Is Paul Ehrlich's 'Population Bomb' Defusing Itself? Fred Pearce Thinks So

bangladeshi women holding babies photo

photo by Michael Foley

Last week I pointed out a piece that Yale Environment 360 had about the great elephant in the environmental room otherwise known as population growth and resource overconsumption. In the broadstroke I agree with Ehrlich regarding population growth, but even more so on resource consumption. Especially insofar as that I quite openly believe that no technological solution alone will solve the environmental problems we currently face. No green deus ex machina is likely to appear. Changing habits and attitudes toward material consumption could have far greater an impact than any technological breakthrough.

However, this week Yale is running a rather hopeful counterpoint to Ehrlich. Not a refutation of the idea that we need to be paying attention to population more than we currently do, but an observation that population growth is slowly slowing itself. Please read all of "The Population Bomb: Has It Been Defused?", but as per usual, here are some quotes to get you going:
Current Fertility Rates A Fraction of the Previous Generations'

You may not have noticed, but for some time now the average number of babies being born to each woman has been in decline in most of the world. A generation ago, the world fertility rate was around six kids per woman. Today it is 2.6, which is getting close to the level needed just to maintain the current population long-term. Allowing for girls who don't make it to adulthood, that is around 2.3.

Education, Economic Growth Not Always Linked to Declining Population Growth
Demographers used to say that fertility rates only fell when women got educated and the economy got rich. Tell that to the women of Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest nations, where girls are among the least educated in the world, and mostly marry while in their mid-teens. Yet they have just over three children now, less than half the number their mothers had. Provision of contraception is free, but there is no hint of compulsion.

In Brazil, hotbed of Catholicism, fertility is below 1.9. Nothing the priests say can stop the fall. More than a third of married women there have opted to be sterilized. The fact is, these women are seeing "Sex and the City" on TV and choosing a life beyond endless child-rearing. Some say the TV, more than schooling or rising incomes, is liberating the women of Asia and Latin America.

The First World Population Decline Since the Black Death
Why then is the world's population still rising? Currently at around 6.7 billion, it is 70 million higher every year. The problem is that the delivery wards are being visited by the huge numbers of young women born during the earlier baby boom. They may only have one or two children each. But that is still a lot of babies. Probably nothing will stop humanity reaching 8 billion by about 2040 and many demographers predict that world population will peak at around 9 billion by the end of the 21st century. But once those baby boomers have had their babies, the falling fertility rate will be translated into a real decline in the world's population — the first since the Black Death of the 14th century.

Good News, But Will We Be Able to Manage Until After the Fall?
Pearce's observations are certainly good news. But the thing that concerns me is still the aggregate population numbers and current expectations of material consumption. Even if population will stabilize at 9 billion before declining, it doesn't address the issue of resource consumption associated with the developed world's current standard of living.

Even among developed countries with a relatively low level of resource consumption, that rate outstrips the biological capacity of the planet. In short, the level of consumerism and resource consumption which have become normal in the United States, Europe, Japan cannot be scaled to the populations of India, China, Brazil and the dozens of other countries which are climbing the economic consumption ladder. Unless, that is, there are corresponding radical drops in consumption levels elsewhere.

We may be at a demographic turning point, but we must not forget that resource consumption must also be addressed to avoid Ehrlich's 'looming catastrophe' and that is one area where globally we are still headed in the wrong direction.

via :: Yale Environment 360
Population Growth, Eco-Footprint
Population Growth, Resource Over-Consumption at Center of 'Looming Catastrophe', Stanford Biologists Claim
Brits Break Silence on Population-Climate Change Links
Your Ecological Footprint: Defining, Calculating and Reducing Your Environmental Footprint
Treading Heavily on the Environment: China's Growing Eco-Footprint Highlighted in New Report

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