authors of these books were Paul R. Ehrlich professor of population studies of the department of biology at Stanford University and he was also the president of Stanford Centre for conservation biology. The book was co-authored by his wife who is also an associate director of that same centre.
Now needless to say the surnames caught my attention. I mean I just love the ring of calling someone Professor Ehrlich, but I digress. The premise of the arguments was the world could not sustain a population explosion which was based on the levels of food consumption, not to mention other consumables that were going on in the Western world at the time and also based on the level of food production that was going on in the 1960s and 70s.
Then a major thing happened. It was called the “Green Revolution” when the productivity of global agriculture increased drastically as a result of new advances. And what were those new advances? Well, new chemical fertilisers and synthetic herbicides fungicides and pesticides were created, which of course resulted in higher productivity.
As well as that, modern new varieties of crops that were high yield were also developed and introduced. Crops like high-yield, semi-dwarf, high gluten wheat. We’ve talked about that in other episodes. Governments gave huge subsidies to grain growers and corn and wheat and soy particularly something and something called high fructose corn syrup was introduced into the food supply. Never before consumed by humans but it was a cheap way of sweetening foods and found its way into many processed foods and actually became an integral part of that revolution.
Multiple cropping was also introduced which is when a field is used to grow two or more crops throughout the year so that the field constantly has something growing on it and for that, it’s highly dependent on chemicals.
Now it’s interesting to juxtapose those advances that revolution with some interesting developments in health during that period which is still going on today. For example, in the mid-1970s autism affected one in 10,000. Today, in parts of America it is one in 50. Herbicides, pesticides, synthetic chemicals anyway. Also, cancer. Now even allowing for the increase in life expectancy which we all congratulate ourselves for cancer rate so allowing for that fact cancer rates have increased by 25 to 30 percent since 1975 and has significantly increased in children. Also, since the early 70s.
So, that was when the Green Revolution started and what about autoimmune conditions, diseases? The body actually attacking itself of which there are now over 80 diseases have gone through the roof. And then there’s also of course diabetes and obesity which are at epidemic proportion.
So, while Paul Ehrlich predicted mass famines and disease at first glance it was easy to say he might have overstated the potential problems from overpopulation, look how well we’ve done we’ve now got seven and a half million people all living longer lives.
But today famine and malnutrition run at around just under a billion people. Interestingly 1.6 billion people are overweight or obese. Now I don’t really think when he wrote those books that Paul actually saw that coming. And when it comes to diseases well they weren’t kind of typhoid and cholera and infectious diseases that would wipe out huge populations but preventable chronic degenerative diseases, well, they are now at epidemic proportions.
So, being attracted by the name and obviously impressed by his position as an environmental biologist and ecologist I was really blown away when in April this year professor Paul R. Ehrlich co-authored a book with an orthodontist and anthropologist Dr. Sandra Kahn. Now, wait for it. The book is called “Jaws – The Story Of A Hidden Epidemic”. It’s a story going on right underneath almost every ones’ noses in the Western world. Crowded teeth and narrow jaws which also means narrow upper airways which in turn means breathing and most importantly potentially sleep-disordered breathing problems. It was the perfect opportunity to finally connect with Professor Ehrlich. I couldn’t get them both on the same interview, so I spoke to Paul in more general terms and focused more on the content of the book with Sandra which comes up in a podcast in the next week or so.
I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Professor Paul R. Ehrlich.
Welcome to the show, Paul.
Paul R. Ehrlich: Great to be here. Great to be back in Australia. I wasn’t planning to be back until October.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Oh, you coming out in October of 2018?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Probably I come out every year it’s my second home.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well, you’ve got a place to come and have lunch and we must catch up. But listen I wanted to, I know you’ve co-authored this fabulous book “Jaws – The Story Of The Hidden Epidemic” and I wanted to talk to you about that but you’ve written lots of books and you’ve been looking at ecology in the environment and making all sorts of predictions for a long time. You wrote a book in the 1970-71 with your wife. It was called “The Population Bomb”. How do you reflect on what was the premise of the book and how have we gone globally since then?
