The Coming Population Crash: An Upbeat and Optimistic Outlook (Book Review)

Treehugger is full of posts with titles like The Elephant in the Room: Overpopulation and Population Growth, Resource Over-Consumption at Center of 'Looming Catastrophe, all suggesting that overpopulation will stretch our climate and our resources to the breaking point.

British journalist Fred Pearce disagrees in The coming Population Crash and Our Planet's Surprising Future He shows how birthrates are falling all over the world. And not just in rich western countries, but in India and Iran. Even in Bangladesh, women are having half as many children than their mothers did. It is a worldwide trend that will result in a population implosion. Wherever there is education and communication, you get birthrate declines. Where you have war and a large supply of angry and alienated men, like Gaza, you have a high fertility rate; peace and stability yield fewer worries for women about whether their kids will live to adulthood.

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But what about resources and climate change? Pearce is an optimist here, writing that "we have the capability to tackle these great issues and carve out a sustainable future...but we have to persuade ourselves of the seriousness of the threats that we face, so that we act."

He nails a few of us TreeHuggers with his statement:

For me, environmentalists are at their best when they alert us to the dangers, and at their worst when they succumb to the belief that their worst predictions are designed to come true. The Optimists are at their best when they convince us that anything is possible- and at their worst when they are convinced that we don't have to change in order to achieve it, that all we need to do is trust God or the markets.

But the main factor that may ameliorate the problem is the fact that the population is going to skew old, very old. Pearce suggests that old people generally consume less.

The older we are, the less we are hooked on the latest gizmos- whether military toys or Playstations- and on obsessive consumption. We may, in consequence, reduce pressure on the world's resources, by consuming less and by paying greater attention to ensuring our air is cleaner , our biodiversity richer, our soils more fertile and our climate more predictable.

Right. I still want an iPad. I don't think the boomers I know are going to give up on consumerism, or buy into Ghandi's famous line, "There is enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed." But I do enjoy reading an optimistic book for a change, and would like to look forward to a "wiser, kinder, greener world." The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet's Surprising Future

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Carl Sagan said much the same thing over a decade ago; from Quote of the Day: Carl Sagan on the World Population Crisis:

There is a well-documented correlation between poverty and high birthrates. In little countries and big countries, capitalist countries and communist countries, Catholic countries and Moslem countries, Western countries and Eastern countries--in almost all these cases, exponential population growth slows down or stops when grinding poverty disappears. This is called demographic transition....

Our job is to bring about a worldwide demographic transition and flatten out that exponential curve--by eliminating grinding poverty, making safe and effective birth control methods widely available, and extending real political power (executive, legislative, judicial, military, and in institutions influencing public opinion) to women. If we fail, some other process, less under out control, will do it for us."

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