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By Dawson, Stephen | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, June 2004 | Go to article overview

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Dawson, Stephen, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


POPULATION MATTERS

I strongly urge you to give serious consideration and support to any programme that will encourage our population to stop growing, whether in the form of changes in the law or changes in our welfare and social programmes, and I urge you to support any policies that give positive assistance to the rest of the world in stopping population growth and increasing food production, [emphasis in original]

'Letter to a Politician'

Paul R Ehrlich,

The Population Bomb, 1968

Our topic for today, dear reader, is us. How many of us are there? How many should there be ? And who the hell is going to decide this last question?

The passage quoted above is the conclusion to a letter Dr Ehrlich offered, over 35 years ago, as a model for people, who simply had to do something about the population 'crisis', to write to politicians. The emphasis in the model letter on 'any programme' was no accident. In Chapter Two-'The Ends of the Road'-Ehrlich offers three scenarios for the future. The first two involve nuclear wars killing hundreds of millions, or everyone. But Scenario Three is 'cheerful', involving the deaths of only half a billion people before the First and Second Worlds gang up to create 'area rehabilitation' programmes for 'selected sections of Asia, Africa and South America'. The programmes, amongst other things, involve 'population control'. And then:

The plan will eventually cover the entire world and is programmed with a goal of a total world population of two billion in 2025, and 1.5 billion in 2100.

At the end of this chapter, Ehrlich invited readers to create scenarios 'more realistic ... more optimistic' than his. Now, looking back, we can see how the 'Ends of the Road' were reached. Instead of an Optimistic' requirement for a half of his 1968 population of 3.5 billion people to be shed, we have nearly doubled to something like 6.4 billion people in the world today. And these billions are, on average, and in the overwhelming majority, better fed and with greater life expectancies than members of humanity at any point in its 100,000 years of existence.

Of course, Ehrlich couldn't have known what the future would truly hold. Or could he? Back in 1989, B.A. Santamaria pointed out in his column in The Australian that per capita food production had increased by six per cent in the two decades leading up to 1971.

HOW MANY OF US ARE THERE?

The Web abounds with statistics. One useful site is the ironically named Overpopulation.com which, in a cool and objective way, provides the figures and arguments which demolish all claims that human population is a problem on this planet. Go to:

www.overpopulation.com

You can check the world's estimated population right now by going to:

www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html

Every time you press the 'refresh' button on your Web browser, you will notice the number having gone up by five to ten. That represents the net of births over deaths in those few seconds (on average).

If that makes you jittery, let's look into the past and future, also courtesy of the demographers of the US Census Bureau. The years 1962 and 1963 saw the highest annual growth rate in world population since 1950, with the numbers of humans increasing at 2.19 per cent per year. Since then, the rate has fallen inexorably, to 1.14 per cent last year and is projected to fall, by 2050, to just 0.43 per cent. The raw figures and various graphs are available here:

www.census.gov/ipc/www/world.html

But these figures should be swallowed with care. They put the total world population at just over nine billion in 2050. Most competent estimates of world population see it not as continuing its increase, but reaching a peak of between eight and eleven billion, somewhere between 2050 and 2100, and then beginning to fall. …

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