Paul R. Ehrlich: The premise of the book actually was actually published in 68 although the edition that’s rightly around is 71. But we’re 50 years out of it and of course, the entire situation has turned much, much worse because we haven’t done anything.
The premise of the book is that the capacity of earth to maintain human beings is very limited that we have exceeded in many dimensions and particularly we’ve exceeded it by some of us doing very well and huge numbers of us not doing well at all, so we have problems of overconsumption which is a product of how many people you have and how much each one consumes. So, you can think of it as a combined population and consumption problem. We have a problem of maldistribution which is being made worse and worse in the United States as you probably know and not doing very well in Aus.
And our environment our life-support systems are being destroyed. Particularly serious is the loss of biodiversity because the other organisms the plants and animals of our planet and the microorganisms support our lives, supply us with food, supply us with an atmosphere in which we can breathe and live at the right temperature and so on. And all of that and particularly in the last 40 or 50 years since the population bomb which is the original book was published has gotten much, much worse. It’s now the consensus of the scientific community that we are in the sixth great mass extinction and there’s no sign we’re going to do anything about it. So, not exactly cheery.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Although it’s interesting wasn’t it? Because starvation was one of the predictions and the Green Revolution was posed as though as a solution to that but in doing that it’s created other problems environmentally and from a degenerative health perspective.
Paul R. Ehrlich: Yeah, it’s interesting that one of the first lines in the population bomb was the battle to feed all of humanity is over and we got attacked viciously still are attacked on that. This is largely by people who can’t read statistics of course since the book was written something on the order we don’t know for sure maybe 200 million people have starved or died of hunger-related disease.
The World Health Organisation estimates that something like 750 million people are hungry today. That is by the way in the case somewhat more people than live in Australia and 1 to 2 billion are micro malnourished which leads to all kinds of problems of the sorts of things that I suspect you’re very familiar with from your interest in stress. And we’re not coming close to feeding the people we have today, and we don’t basically have any plans to do it because our political systems if we could do it right today there’s enough food produced that if everybody was willing to change their diets those of us who are overfed, and the food could be distributed properly everybody could have a decent diet. But of course, people don’t relieve this tribute things equally in case that’s not escape that’s an escape your notes.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, well now it’s a major issue isn’t it? I mean we hear so much about this trickle-down is a great concept and a great marketing concept too but the reality on the ground is quite different.
Paul R. Ehrlich: Its trickle up. We have that… I’m trying to remember the name of the famous English robber who stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Robin Hood.
Paul R. Ehrlich: Well, we have the hood Robin system where Donald Trump steals from the poor and gives to the rich. There’s a wonderful book that I could recommend by a woman named Jane Mayer called “Dark money” which is very up-to-date and will tell you how the filthy-rich in the United States is controlling our political system and enriching themselves even more. And things are a little different in Australia but as I suspect not entirely.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, I mean the interesting thing I mean getting sidetracked here a little bit with the politics is there was no doubt that something had to change but to choose somebody like him to champion that change seems the ultimate irony.
Paul R. Ehrlich: It’s a kakistocracy is the technical term in political science. A kakistocracy is a government by the least qualified and most criminal and we’ve got a gorgeous example of it unfolding here day after day after day. We do need dramatic change you’re right but we’re getting it in the wrong direction.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah, I mean I think that the positive of that and again we are digressing here a bit into politics but the positive of it is that it’s kind of the message for me is that apathy has led us to this point and that we all need to become a lot more engaged.
