Here is the fascinating story of two men – one an environmental pessimist, the other an environmental optimist. They went head to head in a very public and sometimes very acrimonious debate in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Paul Ehrlich, professor of
Biological Sciences at
Enter Julian Simon, the doomslayer - a Professor of Economics at the
Then he did something to risk everything he stood for. In 1980 he challenged Ehrlich to a public $10,000 bet. The terms were that Ehrlich could select any basket of resources that he could confidently say would become scarcer over the next decade. If at the end of ten years Ehrlich’s basket of resources were more expensive due to diminishing supply, then he would win the $10,000 bet; but if the items selected by Ehrlich had become more abundant and hence cheaper, then Simon would win the wager.
Ehrlich accepted the challenge, stating that “the lure of easy money can be irresistible.” How could he lose when he got to pick any five resources that he figured were a sure thing to become scarcer? He therefore staked his bet on chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten becoming more expensive.
Alas for Ehrlich, at the end of ten years the price of those commodities had all fallen, and by an average of 40% after allowing for inflation. Truth is that no matter what Ehrlich has chosen, he could not have won. He would have lost had he staked his money on petroleum, foodstuffs, sugar, coffee, cotton, wool, minerals or phosphates. They had all become cheaper. The tide began to turn against the pessimists.