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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Who dried out the Aral sea?

The other day at a talk I was asked, as I often am, whether I agree that only putting the state in control can clean up the environment. I wish I had then read this, from the blog at Cafe Hayek: a letter sent to the Los Angeles Times:

Three different readers write today in praise of Paul Ehrlich and his predictions of eco-mageddon ( Letters, Feb. 18).  Such praise is odd, given that not one of the many catastrophes that Mr. Ehrlich has predicted over the past 43 years has occurred.

The drying of the Aral Sea, alas, is not - contrary to reader David McClave's insinuation - evidence in support of Mr. Ehrlich's proposition that one of the greatest threats to the environment is capitalism.  Here's what  the BBC reported in 1998: "correspondent Louise Hidalgo in Kazakhstan says that the most amazing thing about the disaster is that it is no accident.  'The Soviet planners who fatally tapped the rivers, which fed the seas to irrigate central Asia's vast cotton fields, expected it [to?] dry up. They either did not realise the consequences the Aral's disappearance would bring or they simply did not care.'"

How interesting that the one genuine eco-disaster mentioned as confirmation of Mr. Ehrlich's wisdom was caused by the same institution - the powerful, centralized state - that Mr. Ehrlich advises we must submit to if we are to be saved from genuine eco-disasters.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Boudreaux