Paul R. Ehrlich: I can’t… I couldn’t agree more we’re not going to get top down.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: It’s a favourite theme of this podcast is that if the change has to come it has to come from the ground up which is what this discussion is all about. Now you mentioned that the biodiversity and it’s a term as we learn more and more about our microbiome whether it’s in the mouth or in the gut we learned that the more diverse it is the more resilient it is and nature kind of works like that as a general rule. Can you tell us why biodiversity is so important?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Well, biodiversity does a series of things for us that are usually called ecosystem services, but they include pollinating our crops and it turns out not only our pollinators responsible for larger yields of crops which is often very important and not for our basic grains but elsewhere. And also, for the quality of our diets because a lot of things that really add great nutrients to our diet like tree nuts depend on pollination. More than that though of course, we have the natural pest control operations which allow us to remain in high-yield agriculture because if it weren’t for natural pest control we couldn’t do it. Pesticides, the insects get particularly the insect pests get very rapidly resistant to pesticides. We don’t because our generation times are too long.
And so, preserving natural pest control services are extremely important and we’re not doing it. Of course, everybody knows about how biodiversity helps control the quality of the atmosphere, the number of greenhouse gases and so on.
And curiously enough I think most of the people who think about climate disruption think the biggest problem is sea level rise but actually the biggest problem is what’s going to happen to agriculture. It’s already happening to it because agriculture’s absolutely dependent on climate and climate is absolutely dependent on the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is absolutely dependent on the operations of plants and to some degree animals. And we’re not paying attention to that just like we’re not paying attention as you indicated to our microbiomes. You and I as you know are really just large collections of microbial cells and human cells kind of mixed up and they’re all important to us.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well one could argue we are nothing more than a vehicle for our microbiome.
Paul R. Ehrlich: That’s right. And I’m working with my colleague in Mexico on extinctions looking at the question of population extinctions because species extinctions are not as important at the moment as population extinctions. In other words, if we wiped out the honeybees in the Western Hemisphere the economic cost in North America would be close to 20 billion dollars and a great decrease in the nutritious quality of our diet. But we wouldn’t have lost any species because they’d still be honeybees in Oz and you’re in Eurasia.
So, the loss of populations is big, and we know from our own microbiomes that the loss of populations can be deadly. You take too many antibiotics and you get a Clostridium species that takes over your gut and destroys you. And the main way they have of dealing with Clostridium difficile which is this very deadly problem caused by overuse of antibiotics is to re-establish the rest of your microbiome.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now you mentioned extinctions there and you also mentioned the sixth great massive extinction. Can you just give our listener a little bit of a historical background? I mean what does that mean?
Paul R. Ehrlich: There’s five before that right we’ve had five mass extinctions they’re actually the things that that name that give names to the division between the various geological ages. They are times when for one reason or another something on the order of 75% or more of the life on the planet was exterminated. The last event was about 66 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period when we know pretty well that a large asteroid hit the planet caused basically a nuclear winter. It’s when the dinosaurs all the dinosaurs except the birds disappeared.
And the point to remember is of course that at that time we lost much of biodiversity, but we didn’t have a global human population on the order of 7.6 billion people trying to run an industrialised civilisation there was no need for human beings having ecosystem services 66 million years ago because it was going to be 65 and three-quarters a million years before there are any human beings.
So, what we’re doing now is the equivalent we’re well into the next mass extinction, the sixth mass extinction, a massive evidence big literature and we’re not doing anything significant about it.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Because these moments in geological history which stamps one period to another are really, quite significant aren’t they? Because I mean humans were around for 150-200 maybe 300 thousand years but something happened twelve or so thousand years ago geologically which allowed us to plant and domesticate stuff. Can you just give us those? It was the Holocene, wasn’t it?
Paul R. Ehrlich: I hate dealing with the actual names and period, but the basic point is that we turned to agriculture some people claim and I think the evidence is reasonably good. Obviously, we don’t have any TV shows from then that it was a question of very high population levels and making it harder to get a living as hunter-gatherers and we moved into a period about ten thousand years ago a little more of grow stable climate which the time is we developed agriculture. And agriculture we don’t know whether that was a smart move yet because agriculture led to specialisation. People could and when hunter-gatherers could only feed themselves basically. But with agriculture, one farmer could feed more than one other person feed a family maybe two or three families which allowed the development of people who made tools people who were soldiers people who were priests and so on. And you got the diversification of activities that led to industrialisation. Industrialisation led to some of the problems that you and I have already discussed like the shrinkage of our jaws so that we have sleep apnoea and lots and lots of stress and problems with our eyesight and so on.
