Is the Global Population Bomb Exploding?

By , William A. Babcock is Asian news editor for the Monitor.

THE POPULATION EXPLOSION By Paul R. and Anne H. Ehrlich, New York: Simon & Schuster, 320 pp., $18.95 TWENTY-TWO years ago, a book by a young Stanford University professor rocked the world.

Paul Ehrlich's ``The Population Bomb'' warned of impending environmental, social, and economic disaster if the world did not control its population.

Since then, an estimated 200 million people - most of them children - have perished from hunger and hunger-related disease. And, since 1968, an additional 1.8 billion people inhabit the globe, with an additional 95 million being added each year.

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Dr. Ehrlich now teams with his wife Anne, another Stanford University environmental scientist, to announce the detonation of the population bomb in their book, ``The Population Explosion.''

They persuasively argue that it is necessary to counteract the myth of economic ``growthism.'' Such a mistaken assumption, they say, fuels the rapid consumption of resources, creates energy-depleting affluence, and adds the burden of costly technology. Their alternative is economic ``sustainability.''

To illustrate the dimensions of the world's 5.3 billion population problem, the Ehrlichs use an ``impact'' (I) formula where the key motivating factors are population (P), affluence/consumption (A), and technology (T). According to this I = PAT paradigm, any change in global population, affluence, or technology has an effect on the world. These effects, the authors say, already appear as global warming; destruction of rain forests; the garbage crisis; air, soil, and water pollution; acid rain; chronic famine; and epidemics such as AIDS.

In addition to bringing the world's population under control, the Ehrlichs suggest other measures to reduce the impacts, including:

Energy conservation.

Reversal of present trends of deforestation.

A decrease in the flood of paper.

More fuel-efficient stoves.

Reduction in methane emissions (a greenhouse-effect producing gas) and in the manufacture of CFCs (that help destroy the ozone layer).

If every nation were to immediately adopt a zero population growth program as its goal, the global population would exceed 10 billion people before growth actually stopped - in about 50 to 60 years. Since such programs will not be forthcoming immediately - if ever - the world's population is destined to far exceed the 10 billion figure, the authors say.

The key to understanding overpopulation, according to the Ehrlichs, is not population density, but the number of people relative to resources - the area's carrying capacity. Thus, they reason, if the long-term carrying capacity of an area is being degraded by its current occupants, that area is overpopulated.

``By this standard, the entire planet and virtually every nation is already vastly overpopulated,'' they say. This overpopulation is even seen in developed nations such as the United States, the Ehrlichs assert, since Americans consume many more of the world's resources than do members of third-world countries.

To reduce overpopulation, the authors suggest that adequate nutrition, proper sanitation, basic health care, education of women, and equal rights for women would encourage women to have fewer children.

``The Population Explosion'' is clearly written and concisely crafted. It manages to convey a wealth of information without being overly weighted down with facts, figures, and statistics. For the more ardent reader, the Ehrlichs provide a thorough, yet conversational footnote section. Also included is a list of organizations dealing with population issues, as well as model letters that might be written to clergy and elected officials urging greater sensitivity to population issues.

The Ehrlichs conclude that ``only a mass movement can solve the population/resource/environment crisis before it overwhelms us.'' They are hardly unique in offering this solution. But even though they provide specific steps that can be taken by both nations and individuals to help stabilize - and eventually decrease - the world's population, the reader is left with the sinking feeling that the solutions are inadequate.

Such a feeling is not lessened by the authors' failure to provide workable solutions for the United States' immigration issue, for example. To their credit, no one else has managed to address adequately the issue of America's burgeoning international population, and the environmental/social/resource strain such an increase imposes. Still, one might hope for a better ``backyard'' solution - even from authors who address the population issue on a grand scale.

Too, one suspects that the Ehrlichs are preaching to the converted. It is unlikely that even a handful of chief executive officers of most businesses throughout the industrialized world appreciate that there are gains to be made in downsizing both population and consumption.

But for the converted, those Earth Day 1990 supporters who see value in somehow getting a handle on the world's runaway numbers of people, ``The Population Explosion'' is must reading.

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