When Will Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb Explode? Or Is It Doing So Now? Are Religions To Blame?

Donald A. Collins | 2 June 2015
Church and State

(Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash)

My son, a veteran electronic engineer, read the May 31, 2015 Sunday NY Times article “The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion” and emailed me “In 1968, a book by a Stanford biologist predicted doom for the planet in coming decades. Whatever became of the population bomb?”

The Times story with its accompanying video gives us a very balanced update on what happened to this issue since 1968 when world population was just over 3.5 billion people.

Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich, the famous author of “The Population Bomb” to whom my son referred, now says he was not wrong, but only was wrong about the time it will take to make his predictions come true; he still says the present and projected number of humans on our planet cannot be sustained very long. He apparently has stopped giving time estimates which characterized his predictions when his book was published.

Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who also appears in the Times video, was an early believer in Ehrlich’s views. Decades later, Brand now takes the position that over population will be solved by many present trends including urbanization where fewer children are wanted, the Green Revolution, where machines have less need for farmers, and better child survival. He and others cite an alternative possibility that we will have too few people and are now moving to a population bust, which seems utterly ridiculous in the age of technology where machines increasingly do human chores.

Certainly, any positive news is what we all want to hear, but clearly the title of the NY Times piece, which includes the word “horrors” suggests such trends don’t solve Ehrlich’s concerns.

I had a recent chat with the famous environmentalist, Lester Brown, whose latest book “The Great Transition”, which argues that we are moving toward a world which relies far less on fossil fuels. I asked Lester if the world could support 11 billion by 2100 as some demographers project. His reply was “We will never get there”. Ehrlich of course would agree.

In my view, the jury is still very much out on how we handle these historically unprecedented human numbers on our finite planet which does indeed have limited resources.

Finding our “carrying capacity” (e.g. the numbers of humans who can be kept alive on our planet) will not be the key question when measuring our quality of life and finding it declining precipitously in the decades ahead.

While access to family planning including abortion does not provide the only fix, our planetary environment has already been seriously impacted and will continue to be. The 2 billion people alive on the planet when I was born in 1931 have ballooned to a present level of over 7 billion and now relentlessly moves toward the higher levels demographers now predict, sans of course the not remote possibilities of dramatic human reductions from massive wars, diseases, and changes in our climate.

While in the past 2 or 3 decades there has been less push for providing contraception for women, there has been some improved social status worldwide for women via education. Now with vastly increased electronic access to all kinds of information, many women and their families can be reached with knowledge about birth control options. As Melinda Gates discovered in her extensive travels in poorer nations, women want those options and consider them primary in their list of priorities for a better life. Getting husbands involved is another vital necessity.

Sadly, even in the USA, the world’s richest nation, women’s reproductive services remain inadequate. Even in supposedly well served USA where condoms now can be readily purchased at any drug chain without having to ask the pharmacist, as was not true only several decades ago, the prestigious Guttmacher Institute tells us that in 2013 some 49% of our births were UNINTENDED! And US women resorted to nearly 500,000 abortions.

Sadly the lack of access to contraceptives and abortion now exists in many countries where the Catholic Church has huge influence. Of course in most Moslem nations conditions of access to such essential supplies and the right to use them are equally difficult, so this charge against these and other male dominated monotheistic religions needs urgent alteration.

Obviously, religious influence on what should be an entirely secular matter ranks high as a deterrent for many governments to do the job of providing full contraceptive prevalence. Here the role of private resources has been amazingly effective where employed.

However, Dear Readers, be sure to understand this key, but not often expressed point!! The enormous magnitude of other vital services urgently needed to sustain these hugely expanded populations makes it almost mandatory for governments and private providers to turn to treating what are essentially the effects of the growth of population, thus ignoring or not adequately addressing the cause, which is over population.

Thus, to repeat the point of the last paragraph for emphasis, it is clear that these huge increases in all human needs and demands such as food, health care, normal public services of all kinds have pushed to a much lower priority the funding that can insure that all women who want them have access to modern contraception.

Note also the rise of the incidents in vicious human behavior, including errant law enforcement, which shows up in the urban crowding in the USA. Urbanization which has accompanied the vast growth of human numbers does not often prove to foster improvements in the living conditions of many humans worldwide. Are the wars ongoing in the Middle East wars of population??

Mr. Brand implies in his NY Times videoed interview that the population growth issue is well on the way to solution. However, as noted above, the jury is still very much out and those who share his view cannot apparently imagine the increases in the vast human dislocations which Ehrlich rightly predicts are coming.

Don’t forget that we already have what most objective scientific observers agree are more humans on the planet than can be sustained over time in any semblance of comfort and security.

We certainly want to applaud and encourage positive steps toward all attempts to bring improvement to what is already a dangerous situation. However, no better step could be taken than to give all women full access to all safe and modern means of controlling their fertility. These means should be given free to women if necessary as all the studies show the immense economic benefit of so doing to families and society.

The time for delay is past. The time for public relations fudging on the obvious core cause of our planetary woes is past. Strong sectarian leadership will be mandatory to withstand the clear and dangerous objections of many powerful religious sects.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
Kindle Store

Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.

Professor Paul Ehrlich: Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?

Lester R. Brown interview with Rob Stewart

Al Bartlett — Democracy Cannot Survive Overpopulation

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  1. We produced an award-winning documentary, Mother: Caring for 7 Billion, on population and its effects on the planet, poverty, the environment and on the lives of women and children around the world. Population growth is the great multiplier that makes poverty worse, unemployment worse, wages lower, and countless other environmental and social problems. Advocating for more consumers is reckless and arrogant on our finite planet where so many wild species are being pushed to extinction. Our film Mother spends a considerable amount of time on the caring solutions of women's empowerment and education. If you want to watch a film on population, we recommend watching Mother. https://youtu.be/cPHE2ZSaw38


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