The prediction sounds very alarming. The animal species slated for extinction not only include high-profile beasts such as tigers but smaller, less well-known creatures that are essential for maintaining a stable ecological system.
Is Population Control Inevitable?
What drastic action needs to be taken? Apparently, population control, especially in the developing world where most of the future population growth is taking place, will be essential for alleviating the pressure that human beings are allegedly putting on the planet.
People also need to stop consuming so much and cut back on their standard of living. The solutions are likely to be controversial, to say the least. The Catholic Church forbids birth control as part of its doctrine. A program of population control that falls heaviest on the developing world is likely to be condemned as racist. People in western countries are also likely to resist being forced to scale back their lifestyles.
Is Paul Ehrlich Chicken Little?
Another problem presents itself in the story and the announcement. Paul Ehrlich has been famous for nearly 50 years for making predictions of universal calamity that have proven to be wrong.
In 1968, Ehrlich published a massive best seller entitled “The Population Bomb” (3) that predicted worldwide famines and the collapse of civilization from overpopulation. The problem is that his predictions, except for the raw size of the population of the Earth, were wrong, according to a recent story in Bloomberg (4). Ehrlich missed the green revolution that greatly enhanced the human race’s ability to feed itself. Famines, such as they were, have been caused by bad government policies and conflict and not by shortages of food. Ehrlich also missed the passage of environmental laws and the advance of technology that alleviated much of the air and water pollution that afflicted the Western world in the 1960s.
So, do we have another case of a proven crackpot trying to be a crackpot for a new generation and century? The answer has to be divided into Ehrlich and his fellow scientists’ and scholars’ predictions and their solution.
Some animal species are endangered, and overpopulation in the developing world is a problem. These facts are as real as food shortages and pollution were problems 50 years ago.
Solutions: West vs. East
But Ehrlich and his compatriots have trotted out the same solution that was proposed in the 1960s, forced population control. The problem is that China tried that solution with its one-child policy, with the result that that country’s population still grew, and a mismatch in the numbers of young men and young women has developed with the potential of a demographic train wreck.
The West, on the other hand, invested in technology, growing more food on less acreage, and developing clean-running cars and power plants. As a result, people in western countries are not only more prosperous, have more food, and generate less pollution, but are now facing the opposite problem of declining population as more people choose on their own not to have children or to have fewer children. The result is an aging population that needs to be taken care of, and not enough people to take care of them.
Therein resides the solution. Instead of either suffering an environmental calamity or imposing fascist population control regime on other countries, the solution would seem to be to spread prosperity and the habits that create it to nations where such do not exist. Then, if history is any judge, the problem will solve itself.