But maybe even more important than let us build nuclear weapons. And now we have really crazy people like Donald Trump who have the actual power to use that technology to destroy civilisation. So, until we see what happens with the Trump’s and the Putin’s and their equivalents we can’t be sure that it was smart for us to settle down eight thousand, ten thousand years ago in practice agriculture because after all we were around for several hundred thousand years before that and our predecessors were often quite successful for millions of years before that and we could have continued.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, as an experiment you would say too early to call?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Too early to call. We are certainly running chances that we never ran before.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Although the skeptics would say wow you know like look at us what we’ve achieved technologically, what we’ve achieved individually, our knowledge and all of that. I mean there are there been some positives that have come out of it.
Paul R. Ehrlich: Yeah, I mean for probably certainly for me maybe for you be able to lead a life that was beyond the imagining of say a pharaoh or a medieval King. I mean I have done research diving to the depths of the oceans on the Barrier Reefs among other places. I’ve flown an airplane personally up to over 20,000 feet, a little airplane while doing research. I drink great wines when I have the money and the chance, got lots of friends that I can talk to on skype. I mean we’re a very ingenious species it’s too bad we haven’t developed the idea that fewer of us if you want to have a successful human population. You could maybe have a half a billion to a billion people lead the kind of lives we do and keep it going for who knows hundreds of thousands of years maybe even longer. We seem determined however to destroy the, you know, to let some of us enjoy this sort of thing and destroy the whole system and the process which is too bad.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: So I mean I’ve heard it often said that if everybody lived that was going on to back on everybody live going on to back onto this subject this segues nicely into overconsumption because if we all lived our lives like somebody from Australia or America and there were seven billion people well, the world could really support that lifestyle. Maybe what’s the statistic I forget but maybe a billion people?
Paul R. Ehrlich: A billion people maybe. It would depend on how clever we were with our technologies and how much we paid attention.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yeah but if we lived our lives like tribesmen in Africa then seven billion or eight billion is achievable. So, there’s obviously something about the way we consume in our world, America and Australia, and the way the African tribesmen consumes. There’s a balance to be had there somewhere without it well Gretchen Daly one of my colleagues who are I think the top environmental scientist in the world under the age of 60. She’s a genius likes to call the other end not the African tribesmen but the battery chicken life.
In other words, if you want to do is maximise the number of people who can survive on the planet then you might actually manage to have 7 billion people living but we wouldn’t be eating very well. We wouldn’t be able to travel we wouldn’t be able to do most of the things that people now do. Although, there’s really not enough left for us to have a hunter-gatherer existence. So, probably seven billion permanently is not possible but certainly how many people you can have for how long depends on lifestyles and if you’re going to have a coke brothers type of lifestyle where you support yourself on spending several hundred million dollars a year, you’re going to have a lot fewer people than if you have a battery chicken type lifestyle where people are subsistence farmers and trying to live on four dollars a day.
So, yeah, my personal view is I’d rather have a half a billion people able to live your lifestyle and my lifestyle and keep it going for a very long time so that more people enjoy that lifestyle than the way we’re going now.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: But the reality I mean we were quite a way of getting rid of seven and six and a half billion odd people. So, it’s really about managing our expectation, isn’t it? I mean I’ve heard that set of mental health you know mental a big part of mental health is managing expectation well I think maybe environmental health or the health of the planets also about managing expectation.
