Today’s raging partisan battles over climate policy and the Keystone XL pipeline are just the latest examples of a deeper debate about our future: Are we headed for a world of scarce resources and environmental catastrophe as environmentalists believe, or will market forces and technological innovation yield greater prosperity?
In 1980, the iconoclastic economist Julian Simon challenged celebrity biologist Paul Ehrlich to a bet. Their wager on the future prices of five metals—chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten—captured the public’s imagination as a test of coming prosperity or doom. Ehrlich, author of the landmark 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.
Here, Paul Sabin, author of The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future, explains how the history of the clash between environmentalists and their conservative critics has impacted our political and societal conversations today. He makes a forceful case for using social values, rather than economic or biological absolutes, to guide society’s crucial choices about climate change, the planet’s health, and our own.