Professor of Population Studies: We Need Less People

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Does the world need fewer people? Some population professors think so.


Paul Ehrlich, of Population Bomb fame, is out with a new paper arguing again that the world needs fewer people:

“Overall, careful analysis of the prospects does not provide much confidence that technology will save us or that gross domestic product can be disengaged from resource use,” the paper continued. The way to stop this is to “stop treating population growth as a ‘given’ and consider the nutritional, health and social benefits of humanely ending growth well below nine billion and starting a slow decline. This would be a monumental task, considering the momentum of population growth. Monumental, but not impossible if the political will could be generated globally to give full rights, education and opportunities to women, and provide all sexually active human beings with modern contraception and backup abortion.”

You would think Ehrlich is on the hyperbolic edge of this argument, but he's not:

David Attenborough has described humans as a "plague on Earth" that need to slow down breeding to stop the world's population being reduced by more brutal means.

Hyperbole shouldn't distract from the recent -- and largely bad -- climate news that has many analysts looking at the ramifications of resource use and the impact that a rising global middle class is having on the environment. The agricultural demands alone are immense -- agriculture is the leading source of carbon emissions, yet to feed the estimated 9 billion people that are expected inhabit Earth in the 21st century, food production will have to increase by 30 percent or more.

On the flip side, Daniel Bier argues that actually what the world needs is more people:

The reason why our intuition about the “limits to growth” is so wrong is that it fails to comprehend the role of human ingenuity in shaping and harnessing the environment. More people in a global market economy means more minds working to solving problems, more people producing things for each other, and more knowledge and ideas available to everyone.

Growth is only limited by our ability to innovate and solve problems, and that is only limited by our access to innovators and problem solvers.

The quixotic effort to quantify the exact amount of resources on earth and calculate when we will “run out” is doomed to fail because people are constantly inventing new ideas and discovering new uses for things. Nothing is a resource until someone discovers an application for it.

I'm certainly not in the Ehlrich camp on this, but Bier sounds a bit too glib to me. Some resources are finite, and while we shouldn't underestimate human ingenuity, we shouldn't overlook some other human traits (hubris, for instance) that could blind us to coming dangers.

(AP Photo)

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