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In 1980, two feuding professors bet on the fate of humanity. Who won?

In 1968, The Population Bomb by the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich became a bestseller. With its foreboding thesis that humanity’s population growth was outpacing its ability to feed itself, it was a rare book that both caught the attention of the public and became deeply influential in academic circles. But not everyone was a fan. One of the book’s biggest critics was the economist Julian Simon, then a professor at the University of Illinois. Simon thought the thesis of The Population Bomb was little more than poorly drawn speculative fiction, calling Ehrlich a ‘false prophet’. Human ingenuity, Simon argued, would ultimately accommodate the exploding population. As this short animation from TED-Ed details, the ongoing professional feud between the two prominent academics ultimately culminated in a $1,000 bet on the fate of humanity – one which Ehrlich would ultimately pay out, and that shifted the way the world understood population growth.

Video by TED-Ed

Director: Avi Ofer

Writer: Soraya Field Fiorio

3 March 2022
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