Paul R. Ehrlich: It is a big lot about managing expectations. It’s also thinking about and having an ethical view that stretches to people in the future. In other words, if you made me King which I wouldn’t want to be I would make sure that every person on the planet, every woman on the planet has absolutely equal rights and opportunities to men. And that everybody had access to the modern contraception and backup abortion so that people could control their reproduction and would try and generate a movement to give us what we basically need is a slow decline in population size to make our civilisation more sustainable while we work hard on the consumption front. It’s going to humanely control the size of the human population will take a long time if you do it humanely which is we want to do. We don’t want to have billions of people dying to control the size of the population which is nature’s way. The human way would be to intervene in the death and the birth rate the same way we’ve intervened in the death rate.
But we do know we can change our consumption patterns and that’s where you really have to work hard to do it fast.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: And when you say a long time are you talking about 50-100-200 years? What’s a long time?
Paul R. Ehrlich: In those terms on the human population sides it’s a century or two to get down to a half a billion or a billion somewhere around there. And the point is you don’t have to determine the number today. If we had a hundred years of gradual decline, we could determine where the ideal population size was much better than we can today. We do know from our history in the Second World War, for instance, the United States that consumption patterns can be changed overnight and that’s one of the things we should be starting on very rapidly. There are many ways to have a happy life that don’t involve having a two Humvees and three refrigerators in your 10,000-foot air-conditioned home.
You know you can actually have sex in a tent you know, there’s lots of things and drink wine so people have to think hard about what really gives value to their lives and for most people friends, adequate food, housing, things to entertain, education and so on are much more important than the yachts and multiple automobiles and so on which we which we’ve been trained to think are important.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Well, speaking of that because I mean if consumption is a key driver. I mean when we look at the health of countries the word GDP often creeps up and it’s based on consumption, isn’t it?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Well it’s worse than based on consumption it’s not based on joyful consumption. In other words, if Melbourne was hit by a tidal wave and 10,000 people were killed, Australia’s GDP would spring up because all the cost of the medical care and the restoring it and the shipment of stuff in and so on building new dikes would all become part of the GDP.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: And are there other alternative measures of you know accepted measures?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Yeah. Well, there’s a human there’s a Human Development Index and a couple of others which at least are better than GDP for indicating human values of the human well-being, but they are all to restricted, they all tend to still look at physical growth as important for instance the way we create our currency the fractional reserve banking demands that there be physical growth perpetually in the world.
And you can’t have physically… A very famous economist Kenneth Boulding around 1960 pointed out that “Anyone who thinks that you can grow continuously on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist.” That was his direct quote and most and I, by the way, there are a whole series now of economists who know better but the average idiot economist who writes for The Wall Street Journal or the Sydney Australian or Morning Herald is absolutely clueless on these issues, in other words, you there is no discussion, it’s no significant discussion in our society yours or mine if you want to make them separate societies of the really critical issues facing humanity.
It’s you know they’re worried about whether they can impeach Trump or not. Trump hasn’t got a clue what’s going on in the world and the people in our US Congress haven’t got a clue either. Particularly the Republicans. For example, we’re toxifying the entire planet. If you look at the experiments kids that are born upwind of lead smelters have higher IQs than ones that are born downwind people who are kids who are born upwind of where they’re spraying pesticides on the fields have higher IQs than those born downwind. We are now spreading toxic substances from pole to pole. And virtually all of them when tested particularly with the children are exposed affect the IQ.
Now so we’re dumbing down humanity. I haven’t seen any real empirical evidence of that till the 2016 Republican presidential debates which proved it once and for all. We’re in the hands of idiots and they don’t even know it. Yeah, yeah that never minds.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Don’t even get me started here Paul because I drive my wife crazy when I get on to this subject and you know… Anyway, but as I said I think I think the lesson that’s going to emerge from it hopefully is that we all need to engage, and we need to make changes and those changes need to start from the ground up where if we were talking to individuals, what are some of those what are some achievable things that individuals could do to make a difference do you think?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Well, I will go back to our original topic in the sense that if you want to have your kids grow up well and happy and save money in whatever number of decades we have left before we get a general collapse, the things you should be doing which you can do to make better lives is if you’re a mother nurse for as long as possible because we have crazily separated the health of our jaws from the health of the rest of our body so that we’re encouraged to use or lose every striated muscle in our bodies you know, exercise except your jaw muscles in your tongue.
