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Author of ‘The Population Bomb’ Revisits Predictions 40 Years Later

Lonny Shavelson, Voice of America
Paul Ehrlich might be the most pessimistic, doom-obsessed person studying the future of our planet. “The agricultural system is getting ever more shaky,” he says, “the seas are slowly but surely refusing to give up the fishes; and on top of it, we’re facing catastrophic and rapid climate change. But nobody pays any attention.”

Paul Ehrlich's controversial 1968 book
Paul Ehrlich’s controversial 1968 book

The Stanford University population scientist does pay attention… and some say he’s a prophet who might save us all. His work gained fame four decades ago, with the publication of his book, The Population Bomb.

Ehrlich [made] dramatic predictions that the world’s growing population would eventually outstrip its food supply, leading to catastrophic famines. “The agricultural scientists were telling me in 1968 that we were bound for famines and that hundreds of millions of people were going to die.” In The Population Bomb he wrote, “a minimum of ten million people, most of them children, will starve to death during each year of the 1970s… a mere handful compared to the numbers that will be starving before the end of the century.”

…His critics point out that since his book came out, birth rates have gone down, and food production is way up. But he says his prophecy wasn’t flawed; it was a catalyst for changes that helped prevent the famines.

…Ehrlich says that whether anyone still listens or not, there will be a solution to the population problem – one way or another. “The population explosion will end,” he asserts. “The only question is, is it going to end because we limit births more strictly or is it going to end because a lot more of us die young and in misery? We’re all trying to avoid what we call a ‘death rate solution’ to the population problem.”
(20 Oct 2006)

Booming Populations Threaten East Asian Coasts

Ben Blanchard, Reuters via Planet Ark
BEIJING – Growing populations and booming economies are threatening fragile coastal areas in East Asia, and the region’s coral reefs could face total collapse within 20 years, according to a new United Nations study.

Although millions of people have been lifted out of poverty by economic development over the last 15 years, the impact of rapid growth on the environment has been severe, said the policy brief from the United Nations Environment Programme, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Monday.

“Growing populations and their migration to coastal areas, dynamic economic growth, and rising global demands for fishery and aquatic products … have combined to exert tremendous pressure on East Asia’s marine environment and coastal resources,” it said.
(18 Oct 2006)

As Europe Grows Grayer, France Devises a Baby Boom

Molly Moore, Washington Post
…While falling birthrates threaten to undermine economies and social stability across much of an aging Europe, French fertility rates are increasing. France now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe — 1.94 children born per woman, exceeded slightly by Ireland’s rate of 1.99. The U.S. fertility rate is 2.01 children.

In many European countries, park benches are filled with elderly residents. In France, parks overflow with boisterous children, making it an international model for countries struggling with the threat of zero population growth. In recent months, officials from Japan, Thailand and neighboring Germany have traveled to France to study its reproductive secrets.

…But the propensity of women here to have more babies has little to do with notions of French romance or the population’s formerly strong religious ties to the Roman Catholic Church.

France heavily subsidizes children and families from pregnancy to young adulthood with liberal maternity leaves and part-time work laws for women. The government also covers some child-care costs of toddlers up to 3 years old and offers free child-care centers from age 3 to kindergarten, in addition to tax breaks and discounts on transportation, cultural events and shopping.

…A century ago, France was one of the first European countries to face a declining population. Since then, almost every elected French government — regardless of party — has instituted laws that encourage bigger families and make it easier for women to keep their jobs while raising children.
(18 Oct 2006)
France combines three unfortunate tendencies:

  • Population growth
  • High per capita consumption rates
  • Government subsidies for unsustainable policies.

. Note the framing of the issue – the reporter speaks of “the threat of zero population growth.” -BA

U.S. population reaches 300 million, heading for 400 million
No cause for celebration

Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute
Sometime this month, the U.S. population is projected to reach 300 million. In times past, reaching such a demographic milestone might have been a cause for celebration. In 2006, it is not. Population growth is the ever expanding denominator that gives each person a shrinking share of the resource pie. It contributes to water shortages, cropland conversion to non-farm uses, traffic congestion, more garbage, overfishing, crowding in national parks, a growing dependence on imported oil, and other conditions that diminish the quality of our daily lives.

With births exceeding deaths by nearly two to one, the U.S. population grows by almost 1.8 million each year, or 0.6 percent. Adding nearly 1 million immigrants per year brings the annual growth rate up to 0.9 percent, raising the total addition to 2.7 million. As things now stand, we are headed for 400 million Americans by 2043.
(4 Oct 2006)