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'Birth dearth' worries pale in comparison to overpopulation

Water and food shortages present larger challenges than economic woes linked to a declining population, says author.

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Already, says Ehrlich, "we have certainly passed the earth's long-term carrying capacity." Global warming is often regarded as one result of too many people. Water shortages are building not only in California, but also in many nations abroad. Of immediate concern is evidence of a food crisis in the world. Food shortages and high food prices have led to deadly riots in Haiti and civil unrest in Egypt.

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Ehrlich estimates that 800 million to 1 billion people today don't have a proper supply of food, many suffering from undernourishment, malnourishment, or worse. Famine threatens, and the world continues to add 75 million a year to its total population, mostly in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Last Friday, more than 140 countries observed World Population Day in various ways to highlight the role of family planning in reducing poverty, promoting development, and saving the lives of mothers and newborns. Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), stated: "When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life."

A group of nongovernmental organizations were to meet in Washington to mark the day. But a high-level representative of the Bush administration was not expected. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush imposed what opponents dub the "global gag rule." This is a policy that bars US family planning aid to private organizations that so much as support the concept of legal abortion. Further, the US under Bush refuses to provide any money to the UNFPA on the basis that such funds might be used, say, for abortion in China.

Ehrlich sees a "lack of leadership" in Washington on the population issue, including both from the White House and from those on the campaign trail.

Family planning, as Ehrlich sees it, leads to both fewer abortions of unwanted children and fewer deaths of mothers lacking access to relatively safe abortions.

In his new book, "The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment," Ehrlich and his wife, Anne (who actually helped write the "Bomb"), argue that people are creating a world that threatens "our own species." Many people don't understand the power of exponential growth, he says.