And so, we have our jaws shrinking but if you nurse a long time and then wean to chewable foods instead of the nonsensical pap called baby foods, your kids can have stronger jaws. If you keep them from having stuffy noses, which you can do if you’re really careful, then their jaws will develop properly. If you stuff the noses of a rhesus monkey their jaws, go to hell.
So, there are all kinds of things we can do with diet and care that will give people a better life now. Not much you can do personally to protect your kids from climate disruption and so on. That’s where we need as you said the ground up operation to force the politicians to be sensible. And it’s a big chore and the politicians are getting dumber and dumber.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: But listen now I you you’ve written a book, and this is what I mean I’ve heard about you pull for many, many years and just after I published my book out comes your book “Jaws – The Story Of The Hidden Epidemic” and here you are and environmentalists and ecologists, what how did you end up writing a book like that at this stage in your career?
Paul R. Ehrlich: It came actually from my interest in something though Australians are familiar with it’s called fermented grape juice and it’s particularly connected with Grange which I fell in love with some years ago in Australia. Grange Hermitage especially. And so, when we became friends and were introduced to Sandra and her husband David…
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: This is Sandra Kahn?
Paul R. Ehrlich: Yeah, we live close to each other we began to have dinner together and drink wine together and Sandra as she’ll tell you when you interview her was a working orthodontist who was not getting the kind of results she wanted with her own kids and began looking at the entire problem and talking to a British oral surgeon named John Q who had some interesting ideas as some other orthodontists and she started talking to me about this general epidemic of crooked teeth braces CPAP machines and all the problems that aren’t being solved by standard orthodontics and that led to enough conversation so we finally said the hell with just getting drunk over this let’s write a book and which is what we did. And it’s, by the way, it’s non-profit. Any money that comes from it goes to the mob for me or to her for a forward Onyx Institute, we’re interested in helping people live better lives now while people like you and I and I hope the rest of the listeners struggle to make the government’s do the right thing on the problems that you can’t solve at least in part by your own actions with your own kids.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Now just explain to our listener the mob because people may be thinking you’re connected with the underworld. MAHB
Paul R. Ehrlich: MAHB. But we like the sound of being a mobster. It was it’s the Millennium Alliance for Humanity in the biosphere which started under another name and we kept the acronym but the main idea is to is actually to do what you want to do and that is to get civil society to stop arguing with each other over trivia and make sure that the many, many NGOs, associations, village groups and so on that want to make the world a better place put at least some of their focus on the huge issues. How many people there are, how much should we consume, how much is it ethical to consume, a good one for the U.S. is our borders ethical how do our oil get under their sand, in other words, how do you deal with the very uneven distribution of resources and the fact that some of us have managed to get our hands on most of the world’s resources and others haven’t?
In other words, it’s to get civil society I think the world is coated with people who want to do good things but there’s no coordination. And the people who want to do bad things are really coordinated and you can see this in U.S. politics very dramatically at the moment, but it’s been around a long time and so again it’s getting the bottom-up moving and there are some signs in the US with the bottom-up movements on things like gun control. I mean there’s an example where Australia did the smart thing and fast and has not had many of its children murdered in schools because when they had a mass shooting they did the right thing. So, and there is now a mass movement in the U.S. that may manage to beat the NRA the National Rifle Association although it’s still tricky.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, it’s a kind of a shaky ahead occurrence in Australia when we look at the news and we see I mean I’ve heard a statistic like they’ve been a hundred and ten the high school shootings since the beginning of this year and it’s incredible, it’s just it’s just mind-boggling and so is well the policy. But listen and the change, are you an optimist?
