The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future

Yale Univ. 2013. 320p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300176483. $28.50. SCI
In 1980 Stanford University biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, author of the best-selling The Population Bomb, agreed to bet libertarian University of Illinois economist Julian Simon on a prediction as to the price of five metals a decade later. Sabin (history, Yale Univ.; Crude Politics: The California Oil Market, 1900–1940) traces their lives against a background of shifting environmental awareness and policies. Ehrlich gained fame through best-selling books and media appearances, discussing the dangers of human overpopulation and overconsumption (he thought massive demand for metals would raise their prices). He and Simon exchanged broadsides in academic papers, editorials, and books. Simon won their public bet—the price of metals sank. Few of Ehrlich's feared shortages and famines have occurred. In the longer term, though, he may prove to be right.
VERDICT Sabin's approach to our debates over population growth through discussing the Simon-Ehrlich wager is accessible and illuminating. Those interested in addressing our global tipping points through this historical perspective will enjoy this work.
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