Daily, Gretchen (1964- ) American Biologist (Scientist)

Gretchen Daily practices "population biology," a discipline she helped create in collaboration with Paul and Anne Ehrlich by applying scientific research to the issue of overpopulation. Overpopulation is not a future problem but rather a present reality, the three pointed out, requiring a radical shift in political and economic policy as well as personal behaviors. Daily uses an interdisciplinary approach, fusing the voices of science, law, business, and government, to promote the notion of sustainability. Interestingly, Daily and the Ehrlichs profess "equity," or equal consideration for all humans as well as for other species and the environment, as the key to the survival of a life-sustaining world.

Gretchen C. Daily was born on October 19, 1964, in Washington, D.C. Her mother, Suzanne R. Daily, was an antique dealer, and her father, Charles D. Daily, was an ophthalmologist. Daily attended high school in West Germany, then returned to the United States for her postsecondary education, which she conducted exclusively at Stanford University. She received her bachelor of science degree in 1986, then earned her master of science degree a year later.

Daily continued at Stanford, conducting doctoral work in biological sciences under Paul Ehrlich, the renowned author of The Population Bomb. The two commenced a partnership that continued throughout the 1990s, focusing their research on the issue of populations, both animal and human. Their coauthored papers focused on detailed microcosms (such as a 1988 paper on the feeding habits of red-naped sapsuckers) as well as generalized macrocosms (such as a 1990 paper on the effects of rapid climate change on the world food situation, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society). By the time Daily received her Ph.D. in 1992, she had already developed into a distinguished and respected scholar, earning the Frances Lou Kall-man Award for Excellence in Science and Graduate Study upon graduation.

Daily joined the University of California at Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group while continuing joint studies with Ehrlich. In 1994, she received a concurrent appointment at Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology as a Pew Fellow in Conservation and the Environment, a position created expressly for her. That year, she collaborated with Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, in writing an influential paper, "Optimum Human Population Size," published in the July issue of the academic journal Population and Environment.

In this paper, Daily and the Ehrlichs extrapolated the ideal number of human inhabitants based on their own commonsense criteria for the impact the earth can sustain. They set a relatively high standard of living, about comparable to that enjoyed by the Swedes or French, while also allowing for the preservation of natural ecosystems, such as stretches of wilderness populated by diverse animal species, necessary for the survival of an inhabitable planet. Based on these variables, they calculated an "optimum human population" of between one-and-a-half and two billion people, which corresponded to the population of 1900 through 1930. In other words, the current human population already exceeds the earth’s ability to sustain a decent standard of living, and we are presently in a state of acute overpopulation.

The Ehrlichs and Daily expanded this paper into a book, The Stork and the Plow: The Equity Solution to the Human Dilemma, published in 1995. They based their argument on the notion of "equity." For example, instead of "throwing condoms at women" as a means of family planning, the equity solution promotes sexual equality in the household and in society as a better way to lower birthrates. Having no more than two children is the most fundamental way to reduce overpopulation. Other critical factors include recycling and reduced consumption, and adopting a political stance in favor of sustainability.

Published in 1997, Daily’s second book, Nature’s Services: Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems, resulted from her Pew fellowship: she acted as editor, soliciting chapter contributions from 18 other Pew fellows discussing the issues of biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. From 1997 through 1998, Daily served on the subcommittee of the Presidential Committee of Advisors of Science and Technology, and in 1999, she served as a fellow in the aldo leopold Leadership Program.

Daily remains on the Stanford faculty as the Bing Interdisciplinary Research Scientist in the department of biological sciences. She also continues to conduct field research at sites in Costa Rica and Mexico, studying bird, butterfly, and insect populations and their response to earth changes brought about by human overpopulation. She is married to Gideon W. Yoffe.

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