Opinion A professor famous for predicting the imminent demise of the human race at regular intervals since the 1970s has predicted the imminent demise of the human race.
Paul Ehrlich, who is the Bing Professor of Population Studies at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, says it's definitely on this time. In a tinned statement issued on Friday, the arm-waving prof lays it on the line:
There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity's existence ... the window of opportunity is rapidly closing ...
"[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event," Ehrlich said ...
"If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on," said lead author Gerardo Ceballos.
The idea is that humanity is causing lots of species of animals, plants etc to become extinct and this will develop into a runaway death snowball in which we ourselves will disappear - for example, because crops are no longer being fertilised by bees, or similar.
The doom scenario is laid out in a paper by Ehrlich, Ceballos and their colleagues in the journal Science Advances. You can read it for free.
If we do all die off reasonably soon in a runaway biodiversity loss doom event, it will be good news for Professor Ehrlich's credibility. Though he originally trained as an entomologist (specialising in butterflies) he is probably best known for co-writing the 1968 book Population Bomb, which in early editions stated that basically everyone in India would inevitably starve to death due to overpopulation in the 1970s and the same fate would overtake the USA in the 1980s.
In fact, as it worked out both Indians and Americans nowadays eat noticeably more food than they used to, and despite a pretty serious global population increase this is also true of humanity in general.
Undeterred by that little whoopsie, Professor Ehrlich went on to massively big up the theory of "nuclear winter", which suggests that the planet's climate would be irrevocably wrecked should a nuclear war occur, wiping out the entire human race without exceptions. Ehrlich's answer to this supposed problem was that the Western powers should get rid of their nuclear weapons.
The nuclear winter theory was fortunately never tested, but it is widely seen nowadays as scientifically questionable and it's commonly suggested that it was constructed as a result of the campaign for disarmament, rather than the other way around. The great physicist Freeman Dyson wrote of nuclear winter:
As a scientist, I judge the nuclear winter theory to be sloppy piece of work, full of gaps and unjustified assumptions. As a human being, I hope fervently that it is right ... since I am a scientist dedicated to truth, I will criticize nuclear winter theory as harshly as I would criticize any other half-baked scientific theory.
So Ehrlich is pretty much zero for two, so far. If humanity fails to die out on cue this time (it seems pretty clear that we're not going to adopt the instant and draconian limits on economic activity that Ehrlich sees as the only way to prevent the extinction death snowball) the prof's chances of ever being taken seriously - already pretty poor at this point, to be honest - will plunge to zero. ®