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« Scotland's green energy policy in the balance | Main | The Kraken wakes »

Phil Trans B says end of world nigh

The Royal Society's elevation of Paul Ehrlich to the ranks of the fellowship last year was a surprising development, given the great doomsayer's predeliction for being entirely wrong about everything. Many noted at the time that Ehrlich shares Paul Nurse's interest in the global population figures and wondered whether Ehrlich's election as a fellow was connected to Nurse's election as president. As I understand it, however, new fellows are appointed after a vote of the existing fellowship, so presumably there was in fact broad support for Ehrlich's candidacy. There is no accounting for taste.

Anthony Watts recently noted the publication of a new Ehrlich paper in the Royal Society's Phil Trans B, in which full vent is given to the tale of environmental doom that he has been getting so badly wrong for the last 30 years. Is this kind of millenarian nonsense new for Royal Society Journals? I certainly have no conception of their stable of publications as being particularly full of woo in the way that, say, Nature is. Have I missed anything?


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Reader Comments (37)

Full of woo? Their journals might sell a few more if they were

Jan 12, 2013 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndyL

Only made it as far as para2 in the introduction and gave up with Prince Charles, John Beddington, and climate disruption.

Jan 12, 2013 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad"

Jan 12, 2013 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

The Royal society gets £50 million a year. It is no longer a scientific organisation it is simply a government quango and Ehrlich's appointment should be taken as merely another quango appointment, given, like the others, not for competence but for political loyalty.

Jan 12, 2013 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Craig

Also discussed at

Jan 12, 2013 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

Considering the number of foot in mouth moments experienced by the right Charlie who wished (loudly of late) to become our king, all I can say is that I hope the queen lives to be 150.

Jan 12, 2013 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterDung

The low comment count indicates to me that even among folk who pay some small attention to the output of this stuff - the content is getting beyond the capacity of the language to criticize or even make fun of. The abysmal capabilities of our leaders - and make no mistake - that these folk see themselves as our leaders is writ plain in every pompous PR release.

RS blundering is mirrored across other UK state institutions - the conceit of the puffed up, status obsessed apparatchiks who are constantly peddling fashionable and bankrupt ideologies and mining off-topic agendas from their (well remunerated) positions of trust is being noticed.

Public organisations with near zero effective accountability, easy access to (non-votive, preferably taxpayer sourced ) funding and weak leadership / management are ripe for entryism / subversion. This applies to government, charities and professional bodies. Houghton at UKMO fits the pattern well.

There's simply too many bureaucrats - It seems like every day now I see folk campaigning hard to be put on the "B Ark" as per the Douglas Adams fantasy - only now, (here he goes again) we might just be able to do it thanks to PayPal, Elon Musk & SpaceX offering Mars Pioneer tickets (one way) at less than the annual salary of so many of these goons (don't even start me on the pensions)

I mean ... the f-wits in the BMA fancy themselves as authorities on climate physics and green lifestyle choices - as do Amnesty International and even the Institute of Mechanical Engineers fancy themselves as experts in out of date ready meals.

And Prince Charles preaches regularly to the inhabitants of the greenhouse or is that Green House?

Jan 12, 2013 at 2:19 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I strongly recommend Ben's post Malthus’s Zombie. Witty, passionate, correct. Choose any three.

Jan 12, 2013 at 2:22 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Ehrlich has had each and every one of his "the end is nigh" predictions fail.
[Snip - raise the tone please]
Instead the RS elect him a fellow.
Says much for their current standards and thinking.

Jan 12, 2013 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

[Snip -raise the tone please]

Jan 12, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Registered Commentershub

What should scientists do?

... put more effort into finding the best ways of accomplishing the necessary re-modelling of energy and water infrastructure.

Scientists, if they follow Ehrlich's advice, should be locked up.

