The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future
Paul Sabin, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University
Are we headed for a world of scarce resources and environmental catastrophe, or will market forces and technological innovation yield greater prosperity? In this lecture, Yale University Professor Paul Sabin will draw on an iconic story to examine the historical conflict between environmentalists and their conservative critics and trace the origins of the political gulf that separates the two sides. In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals captured the public’s imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom. Ehrlich, author of the landmark 1968 book, The Population Bomb, predicted that rising populations would cause overconsumption, resource scarcity, and famine—with apocalyptic consequences for humanity. Simon optimistically countered that human welfare would flourish thanks to flexible markets, technological change, and our collective ingenuity. Sabin’s lecture will weave the two men’s lives and ideas together with the era’s partisan political battles to show how the clash between environmental fears and free market confidence helped create today’s gaping and rancorous political divide.
4:30-6 p.m. in Margaret Morrison A14 at Carnegie Mellon University