Top Obama Adviser Urged a ‘World of Zero Net Physical Growth’ in 1995 World Bank Publication

August 5, 2009 - 12:26 PM
A top White House adviser to President Barack Obama argued that mankind must eventually face up to the need for a "world of zero net physical growth" and "population limitation" in an essay he co-authored that was included in a 1995 book on environmentally "sustainable" economic activity published by the World Bank.
( - A top White House adviser to President Barack Obama argued that mankind eventually must face up to the need for a “world of zero net physical growth” and “population limitation” in an essay he co-authored that was included in a 1995 book on environmentally “sustainable” economic activity published by the World Bank.
John P. Holdren, who is now director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, co-authored the essay with Paul Ehrlich and Gretchen Daily of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford. Ehrlich has been a well-known population control advocate since he authored the 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb,” in which he advocated zero population growth. At the time the 1995 essay was published, Holdren was a professor at the University of California.

The essay—“The Meaning of Sustainability: Biogeophysical Aspects”—was published in the first chapter of “Defining and Measuring Sustainability: The Biogeophysical Foundations,” a book published in 1995 by the World Bank.  The book is available as a PDF on the World Bank’s Web site.
“We know for certain, for example, that: No form of material growth (including population growth) other than asymptotic growth, is sustainable,” wrote Holdren and his co-authors. “Many of the practices inadequately supporting today’s population of 5.5 billion people are unsustainable; and [a]t the sustainability limit, there will be a tradeoff between population and energy-matter throughput per person, hence, ultimately, between economic activity per person and well-being per person.
“This is enough,” Holdren and his co-authors continue, “to say quite a lot about what needs to be faced up to eventually (a world of zero net physical growth), what should be done now (change unsustainable practices, reduce excessive material consumption, slow down population growth), and what the penalty will be for postponing attention to population limitation (lower well-being per person).”

In the same essay, Holdren and his co-authors listed “excessive population growth” and “maldistribution of consumption and investment” as “driving forces” behind the ills that faced mankind.  They listed “[r]educed disparities within and between countries” among “[r]equirements for sustainable improvements in well-being.”
Excessive population growth, they argued, is “a condition now prevailing almost everywhere.”

As for reducing disparities within and between countries, they wrote: “The large gaps between rich and poor that characterize income distribution within and between countries today are incompatible with social stability and with cooperative approaches to achieving environmental sustainability.”
Holdren struck a similar theme in “Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions,” a book he co-authored with Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich in 1973.
In that book, Holdren and his co-authors advocated “de-development” of the United States and redistributing wealth both within and among the world’s nations.

“A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States,” Holdren and his co-authors wrote. “De-devolopment means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation. Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries. This effort must be largely political, especially with regard to our overexploitation of world resources, but the campaign should be strongly supplemented by legal and boycott action against polluters and others whose activities damage the environment.

“The need for de-development presents our economists with a major challenge,” wrote Holdren and his co-authors. “They must design a stable, low-consumption economy in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth than the present one. Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.”
As has previously reported, Holdren and the Ehrlichs also called for “zero economic growth” in another book they co-authored, the 1977 “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment.”
“It is by now abundantly clear that the GNP cannot grow forever. Why should it?” they wrote in that book. “Why should we not strive for zero economic growth (ZEG) as well as zero population growth?”