Jan 12, 2013 at 4:03 PM | Registered Commentershub

[Snip - raise the tone please]

Jan 12, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Registered Commentershub

It's a far cry from the halcyon days of the Royal Society in the 18th and 19th century when it truly was a ground breaking organisation. Very well recounted in Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder. It is long past its sell by date. It made a refreshing change to watch the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Anybody see them? Some proper science. I liked the young girl, clearly indoctrinated at school, who when asked if she knew what gases mainly made up the atmosphere replied oxygen and carbon dioxide. Reassuringly, nearly all the other young people knew the right answer was nitrogen.

Jan 12, 2013 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

[Snip - venting]

Jan 12, 2013 at 4:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

...a future global collapse does not require a careful definition

Says it all.

Ehrlich has excused himself yet again of this tiresome requirement of "careful definition", he can get on with the more exciting stuff demanding "changing human behaviour".

That's what Paul Nurse wants apparently.

The RS used as an agent for "changing human behaviour" and be damned if it needs to provide a "careful definition" why ;)

Jan 12, 2013 at 5:16 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

severely limit climate disruption ...

restrict expansion of land area for agriculture

... [we should] become more vegetarian

...dangerous anthropogenic climate change could ravage agriculture

To our minds, the fundamental cure, reducing the scale of the human enterprise...
require changes in human behaviour

change the trajectory of population growth humanely ...

We know from such things as the World War II mobilizations that many consumption patterns can be altered dramatically ...

... humanity's entire system for mobilizing energy needs to be rapidly transformed.

...means dramatically transforming much of the existing energy mobilization infrastructure

...changing human behaviour to make the energy system much more efficient

...central challenge, of course, is to phase out more than half of the global use of fossil fuels by 2050

... gigantic and largely successful disinformation campaign in the USA ways of accomplishing the necessary re-modelling of energy and water infrastructure

... produce rapid changes in institutional or individual behaviour

...awareness among scientists that humanity is in deep trouble

What an irrepressible stream of woo.

Jan 12, 2013 at 5:57 PM | Registered Commentershub

Monumental, but not impossible if the political will could be generated globally to give full rights, education and opportunities to women, and provide all sexually active human beings with modern contraception and backup abortion.

This 'paper' was written by Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich. It was reviewed by a team from the Royal Society. There were contributions in the form of suggestions and comments from "Ken Arrow, Scott Barrett, Andy Beattie, Dan Blumstein, Corey Bradshaw, Greg Bratman, Paul Brest, Jim Brown, Bob Brulle, Gretchen Daily, Lisa Daniel, Timothy Daniel, Partha Dasgupta, Nadia Diamond-Smith, Tom Dietz, Anantha Duraiappah, Riley Dunlap, Walter Falcon, Marc Feldman, Rachelle Gould, Larry Goulder, John Harte, Mel Harte, Ursula Heise, Tad Homer-Dixon, Bob Horn, Danny Karp, Don Kennedy, Michael Klare, Simon Levin, Jack Liu, David Lobell, Doug McAdam, Chase Mendenhall, Hal Mooney, Fathali Moghaddam, Dennis Pirages, Graham Pyke, Gene Rosa, Lee Ross, Jose Sarukhan, Kirk Smith, Sarah Soule, Chris Turnbull and Wren Wirth."

None of them saw anything wrong with the quoted statement. The paper carries several such statements. None of the above scientists saw anything wrong with any of them.

These scientists are people right? What value are they adding to humanity, other than plotting its downfall? Who will express anger against this anti-humanism?

Jan 12, 2013 at 7:02 PM | Registered Commentershub


Jan 12, 2013 at 7:05 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Count me as one who is much more concerned about "underpopulation" than "overpopulation". I am talking about underpopulation in a relative sense here. Many of our financial and social systems were setup in an era of a steadily increasing population, and are almost totally dependent on the assumption that this state of affairs would continue indefinitely.

When people typically have 3 or 4 children, it is relatively easy for those children to support their parents' generation in retirement, whether through government tax transfers or private interest/dividend payments. In the present situation in the developed world of 1 or 2 children per couple, it is very hard to see how this can continue.

