This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Earth Day 2015

This is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. As I have been saying for the past few days, every day needs to be earth day, but it is still helpful to celebrate it annually. My own involvement in Earth Day goes back to the very first one in 1970. As a PhD student in Demography at the University of California, Berkeley, I was invited to address what turned out to be a very large outdoor gathering on the campus of California State University, Fresno. Fresno County is the most productive agricultural county in the United States, although its current biggest crop, almonds, takes a huge--almost certainly unsustainable--amount of water. At the time, though, few of us were thinking about water scarcity. The truth was that growing food was an unabashedly good thing, since we knew there were going to be lots of new mouths to be fed in the future. My talk was "Who Lit the Fuse on the Population Bomb?" and of course the answer was "look in the mirror":

Europeans and Americans are responsible for the world's population problems. It all began 200 years ago in the early days of European and American economic development...[you know the rest of the story if you've read my book]. 
I used the opportunity to push for change, keeping in mind that in 1970 the average woman in the United States was giving birth to 2.5 babies, virtually all of whom would survive to adulthood. Fertility was on the way down, to be sure, but it wasn't clear in 1970 whether or not that was a long-term trend.
We should definitely advocate for the immediate removal of all discriminatory barriers in education and in the professions [remember that this was the first year that women had been admitted as undergraduates at Princeton]. If you can get a woman out of the house and reward her with financial gain and social and economic prestige, then the social and economic costs of having additional children are going to increase for that woman and she is far more likely than ever before to prefer a small family.
You will recognize the importance of that theme in almost everything that I have written since then. Keep in mind that between then and now we have added 115 million people to the U.S. population, although the birth rate has dropped to just below replacement level. At the same time the world's population has almost exactly doubled--from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.3 billion in 2015. Fortunately, the global birth rate is also on the way down from about 4.6 children then to 2.5 children now. We're not out of the woods yet, though. There will be many more Earth Days before we can relax.

1 comment:

  1. Prof Weeks - CONGRATULATIONS on your long support of Earth Day! This annual event, should be a daily priority in our lives.

    Here is an interesting thought. WHAT IF the most positive outcome could happen on Planet Earth? We somehow avoid major wars and loss of life ... and Earth transforms into a stable community with 9 billion people. Roughly the population in the decade 2050-2060. What would that Earth look like?

    It seems probable that such a place would have very little "pristine" habitat left. Very likely much habitat destruction will have occurred, because non-renewable resources (forests, lakes, streams) will have been depleted in many places. Not all places, but many of them. In effect, the Earth would need to be transformed into a Giant Farm. The entire surface of the Earth is transformed into human habitations, areas of productive agriculture, and nothing else (with perhaps a few pristine wilderness areas in some countries). In principle, we might have the technology to pull off a transformation like that. The purpose of the changes would be to give EVERY man, woman, and child on the planet - some kind of 'acceptable lifestyle'. This would mean that every human being eats a diet that consists of 'mostly natural food' ... although it may be grown with the assistance of technology, and probably would involve a lot of genetically modified foods. But people could eat! I remain convinced that such an outcome is conceivable ... PROVIDED the entire swath of humanity decides to focus on positive outcomes!! Such a world ... is still a huge challenge to accomplish in 35 years!

    I'm not entirely "psyched" about such a world. I personally love the wilderness areas, and I'm none too happy to see them disappearing. The number of places on Earth that will remain "truly pristine" ... will be very few. This may be the price we pay - for attempting to get to 9 billion people.

    But I suspect the TRUE outcome for Planet Earth ... is not nearly as simple, or as optimistic, as what I have described.

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA