COPPER CREEK VALLEY, Colo.--One moment Paul R. Ehrlich and I are standing in the sunshine in a Rocky Mountain meadow strewn with wildflowers, discussing the mating habits of butterflies. The next we are hustling down a mountainside in a drenching downpour, dodging lightning strikes far too close for comfort. Inky black clouds had crept up on us without Ehrlich realizing. When the loquacious professor is deep in conversation, not much else matters, and besides, Ehrlich is used to being in the center of a storm.
For decades, the outspoken Stanford University biologist¿s warnings of imminent environmental collapse have landed him squarely in the middle of controversy. To his fiercely loyal friends, he is a bold crusader who has used his considerable charm and formidable verbal agility to bring an important if unpalatable message to the public. To his equally fierce enemies, he is a media hound and a Jeremiah who has been proved spectacularly wrong all too often yet refuses to admit his mistakes. His most trenchant critic, the late Julian L. Simon, a fervent proponent of the earth¿s capacity for limitless growth and a fellow at the conservative Cato Institute, repeatedly accused Ehrlich of leading a ¿juggernaut of environmentalist hysteria.¿ Not known for pulling his punches, Ehrlich once said of Simon, ¿The one thing we¿ll never run out of is imbeciles.¿
This article was originally published with the title Six Billion and Counting.