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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Population Bomb's 50th Anniversary

This year marks 50 years since Paul Ehrlich published his seminal book The Population Bomb: Population Control or Race to Oblivion?  Professor Ehrlich is a biologist, not a demographer, but his impact on public discourse and policy about population has been enormous, which is why we are still talking about his book a half century later. And it's not just us talking about it. So is he! My thanks to Population Matters for the link to a nearly one-hour interview with Paul Ehrlich put together by Climate One.

Ehrlich is a classic Neo-Malthusian and you may disagree with a lot of what he says, but his demodystopian view of the world (which I talked about yesterday) is powerful. It also led to death threats and other kinds of abuse hurled at him over the years. As he discusses in his interview, the prevailing criticism is that he was "wrong" in that there weren't the kinds of famines that he predicted. A number of years I ago I invited him to come down here to SDSU from Stanford to give a talk at a colloquium that I had helped organize for our Graduate School of Public Health. He and I discussed the fact that he was delighted to have been wrong! Despite what some of the haters seemed to believe, he was not wishing for the end of the world or the deaths of millions of people. Rather, he was sounding a warning signal. That we are still talking about it today is reminder of how important that warning was--and still is. We are by no means in safe territory with respect to the future. But that doesn't mean we're doomed. We just have to stay focused on what a sustainable future means. 

As Ehrlich discusses in the interview, we cannot assume that incomes for everyone in the world can keep going higher and higher if that means ever more consumption of non-renewable resources. We have to protect our environment, including the land, water, and air. And we have to recognize that intentionally small families are much better than the historical small families that came about as a result of high death rates. Most of human history has been characterized by lives that were short and brutish. No matter how much we may "enjoy" the demodystopian movies, that's not the direction we want to be going.

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