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The Population Bomb

This is one of the most interesting books ever written by Paul Ehrlich in 1968. This book predicts a catastrophe for humanity as a result of overpopulation. It is in this book that Paul Ehrlich fore-told massive starvations that will lead death of millions of people in the 1970s and 1980s. He adds that nothing can stop the mass famine and therefore necessary steps are needed to stop the rise in population. However, this has been proved wrong by history. Apart from Africa, massive starvations did not occur in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite this, Population Bomb remains the most quoted book on environmental issues by the media.

It is believed that the Population Bomb was written at a proposition by David Brower, the chief executive of Sierra Club environmental club. This was after Paul Ehrlich wrote an article for the New Scientist in 1967 predicting high population between 1970 and 1985 that will outstrip resources. He was quoted in this article saying that “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980,” By examining this book keenly, you will find that it is a replica of Malthusian Catastrophe by Thomas Malthus which postulates that unless the population growth is checked, it will supersede agricultural growth.

Ehrlich assumed that population will rise exponentially, but resources like food will remain the same. While Malthus did not make a strong prediction of a looming disaster, Ehrlich did warn of a possible catastrophe. Ehrlich’s solutions to ease the forthcoming problems were observed as more radical than those proposed by Malthus. In one of the paragraphs Ehrlich says “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.

At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate… ” from this paragraph and others it is clear that this does not solely deal with shortage of food but also with other crises that occur due to increase in population. In his case he explains a possible disaster in broader terms. According to the book, to define “population bomb” one would require (1) high rate of change, (2) a limit of some kind and (3) delays in perceiving the limit. The predictions actually did happen in some parts of the world but the effects were never recognized in the developed world.

The book gives credit to Norman Borlaug’s ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s for causing world food production to grow exponentially at a rate higher than the increase in population in both developing and developed countries. However, it is clear that in the developed countries population growth rates have gone down [1]. Global food shortage is not the root cause for famine but political upheavals [2]. In Tropical Africa, population growth rates in the 1980s and 1990s still surpassed the economic growth. Andrew K. , and Khaltourina D.

in their book Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends in Africa explain how food shortages in some instances caused political instabilities. Even though Ehrlich theory was major factor in public policy in the 1960s and the 1970s, his projections could not hold the time analysis. This has been attributed to the fact that Ehrlich applied the compound interest formula to calculate growth in population as observed by Greiner (1994). By making use of two assumptions based on Ehrlich’s it was later shown that “the theorized growth in population and subsequent scarcity of resources could not have occurred on Ehrlich’s time schedule.

” The data shows a linear but steady growth. Lets take for instance the US population was a little linear than exponential. Precisely, an exponential function ex can be expanded to (1+x) as the first order leading term. Now for values less than 1% the difference between the liner and exponential growth is hard to tell. For x = 1% the population doubling time would be 70 years. In the late 2008, the exponential growth rate of the world has dropped to approximately 1. 2% and hence this ushers us in a linear growth if measured over timescales much less than the doubling time.

Nevertheless, it is conceptually wrong to claim that the US population or world population is rising linearly. In 1959, the world population was 3 billion. It however doubled in 1999 and it is expected to rise another 3 billion by 2042 [3]. The Population Bomb swayed the people’s interest and so many copies were sold and therefore environmental issues and population were brought into light. The introduction of the pill in the 21st century caused some decline in growth of the US population. The US approved the pill as a result of Ehrlich’s work for wide spread use though the population growth rate seems to grow by 0.

91%. The other interesting segment in this book is famous Impact formula. I = P ? A ? T, where I = Environmental Impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology. From this simple formula Ehrlich argues that rich developed countries have a larger per capita impact than the developing nations. Ehrlich’s work has not been spared of criticism either. Many of them have compared his work to that of Malthus for economic catastrophe and multiple predictions of famine. Julian l. Simon, a libertarian theorist is one of the leading critic of Ehrlich’s work.

In his book The Ultimate Resource, Julian argues that a bigger population is a benefit and not liability. In a bid to test their contradicting views on resources, they entered into a wager on how metal prices would move in 1980. Julian indicated that the prices of metal have been falling throughout the years and would follow the same trend while Ehrlich suggested that the metal prices would increase as they become limited in the earth’s crust. Sadly, Ehrlich lost the bet. Even without taking into account the rate of inflation, Julian would have still won following the decline in prices of five of the metals selected by Ehrlich.

In this book he starts with casting a ray of hope for the world that “the battle to feed all humanity is over” and later brings some fears that “In the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death. ” However, for the case of his other book “The End of Affluence” he predicts the cost of feeding ourselves and family will go up due to an overall upward trend of food prices. Ehrlich adds that by 1980 the life expectancy in the US will fall to 42 years as result pesticide usage and worse still the population will drop by 22. 6 million by 1999 [3].

Ronald Bailey (1993) in his book Eco-Sam blasted the views of many environmental theorists including Ehrlich. While reacting to constant repeat in theorizing of the said theories he posed so many questions. He asked why doomsayers skip to anther whenever their predicted disaster doesn’t occur. He wondered why the theorists could not see that things were getting better on average and why they always thought we were at termination points. Ehrlich; however in his earlier his stand points on population and resources reiterated his predictions in his book Betrayal of Science and Reason.

