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Is the Earth slowly turning into an abyss?
This is quite a common and important question in this contemporary world… However, some American scholars had tried to find an answer nearly four decades ago!
Three Biologists – Paul Ralph Ehrlich (b. May 29, 1932), John Holdren (b. March 1, 1944) and John Hart – were on one side, while Economist Julian Simon (February 12, 1932 – February 8, 1998) was on the other side. Their discussions were based on an article written by Ehrlich. In that article published in the New Scientist magazine on December 14, 1967, Ehrlich stated that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over… hundreds of millions of people will starve to death between 1970 and 1985… nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” As the article got overwhelming response from the readers, the economist published a book, ‘The Population Bomb’, in 1968. Ehrlich became famous, as six million copies of the book were sold almost immediately!


To counter Ehrlich’s arguments, Simon wrote an article in ‘Science’ journal in 1980 in which he stressed that Ehrlich had predicted a catastrophe, unnecessarily. Simon claimed that there was an increase in the number of farmlands across the globe, and there were sufficient natural resources, like food grains and fuels. Later, he published a 600-page book in which it was clearly mentioned that the people have immense innovative power. Whenever they face new problems, they find a solution by using that power! And, the global community would soon prove Ehrlich wrong, insisted Simon.
All of a sudden, Simon invited Ehrlich, Holdren and Hart to accept a challenge, and the three did so… Simon told them that (as per the existing Economic Theory) the prices of raw materials would increase in case the world faced a crisis… He also said that they would have to consider Chromium, Nickel, Tin, Tungsten and Copper as raw materials. Simon asked the three that whether they would have to spend more than USD 1000 to purchase those five materials (USD 200 each) on September 29, 1990, keeping in mind that the volume of those materials purchased in USD 1000 on September 29, 1980. If they would have to spend more than USD 1000 (after calculating the inflation), then it could be proved that the prices of raw materials had increased a lot, and the world was facing a serious crisis!

Book Bet.jpg

And… Simon was all set to lose the challenge!
As per the condition laid in the challenge, Simon had to pay the amount required to purchase the same amount of Chromium, Nickel, Tin, Tungsten and Copper on September 29, 1990 to Ehrlich, Holdren and Hart, had he lost. Else, the three would have to pay the amount to Simon. When they met in October 1990, Simon won the challenge as they had to spend just USD 423.93 to purchase those five raw materials of the same volume they had bought a decade ago! Ehrlich, Holdren and Hart sent a cake, costing USD 576.7, to Simon. Later, Ehrlich said: “Julian Simon is like the guy who jumps off the Empire State Building and says how great things are going as he passes the 10th floor.” Well, he wanted to mean that Simon was not a visionary person, as he bet big for a short period! Otherwise, Simon would have lost the challenge. What an argument… The prices of raw materials increased in 2010, and not in 1990!

Paul Erchlich & Julian Simon.jpg
Paul Erchlich & Julian Simon

Now, the world is all set to face a devastating crisis! In its latest report – titled ‘UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration 2021-30’, the UN Environment Programme has stated that “the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend, is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide”. The report also mentioned that nearly 1,000,000 species were on the verge of extinction, as the pace of agricultural expansion has started affecting the ecosystems! It is to be noted that it is the first comprehensive survey on biodiversity since 2005. And, the representatives of 132 nations accepted the recommendations of the report…
A senior official of the Inter-governmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) said: “Currently, degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is negatively impacting the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people, pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction, and costing more than 10% of the annual global gross product in loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.


The official, who wished to remain anonymous, also said that people usually consider global warming as a real danger. However, a damage in biodiversity could trigger a similar (or even greater) crisis. It is important for the heads of the governments to be aware of such a problem, he added. The expert further mentioned that we need more agricultural lands in order to increase the food production. Again, we also destroy jungles to set up our homes. We have already started consuming more marine plants and fishes, destroying the ecosystems thus. Hence, the state should have a control over these aspects. Else, we cannot live in this world!
As far as the long-term policy is concerned, we, thus, can never ignore Ehrlich’s statement!

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