My soul-mate Linnie and I have been happily married since the biologist Paul Ehrlich came to public attention in 1968 with the publication of his book, The Population Bomb. Worries about the potential problems of a soaring global population had boiled and cooled over previous decades. And the issue had become so enmeshed with political decisions that many just wished to ignore it. The warnings of Thomas Malthus, the eighteenth century writer who had had such influence on many thinkers on the problems of uncontrolled population growth, had slipped into the background. But with the current surge in commodity prices around the world the issue of the size of the population is once more rapidly moving up the global agenda. And it is interesting to see this 50-year-old plus perspective.
Paul Ehrlich chose to emphasise the simple biological challenges posed by rising populations. And he was strident: “It cannot be overemphasised”, he wrote, “that no changes in behaviour or technology can save us unless we can achieve control over the size of the human population. The birth rate must be brought into balance with the death rate or mankind will breed itself into oblivion. We can no longer afford merely to treat the symptoms of the cancer of population growth; the cancer itself must be cut out”, he wrote.
“The rich may continue to get richer, but the more numerous poor are going to get poorer. Of these poor, a minimum of ten million people, most of them children, will starve to death during each year of the 1970s. But this is a mere handful compared to the numbers that will be starving before the end of the century. And it is now too late to take action to save many of these people. Ehrlich's predictions have not been founded in events, but there is no doubt that many people in poorer countries receive inadequate food. But Ehrlich's purpose was also to highlight the developed countries' situation. “Most Americans are not aware that the US and other developed countries also have a problem with overpopulation. Rather than suffering from food shortages, these countries show symptoms in the form of environmental degradation and increased difficulty in obtaining resources to support their affluence.”
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