Paul R. Ehrlich: If you’d asked me that question ten years ago I would say I’m quite optimistic about what we could do I’m somewhat pessimistic about what we will do. Thanks to Trump I would say I’m a little optimistic about what we could do but I’m very pessimistic that we’re not going to do it because we’ve seen everything that I cared about for most of my life, the environmental situation, rights for women, religious tolerance, racial tolerance, you know, reasonable economic equity have all been turned around and going the wrong direction and our life-support systems as somebody put it the war on the environment is going very well in the U.S. the war on women is going very well in the U.S. and so I cannot give you a totally optimistic answer I’m afraid. Are you an optimist?
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: I look… I think that’s a nice way of putting it optimistic about what we could do pessimistic about what we are doing, and I think that’s part of what these kinds of discussions are about. I hope is that it kind of empowers people because I think ultimately that’s what we need to do the change cannot come from above and I’m not talking God here. I put God aside for a moment from big organisations and governments. Are you familiar with the work of Allan Savory? Have you heard of Allan Savory?
Paul R. Ehrlich: The razor?
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Yes, a holistic land manager and he says on a podcast we did a few weeks ago he said the problem isn’t fossil fuels, the problem isn’t animals, the problem isn’t this isn’t that it’s the way it’s managed. The management is the problem.
Paul R. Ehrlich: The MAHB originated around 2000 when there was a huge study of the millennium ecosystem assessment about 3,000 scientists looked at the state of our life-support systems and found that they were going down the drain. And Ann and I and another friend said look we all anybody who’s worked with natural systems knows that’s going on what we really need is a millennium assessment of human behaviour and that’s in a sense what Allen Savory is saying it’s how you manage it and we’re not doing a great job. We’re a small group animal if you look at the literature if you, for instance, the average size of hunter-gatherer groups was probably estimated to be about 125 to 150 people at maximum. If you look at people’s Christmas lists or lists of close colleagues today, it’s about a hundred and fifty people and yet we’re trying to live in groups of millions and billions and we’re not managing it well and we got to get together talk to each other and learn to management and we got to do it fast and that’s why I’m a little pessimistic because I don’t see it happening.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: What do you just finally just want to take a step back from your position and just you know we’re all consumers of some sort or another, we’re all on our own health journey. What do you think an individual’s biggest challenges in today’s world on their health journey through life?
Paul R. Ehrlich: I think the biggest challenge probably lies mostly in the diet. We all you can’t protect yourself very easily from most toxic so although you can do some smart things there, but I hate to say it one that maybe Allan Savory would hate me, but we shouldn’t be eating so much meat, we should be that the two things we know really lead to longevity in human beings where there’s almost no argument. One is exercise, the other is having a group of supportive friends and colleagues. Those I would say are number one and two and then having a diet and watching your weight and not eating huge amounts of processed foods which is very difficult for us all to do is the is the big challenge.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: That’s yeah well, I think you’ve nailed it and I think there are all subjects that we’ve covered before. Paul thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve really enjoyed connecting.
Paul R. Ehrlich: It’s my great pleasure, nice to be back in Aus.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: Thank you.
Paul R. Ehrlich: Thank you, take care.
Dr. Ron Ehrlich: As I mentioned the book is a great and easy read beautifully referenced with an important message. It’s a message that I also cover in several themes in my own book. Now the amazing timing of the release of the book through Stanford University Press, interesting that environmental biologists and ecologist with over 60 years of experience chooses to write about underdeveloped jaws at this stage of his career. It’s clear, he clearly recognised the importance of this hidden epidemic.
Asking each other if we were optimists got me thinking too. I mean I definitely am. I think we have tremendous potential individually and collectively and while yes there are some disturbing things going on globally there are some really exciting and empowering things, particularly from the ground up. It’s really what this podcast is all about.
Look we’re going to have links to the book and to the MAHB which stands for that’s M-A-H-B, it stands for the Millennial Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere responding to the human predicament, reducing the threat of a shattering collapse of civilisation.
Incidentally, I caught up with Paul’s co-author Dr. Sandra Kahn so look out for that episode coming up real soon. So, until next time this is Dr. Ron Ehrlich, be well.
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