Obama Adviser: ‘References to Size, Power or Sexual Potency…Could be Banned From Automobile Advertising’

March 2, 2012 - 1:33 PM
John P. Holdren

White House science adviser John P. Holdren speaking with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. (White House photo)

(CNSNews.com) - John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote in a book he co-authored with population control advocates Paul and Anne Ehrlich that “ways must be found to control advertising” and that possible means for doing so would be banning utility companies from promoting increased use of energy and prohibiting “references to size, power or sexual potency” in automobile advertising.

“Advertising now functions in large part to keep the economy growing by creating demand for a wide variety of often useless, dangerous or environmentally destructive products,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote.

“Its most dangerous abuses might be halted immediately by legislative action,” they said. “For instance, it could be made illegal for any utility to advertise in such a way as to promote greater demand for power. Also references to size, power or sexual potency (direct or implied) could be banned from automobile advertising.”

Holdren and the Ehrlichs’ suggestions were presented in a 1973 book--Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions—in which they argued that the United States and other developed countries (DCs) needed to transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceman economy.”

“Worldwide population limitation must be accompanied by other major changes if present trends are to be reversed and the already awesome burden of human misery is to be kept from increasing,” they wrote. “The most urgent of the needed changes is a series of moves to close rapidly the widening gap between the rich and the poor nations.

John P. Holdren

White House science adviser John P. Holdren speaking at Bauman Moscow State Technical University on March 3, 2011. (Photo from the U.S. Embassy, Moscow)

“The first logical step in such a process is the conversion of DC economies, capitalist and socialist, from the cowboy variety to the spaceman variety,” they said. “Many of the ‘developed’ countries are actually ‘overdeveloped’—they have carried the process of development (industrialization) too far. They have created wasteful industrial plants capable of supplying manufactured goods for their citizenry far beyond any reasonable ‘need,’ with great damage to indispensible biological systems and to the less tangible ingredients of the quality of life. Therefore the conversion of the DC economies to the spaceman mode has been described as a process of ‘de-development.’”

In the "recommendations" at the end of their book, Holdren and the Ehrlichs said: "A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States."

In their chapter entitled, "Changing Human Behavior: Toward the Environment and Toward Our Fellow Man," Holdren and the Ehrlichs pointed to economist Kenneth Boulding as the founding father of the “spaceman economy” idea. Boulding had published an essay in 1966 entitled, “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.”

“Boulding has described a rational alternative to the GNP-oriented economy, calling this alternative the ‘spaceman economy’ in harmony with the emerging concept of ‘Spaceship Earth,’" wrote Holdren and the Ehrlichs in Human Ecology.

“Consistent with the finiteness of this planet’s supply of resources and the fragility of the biological processes that support human life, such an economy would be non-growing in terms of the size of the human population, the quantity of physical resources in use, and mankind’s impact on the biological environment.”

Holdren and the Ehrlichs suggested one step toward achieving this type of economy would be to embrace an idea called “depletion quotas” proposed by economist Herman Daly.

John P. Holdren, Barack Obama

White House science adviser John P. Holdren and President Barack Obama (White House photo)

“To be specific, Daly has proposed putting strict depletion quotas on the natural resources of the United States,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote. “That is, upper limits would be placed on the total amount of each resource that could be extracted or imported by the United States each year. This would not only reduce the pressure Americans place on the resources of the planet, but would also automatically generate a trend towards recycling and pollution abatement. With resources scarce (and thus expensive), a premium would be placed on the durability of goods, recycling, and the restriction of effluents (which often contain ‘resources’ not now economically recoverable).”

It was in this context that Holdren and the Ehrlichs said “ways must be found to control advertising” and to persuade people to adopt a new understanding about the quality of life.

“Much additional effort by economists and others will be required to work out details of the changes required in order to minimize throughput in our economic system,” they wrote on page 265 of Human Ecology. “One further step, however, is already clear. Both before and after depletion quotas are established, ways must be found to control advertising.

“Advertising now functions in large part to keep the economy growing by creating demand for a wide variety of often useless, dangerous or environmentally destructive products,” they said. “Its most dangerous abuses might be halted immediately by legislative action. For instance, it could be made illegal for any utility to advertise in such a way as to promote greater demand for power. Also references to size, power or sexual potency (direct or implied) could be banned from automobile advertising. Certainly, every effort should be made to expunge from advertising the idea that the quality of life is closely related to the rate at which new products are purchased or energy is consumed.”

By contrast, advertising could promote small families and environmentalist point of view.

“On the other hand,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote, “advertising could be encouraged to put effort into promoting socially desirable trends. Even indirectly, it could present small families in a favorable light, put less emphasis on overconsumption than at present, and foster a sense of responsibility toward the environment.”

At the end of their chapteer on “Changing Human Behavior," Holdren and the Ehrlichs conceded that the suggestions they had put forward represented a monumental task.

“What is actually required is nothing less than a transformation of human society,” they wrote.

Although Human Ecology was published in 1973, Holdren and co-author Paul Ehrlich remained long-time advocates for limiting population and energy use.

In 1995, together with Gretchen Daily of Stanford University, they published an essay with the World Bank entitled, “The Meaning of Sustainability: Biogeophysical Aspects.” Here they expressed what they believed the human race already knew “for certain” about the fate of the planet.

“We know for certain, for example that: No form of material growth (including population growth) other than asymptotic growth, is sustainable; many of the practices inadequately supporting today’s population of 5.5 billion people are unsustainable; and at the sustainability limit, there will be a trade-off between population and energy-matter throughput per person, hence, ultimately, between economic activity per person and well-being per person.

“This,” Holdren, Ehrlich and Daily concluded, “is enough 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).”

Holdren and Ehrlich showed remarkable intellectual consistency between the early 1970s and this 1995 essay—in both of which they pointed to their “I-PAT” formula.

In Human Ecology, Holdren and the Ehrlichs described the formula this way: “The relation can be written as a mathematical equation: total environmental damage equals population, times the level of material affluence per person, times the environmental damage done by the technology we use to supply each level of affluence.”

Recognition of the I-PAT formula led to certain policy prescriptions.

“Halting population growth must be done, but that alone would not be enough,” Holdren and the Ehrlichs wrote in Human Ecology. “Stabilizing or reducing the per capita consumption of resources in the United States is necessary, but not sufficient. Attempts to reduce technology’s impact on the environment are essential, but ultimately will be futile if population and affluence grow unchecked.

“Clearly,” they concluded, “if there is to be any chance of success, simultaneous attacks must be mounted on all the components of the problem. Such a coordinated effort may be unlikely, but nothing less will do the job.”

Twenty-two years later, in The Meaning of Sustainability, in which they said that “no form of material growth” was sustainable, they updated the I-PAT formula.

“An early approach to illuminate this issue was the ‘I-PAT’ formula (Ehrlich and Holdren 1971, 1972): (environmental impact = population x consumption per person (affluence) x impact per consumption (technology),’” they wrote.

“Today,” they said, “a bit further disaggregation seems useful … Thus, Damage = population x economic activity per person (affluence) x resource use per economic activity (resources) x stress on the environment per resources use (technology) x damage per stress (susceptibility).”

When President Obama announced in December 2008 that he was nominating Holdren to run the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, he described Holdren as a “physicist renowned for his work on climate and energy.”