I'm one who believes that the reduced birth rate of the past generation is already causing grave economic problems in many places, and is one of the underlying causes behind the present economic crisis. If you read past the headlines, there has been over the past decade a persistent downward market pressure on interest rates because there have not been (relatively) enough young people in their "prime borrowing years" to soak up the assets of older people in their "prime lending years". People were not getting the returns on their money that they expected, which led to all sorts of "creative" strategies to try to keep up historic return rates, and these ultimately blew up.

The scary thing is, it can only get worse, at least in the short term, because it will take over 20 years to produce more people in their 20s.

Jan 12, 2013 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

'One of the aims of the Royal Society’s ‘people and the planet’ study is to get population back on the agenda.'

Jan 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Seens a good time to point to this

Jan 12, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

Ehrlich is a foreign fellow of the Royal Society. Foreign members and also regular fellows are not elected by the whole membership although any member can object. A committee recommends, the Council approves, and fellows can come and vote if they wish. Few do.

Jan 12, 2013 at 8:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Society bylaws say there's a ballot of fellows for election of new fellows and foreign members

Jan 12, 2013 at 8:55 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

'to campaign for a lower population in the UK – with a long-term target of between 20 and 29 million' (see:

Ehrlich and Nurse just have to get rid of a few tens of million with fuel poverty (etc.) and they'll achieve the optimum. They are doing fairly well given scant resources.

Jan 12, 2013 at 9:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

One of Ehrlich's more spectacular failures and widely discussed public humiliations was a wager he made with economist Julian Simon in 1980 that turned out badly for him in 1990.

Notice that Obama's "science" (I use the term loosely) advisor John Holdren was also part of the wager.

Ehrlich is no more a scientist than your average cab driver. He's little more than a failed soothsayer. The Royal Society has shamed itself.

Jan 13, 2013 at 1:26 AM | Unregistered Commentertheduke


Notice that Obama's "science" (I use the term loosely) advisor John Holdren was also part of the wager.

Ehrlich was Holdren's mentor and describes him as his "best friend". They published numerous articles together, including one UHI-related one, that should prove embarassing for warmist Holdren.

Nurse has replaced Ehrlich as top neo-Malthusian.

Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation
The Sunday Times, 24 May 2009

SOME of America's leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world's population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America's wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.

They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global cabal,” he said.
Another guest said there was “nothing as crude as a vote” but a consensus emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat.

“This is something so nightmarish that everyone in this group agreed it needs big-brain answers,” said the guest. “They need to be independent of government agencies, which are unable to head off the disaster we all see looming.”

Why all the secrecy? “They wanted to speak rich to rich without worrying anything they said would end up in the newspapers, painting them as an alternative world government,” he said.

original source

full text here

Jan 13, 2013 at 3:17 AM | Registered CommenterDavid Ross

The Ehrlich paper doesn't say anything new that I hadn't heard before I left high school a few decades ago. It is the standard green-wash mantra of "we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth and nothing can save us except less human beings and less of just about everything else too, just in case...".

It should have been published in Phil Trans F, not Phil Trans B. If Ehrlich and Ehrlich do not have any remaining vision and positive ideas to improve our world then perhaps it is time for them to step aside in favour of others that do.

In defence of the Nature publishing stable, I will say that they are not all full of woo science. I still communicate with a first rate editor on one of their magazines (wholly unrelated to climate) who I met when we were both graduate students.

Jan 13, 2013 at 3:57 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The paper reads like a parody. It’s stuffed with references, just like a proper scientific paper, some to the Guardian, some to Prince Charles, many to the works of the Ehrlichs. Since the purpose of references is to provide evidence for an assertion, this comes down to saying “It’s true because I say it is”.


I see folk campaigning hard to be put on the "B Ark" as per the Douglas Adams fantasy..
Funny you should say that. Paul Ehrlich wrote a book called “Ark 2”. It’s the source of the “New Environmental Paradigm” which is the basic tool of the green-minded social scientists whose job it will be to implement the Ehrlichs’ fantasy of total global thought control.

