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Encyclopedia > The Population Bomb

The Population Bomb (1968) is a book written by Paul R. Ehrlich. A best-selling work, it predicted disaster for humanity due to overpopulation and the "population explosion". The book predicted that "in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death", that nothing can be done to avoid mass famine greater than any in the history, and radical action is needed to limit the overpopulation. 1968 (MCMLXVIII) was a leap year starting on Monday (the link is to a full 1968 calendar). ... Paul Ralph Ehrlich (born May 29, 1932 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is a Stanford University professor and a renowned entomologist specializing in Lepidoptera (butterflies). ... It has been suggested that Overpopulation Debate be merged into this article or section. ... The 1970s decade refers to the years from 1970 to 1979, inclusive. ... MacGyver is one of the symbols of 1980s The 1980s decade refers to the years from 1980 to 1989, inclusive. ...


The book is primarily a repetition of the Malthusian catastrophe argument, that population growth will outpace agricultural growth unless controlled. It assumes that the population is going to raise exponentially, on the other hand the resources, in particular food, are already at their limits. A Malthusian catastrophe, sometimes known as a Malthusian check, Malthusian crisis, Malthusian dilemma, Malthusian disaster or Malthusian trap, is a return to subsistence-level conditions as a result of agricultural (or, in later formulations, economic) production being eventually outstripped by growth in population. ...


Unlike Malthus, Ehrlich predicted that not only the overpopulation will hit in some indefinite future, but it is certain to lead to a massive disaster in the next few years. Also unlike Malthus, Ehrlich didn't see any means of avoiding the catastrophe, and the solutions for limiting its scope he proposed were much more radical, including starving whole countries that refused to implement population control measures. The Rev. ...

"The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..."

The book deals not only with food shortage, but also with other kinds of crises caused by rapid population growth, expressing the possibility of disaster in broader terms. A "population bomb", as defined in the book, requires only three things:

  • A rapid rate of change
  • A limit of some sort
  • Delays in perceiving the limit

Also worth noting is Ehrlich's introduction of the Impact formula:


I = PAT (where I=Impact, PAT = Population x Affluence x Technology)


Hence, Ehrlich argues, affluent technological nations have a greater per capita impact than poorer nations. Per capita is a Latin phrase meaning for each head. ...


The predictions not only did not come true, the world developed in a direction completely opposite to the one predicted by Ehrlich, without implementing any of his proposed measures. The world food production grows exponentially at a rate much higher than the population growth, in both developed and developing countries, partially due to the efforts of Norman Borlaug's "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, and the food per capita level is the highest in the history. On the other hand population growth rates significantly slowed down, especially in the developed world. The famine has not been eliminated, but its root cause is political instability, not global food shortage [1]. Norman Ernest Borlaug (born March 25, 1914) is an American agricultural scientist, humanitarian, Nobel laureate, and the father of the Green Revolution. ... The Green Revolution is the increase in food production stemming from the improved genetic strains of wheat, rice, maize and other cereals in the 1960s developed by Dr Norman Borlaug and others under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations. ... The 1960s decade refers to the years from 1960 to 1969, inclusive. ...


Although Ehrlich’s theory influenced 1960’s and 1970's public policy, a post-analysis by Keith Greiner (1994) observed that Ehrlich’s projections could not possibly have held the scrutiny of time because Ehrlich applied the financial compound interest formula to population growth. Using two sets of assumptions based on the Ehrlich theory, it was shown that the theorized growth in population and subsequent scarcity of resources could not have occurred on Ehrlich’s time schedule. The historical US population growth was more linear than exponential. Nevertheless The Population Bomb sold many copies and raised the general awareness of population and environmental issues. Early 21st century analyses of the age distribution of the US population show that growth in population declined after “the pill” was approved for widespread use (though of course the population continues to grow rapidly). That approval was likely influenced by Ehrlich’s work. (Reference: Greiner, K. (1994, Winter). The baby boom generation and How they Grew, Chance: A Magazine of the American Statistical Association.) Oral contraceptives are chemicals taken by mouth to inhibit normal fertility. ... The Greiner Group is a diversified company in the plastic and packaging industry based in Kremsmünster, Austria. ... A baby boom is any period of greatly increased birth rate within temporal and usually geographical bounds. ...


External links

  • A critique of Paul Ehrlich and "The Population Bomb"

  Results from FactBites:
 
population: Definition and Much More from Answers.com (3357 words)
In biology, plant and animal populations are studied, in particular, in a branch of ecology known as population biology, and in population genetics.
Population decline is a decrease in a region's population.
Population transfer is a policy by which a state forces the movement of a large group of people from one region to another, often on the basis of their ethnicity or religion.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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