The Population Bomb


Predictions revisited

The Population Bomb

On World Population Day (today, if you didn’t know it) the Royal Society of London announces a new working group on human population growth, led by the geneticist Sir John Sulston. But this is no exercise in professional demography. Political overtones are evident in the working group’s inclusion of “experts on the environment, agriculture, economics, law and theology drawn from a mix of rich and poor countries including the UK, China, Brazil and the US,” as the BBC tells us. So when the working group reports in 2012 we can expect technocrats once again to be wanting to tell other people how to live.

Of course the population scare goes way back to Thomas Malthus (1798), but in its modern guise it has underpinned militant environmentalism for more than 40 years since a butterfly expert, Paul Ehrlich of Stanford, published The Population Bomb in 1968. Never mind that what he predicted turned out to be wrong. That sort of mishap doesn’t matter once you’ve been sanctified by true believers.

Ever been stuck in traffic on a hot night in Delhi? I once was in the 1960s, before I first read The Population Bomb, so I recognised the scene described by Ehrlich:

The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people.”

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