Jan 13, 2013 at 4:19 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

SOME of America's leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world's population and speed up improvements in health and education.
And they're so ignorant or blinkered that they do not understand that speeding up improvements in health and education in the developing world is the way to slow the growth of the world's population.
Why anyone pays any attention to a word Ehrlich writes is beyond me. If I had been half as wrong as he has been over the decades I would be hiding away on a desert island not making myself a hostage to fortune yet again.
Hubris doesn't start to describe it.

Jan 13, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The Ehrlichs' argument is essentially an elitist, anti-democratic utopian and fascist argument. There is an ideal society which just happens to coincide with their normative viewpoint and if we follow their lead we will achieve that ideal society which will of course dictate how we all think and act. It is interesting to trace the disciples of the Ehrlichs, who include climate science luminaries like the late Steven Schneider and the ever present Michael Mann.

Jan 13, 2013 at 1:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

big bad coal/oil (check arrived yet Bish) get the usual meme link for confusing poor old Joe Public

"Unfortunately, essential steps such as curbing global emissions to peak by 2020 and reducing them to half of present levels by 2050 [66] are extremely problematic economically and politically. Fossil fuel companies would have to leave most of their proven reserves in the ground, thus destroying much of the industry's economic value [67]. Because the ethics of some businesses include knowingly continuing lethal but profitable activities [68], it is hardly surprising that interests with large financial stakes in fossil fuel burning have launched a gigantic and largely successful disinformation campaign in the USA to confuse people about climate disruption [69,70] and block attempts to deal with it [71]."

on the piece overall -
what a sad view the Ehrlich pair have of man/woman kind (doomed, we're all doomed i say & i'll repeat till you believe me).

reach for the stars i say.

Jan 13, 2013 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Ehrlichs’ predictions will prove to be correct in one form or another eventually; all they have to do is to keep repeating it to be justified – oh, and perhaps living to the age of Noah might help, there, too.

David Ross, Shub, et al

If you want to be really scared about what our self-proclaimed betters think of us, have a look at this talk at the Nobel Institute:

Apparently, the blog’s author is in full agreement with the “philosopher’s” sentiments.

(Tried this on another thread, but nobody seemed to follow it… *sob*)

Jan 14, 2013 at 7:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I wonder if perhaps there was a hole plugged at Phil Trans B after a certain Bishop's involvement.

Jan 14, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

Bishop says 'Many noted at the time that Ehrlich shares Paul Nurse's interest in the global population figures and wondered whether Ehrlich's election as a fellow was connected to Nurse's election as president'.

And David Ross's quote highlight and links above from 2009 confirm Nurse's interest

'They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse'

Jan 14, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

History is full of prophets of doom who fail to deliver , and Ehrlich's return from beyond that pale owes much to the Tories abandoning the field to his allies a generation ago, allowing his rehabiliation to proceed virtually unopposed.

It's the fault of the fringe parties as well- instead of investing london time in arguing with the bien pensant who inform Whale's discourse , you've been up north kowtowing to fact-averse clowns like Monckton.

If Shub were worthy of his handle he would know the sourceof this quote :

"I am disillusioned enough to know that no man's opinion on any subject is worth a damn unless backed up with enough genuine information to make him really know what he's talking about. " - H. P. Lovecraft

Jan 14, 2013 at 5:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell


Erlich and "Ark 2" eh ? I suspect the reference in Douglas Adams work isn't accidental...

It looks like Douglas Adams was a profound seer - the rest of the Ark story line resonates strongly with the cult of CAGW. HHGTTG should be a GCSE set work (possibly is - for all I know - but somehow I doubt it)

Jan 14, 2013 at 6:34 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Shub Niggurath, as the one with a thousand young, knows procreation and consumption to be fount of life. Unlike the Ehrlichs who were birthed by folks who failed, one presumes, to nurture what good was in them, in their offspring.

Jan 14, 2013 at 10:02 PM | Registered Commentershub

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