Ehrlich has not been spared either by the politicians. In his book Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control & Contraceptive Choice, Hartmann (1987) accused Ehrlich and other environmentalists that they focus on misanthropy and population control which is she believes is antithetical to activism on feminism and social class. The demographers have not spared him either. Phillip Longman (2004) in his book The Empty Cradle argues that the ‘baby boom’ of the fifties was unlikely to be repeated and that the urban population increase was unpreventable because of the economic liability children become.

However, Bjorn Lomborg of the Skeptical Environmentalist fame disagrees with most his allegations in this book. Different indices of economic freedom claim that famine is caused by lack of property rights and not high population density. In essence, countries like India, China, Botswana and South Korea were able to eradicate famines by adopting property rights. Similarly, countries like North Korea, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe created famines by abolishing property rights. As much as Ehrlich remains silent on why South Korea is much better of North Korea, an in-depth analysis of property rights reveals the disparity in a clear and concise manner.

Ehrlich has done a lot of effort in defending himself from most of his critics. In an interview with Grist Magazine in 2004, he firstly acknowledged that some of his predictions have not occurred since The Population Bomb was published. He however maintained that his assertions and fundamental ideas made were proved valid scientifically. He explains that when he was writing the book (The Population Bomb) in 1968, the world population was 3. 5 billion and since then it has grown by another 2. 8 billion which is much more than the population at the time of his birth in 1932.

He claims that this is a population explosion. He also claims that his fundamental claims and those of the many scientific colleagues who reviewed his work were that population growth was a major problem. He adds that in 1994, 58 science academies did the same and so did the world scientist’s warning to the humanity. Apart from his work being cited for all the wrong reasons, Ehrlich says the purported “predictions” were actually scenarios [4]. For example, he explains that in The Population Bomb he dealt with the uncertainties about the course of events using scenarios.

He made use of short stories about the future and provided hints to help think about it. This backfired as most critics used these scenarios as predictions that never were. This was actually a mistake. This made the whole book look wrong. However as explained, the main aim of the book and scenarios were to prepare our minds to provide solutions in the event of such occurrences. Unfortunately, as we have seen, much of the action that was stimulated by the food problems of the late 1960s turned out to be a short-term cure which has made the long-term situation worse.

He wondered why critics avoid the scenarios of the book. It will not be surprising if some reviewer would dismiss the Population Explosion the Population Bomb never happened. Ehrlich’s predictions are based on spacious methodology. He has failed to place them in context. It is true that the population has grown in the industrial era thanks to food production and medicine. However, as countries have reached industrial plateaus, the have experienced a decline in population growth. When you examine this clearly, you will find that he is focused on a startling and rather population rise.

As Julian says “It’s as if he’s chosen one moment in a car ride from New York to California and tried to generalize from it about the whole trip. If he’s chosen a moment when the car is at cruising speed and concluded that the car was generally traveling 50 miles per hour, he’s not too far wrong. But if he’s chosen a moment when the car was accelerating to get on the highway and concluded that the car just kept going faster and faster the whole trip, then he’s obviously made a tremendous error.

” In this case, Ehrlich seems not able to see past his one moment of acceleration in population. All conclusions he draws can be challenged by this lack of perspective. Moreover, such predictions are made by people with vested interests in their own prediction. Actually it is more likely that a demographer will rush to a conclusion that that there is a crisis which requires a massive response and loads of power, money and time than that population problems are pretty much self regulating and no response is required.

Bearing this in mind it is almost unlikely that researchers employed to study a problem will find any good news. Interestingly, another prejudice to their findings is fact that they are instigated by entities or people with some political agenda and therefore their vested interests are observed in the outcome. The truth is that money to fund these researches including environmental studies do not just pop up abruptly. It however comes from individuals with preexisting concerns about the issue.

I tend to believe that the research will tend to get results affirming their sponsors’ believes. What disturbs me with the predictions is that they assume that the disaster can only be prevented by the bureaucratic individuals when given power to decide life and death matters on our behalf. In this case Ehrlich is on a mission to decide who will die or who will live. In conclusion, it seems that none of these issues matter. The book is still being read and even its ideas even taken more seriously. I believe Ehrlich thinks that one billion is the ideal number for humans.

The fact that Ehrlich is still alive and reducing resources, explains that he is not serious about his arguments. It is absurd that depopulation activists think that they should be included in the one billion. End notes 1. “Eco-Catastrophe! ” Ramparts. Sept 1969. pages 24–28 2. “When Paul’s Said and Done: Paul Ehrlich, famed ecologist, answers readers’ questions”. Grist Magazine. August 13, 2004. http://www. grist. org/comments/interactivist/2004/08/09/ehrlich/index1. html 3. http://www. sepp. org/Archive/controv/controversies/ehrlich. html 4. In The Population Explosion (1990), in a footnote (p. 295),

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