Ehrlich, Paul Ralph (1932 – ) American Population Biologist and Ecologist

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Paul Ralph Ehrlich (1932 )
American population biologist and ecologist

Born in Philadelphia, Paul Ehrlich had a typical childhood during which he cultivated an early interest in entomology and zoology by investigating the fields and woods around his home. As he entered his teen years, Ehrlich grew to be an avid reader. He was particularly influenced by ecologist William Vogt's book, Road to Survival (1948), in which the author was the outlined the potential global consequences of imbalance between the growing world population and level of food supplies available. This concept is one Ehrlich has discussed and examined throughout his career. After high school, Ehrlich attended the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his undergraduate degree in zoology in 1953. He received his master's degree from University of Kansas two years later and continued at the university to receive his doctorate in 1957. His degrees led to post-graduate work on various aspects of entomological projects, including observing flies on the Bering Sea, the behavioral characteristics of parasitic mites, and (his favorite) the population control of butterfly caterpillars with ants rather than pesticides. Other related field projects have taken him to Africa, Alaska, Australia , the South Pacific and South East Asia, Latin America, and Antarctica . His travels enabled him to learn first-hand the ordeals endured by those in overpopulated regions.

In 1954, he married Anne Fitzhugh Howland, biological research associate, with whom he wrote the best-selling book, The Population Bomb (1968). In the book, the Ehrlichs focus on a variety of factors contributing to overpopulation and, in turn, world hunger. It is evident throughout the book that the words and warnings of The Survival Game continued to exert a strong influence on Ehrlich. The authors warned that birth and death rates worldwide need to be "brought into line" before nature intervenes and renders (through ozone layer depletion , global warming, and soil exhaustion, among other environmental degradation ) the human race extinct. Human reproduction, especially in highly developed countries like the United States, should be discouraged through levying taxes on diapers, baby food, and other related items; compulsory sterilization among the populations of certain countries should be enacted (the authors' feelings on compulsory sterilization have relaxed somewhat since 1968). Ehrlich himself underwent a vasectomy after the birth of the couple's first and only child.

In 1968, Ehrlich founded Zero Population Growth , Inc., an organization established to create and rally support for balanced population levels and the environment . He has been a faculty member at Stanford University (California) since 1959 and currently holds a full professor position there in the Biological Sciences Department. In addition, Ehrlich has been a news correspondent for NBC since 1989. In 1993, he was awarded the Crafoord Prize in Population Biology and the Conservation of Biological Diversity from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and received the World Ecology Medal from the International Center for Tropical Ecology. In 1994, Ehrlich was bestowed with the United Nations Environment Programme Sasakawa Environment Prize.

Among Ehrlich's published works are The Population Bomb (1968), The Cold and the Dark: The World After Nuclear War (1984); The Population Explosion (1990); Healing the Planet (1991), Betrayal of Science and Reason (1996) which was written with his wife, and his most recent work, Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect, which was published in 2000. In 2001, Ehrlich was the recipient of the Distinguished Scientist Award. He continues his teaching as a professor of Population Studies at Stanford.

[Kimberley A. Peterson ]



Ehrlich, P. R. The Population Bomb. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.

. Healing the Planet: Strategies for Solving the Environmental Crisis. Redding: Addison Wesley, 1992.

. Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect. Washington, D.C.: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2000.

, and A. H. Ehrlich. The Population Explosion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

, A. H. Ehrlich, and J. Holdren. Eco-Science: Population, Resources, and Environment. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1970.


Dailey, G. C., and P. R. Ehrlich. "Population Sustainability and Earth's Carrying Capacity." BioScience 42 (November 1992): 76171.

"Distinguished Scientist Award." BioScience 51, no. 5 (May 2001): 416.