In 1968, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich took a detour from his usual research subject -- butterflies -- and wrote a book called The Population Bomb. As with many alarmist books, it was a bestseller, and quickly landed its previously obscure author on The Tonight Show. Ehrlich argued that the world was headed into a state of perilous scarcity, where an exploding population would overtax the planet's ability to produce fresh food and water. This led to a bet with economist Julian Simon, who posited that human's ability to innovate would always outsmart obstacles to growth. Like Malthusians before and since, Ehrlich was proven wrong, and paid up in the late nineties, despite a doubling of Earth's population in the meantime.
Scarcity is still a popular topic amongst both the libertarian, gold-bugging right and the organic, kombucha-brewing left. And it makes basic sense, right? American farmers, once the vast majority of the population, are at only 2% of the workforce now. Very few of us are directly involved in growing food. Less and less of our land is devoted to agriculture. And the land that is out there seems to be giving out, worn down by a century or more of highly productive monoculture. It seems only logical that the oil, the gas, and the infrastructure will give out one day, disrupted by plant diseases, climate change, water scarcities, and unsustainable demand.Read More