Paul Ehrlich presented his work in environmental studies via video conference Thursday at the Baker Center.

In an effort to increase awareness surrounding environmental issues, the Baker Center Interdisciplinary Group on Energy and Environmental Policy invited Ehlrich to deliver his presentation entitled “The Population — Environment Crisis and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB).”

Carl Pierce, director of the Baker Center, offered introductory remarks.

“This lecture is a part of the Baker Center’s Energy and Environmental Policy initiative,” Pierce said. “The planning team that made this event possible evidences the type of interdisciplinary cooperation we desire to promote.”

Paul Armsworth, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Jacob LaRiviere, assistant professor of economics, also addressed the audience. Becky Jacobs, associate professor in the College of Law, and Chris Clark of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helped organize the event.

“We can learn from both Paul Ehrlich’s perspective and the viewpoints of different disciplines,” LaRiviere said. “The discussions (among the audience) that follow are just as important as this forum itself.”

Armsworth introduced the audience to the figure on-screen.

“It isn’t often I get the honor of introducing someone who has made pioneering discoveries in my discipline,” Armsworth said. “Dr. Ehrlich has made substantial contributions to multiple academic fields, notably interdisciplinary research on the environment,” Armsworth said.

Students and faculty crowded into the Toyota Auditorium for the highly anticipated event. Ehrlich maintained a lighthearted attitude throughout his presentation, but offered a grim outlook on Earth’s future.

“The things we value on this planent are going down the drain,” Ehrlich said. “If you are a medical scientist and you say, ‘Don’t smoke cigarettes,’ you are not accused of being an advocate. If you are environmental scientist and you say, ‘We are destroying our environment,’ you are immediately accused.”

Ehrlich’s prognosis for the planet was sobering.

“How do we know that everything is going in the wrong direction?” Ehrlich asked. “Our natural capital and all our critical resources are depreciating. Fossil groundwater is being pumped out too fast, so we have less and less available water all the time. Around the world, soil erosion is another big issue. Soil is a renewable resource being transformed into an un-renewable resource by overuse.”

Ehrlich also highlighted the dangers of ever-increasing population density.

“It’s crystal clear the next two billion people we are scheduled to add to the planet will do more harm to our environment than the last two billion,” Ehrlich said. “Each person added to the planet has to get food from more distant, inadequate sources. There are limits to the net productivity of the planet, so the population problem is a very serious one. The way to solve it humanely is to bring the birthrate below the death rate. Most estimates suggest a sustainable population size around two billion people. No one thinks we are anywhere near sustainable now.”

Ehrlich promoted MAHB, an organization that aims to ascertain appropriate human responses to global environmental destruction. Specifically, the initiative focuses on alterations in policymaking and public behavior through increased education. More information is available at (http://mahb.stanford.edu).

“The question now is what we should do,” Ehrlich said. “Social scientists need to do more in analyzing human behavior. Simply telling people what the science says is not enough. We need to understand how behaviors could and should be changed. Basically, MAHB is a bottom-up network of people asking important questions about things like the decay of ecosystem services.”

Ehrlich serves as the Bing Professor of Population Studies and president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. Highly acclaimed in scientific circles, Ehrlich’s prolific repertoire includes: “The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment” (2009) and “Humanity on a Tightrope: Thoughts on Empathy, Family and Big Changes for a Viable Future” (2010). Many of his research focuses on population biology, coevolution and conservation biology.

Solutions to environmental issues will require participation from multiple academic disciplines.

“The way economists and ecologists think about the world is extremely similar, and leading economists are beginning to look at real problems,” Ehrlich said. “We need to look at how we can generate a steady-state economy and limit human consumption.”