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Stanford Report, March 18, 1998

Tyler Prize goes to Ehrlichs: 3/18/98

Ehrlichs win Tyler Prize for work in population, environment


Anne and Paul Ehrlich have been awarded the 1998 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. The Stanford biologists are being honored for "significant scientific contributions, individually and jointly, on population biology, ecology and evolution, and for raising public awareness of, and shaping public opinion on, resource depletion and environmental degradation."

The Ehrlichs will share a cash prize of $200,000 and receive gold Tyler Prize medallions at a black-tie awards dinner on April 17 in Los Angeles. They have pledged some of the prize money to buy a tract of degraded pastureland in Costa Rica for restoration as tropical moist forest.

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Established in 1973, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement is an international award honoring significant scientific achievements in all disciplines of environmental study and environmental protection. Through their work, Tyler recipients have focused worldwide attention on environmental problems and motivated effective action toward solutions.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the prize, and its previous recipients have been invited to the awards ceremony. Among them are Stanford environmental engineer Perry L. McCarty; former Stanford biologist and Missouri Botanical Gardens director Peter H. Raven; Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson; and anthropologist Jane Goodall. Mario Molina of MIT and Sherwood Rowland of the University of California-Irvine were recognized for their discoveries about the atmospheric ozone hole with a Tyler Prize in 1983 and a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995.

"The Ehrlichs have made exemplary contributions to understanding the environmental consequences of species extinction, habitat destruction and nuclear war, and they were among the first to effectively communicate how to apply science to the solution of society's problems," said Robert P. Sullivan, chair of the 11-member Tyler Prize Executive Committee, which annually selects the Tyler Prize recipients.

"By taking their findings into the public realm and the political arena, they have influenced more than a generation of scientists and policymakers as well as helped shape public opinion about the environmental impact of overpopulation," Sullivan said.

Anne H. Ehrlich, 64, is a senior research associate in the Department of Biological Sciences and associate director of the Center for Conservation Biology. Paul R. Ehrlich, 65, is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences.

The Ehrlichs have worked together since the 1950s, beginning their scientific collaboration through research on butterflies as a test system for answering key questions of biological classification, ecology and evolution. Paul Ehrlich's contributions on the population ecology of butterflies led to an important understanding of the dynamics of animal populations. With plant biologist Peter Raven he developed the powerful concept of co-evolution to describe how plants, animals and other organisms evolve in concert.

These ecological and evolutionary principles later were applied by the Ehrlichs to help assess the impact of human populations on the environment. For his work in this area, Paul Ehrlich shared with E.O. Wilson, the 1990 Crafoord Prize, established by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences as an explicit equivalent of the Nobel Prize in fields of science not eligible for the Nobel.

In examining the impacts of population growth, consumption and use of inappropriate technologies around the world, the Ehrlichs have produced an enormous body of work and stimulated careful political attention to environmental issues. They have displayed exceptional personal courage in taking a prominent public stand on diverse questions critical to the future of humankind, such as the preservation of biodiversity and endangered species, the hazards of pesticide pollution, the search for racial justice and nuclear winter.

Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book, The Population Bomb, has been called a wake-up call for an entire generation and played an important role in bringing about smaller family sizes in the United States after 1970. By 1993, the Ehrlichs' perspective had become the consensus view of scientists as represented by the "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" and the statement issued by the Population Summit of the world's scientific academies in New Delhi.

The Ehrlichs have written more than 30 other books. Among the most significant: the textbook Ecoscience; Population, Resources, Environment (1977) with John Holdren, a template for environmental education; The Population Explosion (1990), an update on the consequences of human population growth; and The Stork and the Plow (1995) with Gretchen Daily, about the urgent need to place human well-being and equity at the forefront of environmental solutions. Currently, the Ehrlichs are publishing a series of newsletters titled "Ecofables/Ecoscience," using science to debunk myths about humans' relationship to the environment.

They remain active as leaders in scientific and environmental organizations. Through the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford, they work with an international team of scholars to use science to help conserve humanity's "biological capital." That capital is the plants, animals and microorganisms that are essential to providing the ecosystem services that support the human economy.

The Tyler Prize, administered by the University of Southern California, was established by the late John and Alice Tyler. Mr. Tyler was founder and long-time chief executive officer of the Farmers Insurance Group. The Tylers were lifelong lovers of the outdoors and the natural world. They created this honor to help focus world attention on environmental problems and their potential solutions.

The prize is the latest in a long string of major international honors for the Ehrlichs. They jointly were honored with the first Heinz Award for Environmental Achievement in 1995 and with the UNEP/Sasakawa Environment Prize by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1994. Both were named to the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement in 1989. In addition to the Crafoord Prize, Paul Ehrlich has received a MacArthur "genius" fellowship and the Volvo Environmental Prize. SR