When Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb in 1968, there were 3.5 billion people on Earth, up from 1.4 billion in 1901 and heading for our early-2018 total of 7.6 billion. Ehrlich feared the worst – accurately predicting, in general terms, the stress that meeting everyone’s needs would place on the living world. He also proposed some alarming and heavy-handed remedies. All this has just been been revisited in The Guardian’s over-stretched cities series, in a 50th anniversary interview with Ehrlich.
I once planned a book on population, since I’d noticed that it was a taboo subject yet, to an ecologist, one that simply had to be considered. So I tried to find out why there was so little on population, which must surely be a starting point for the sustainable development of anyone’s country, or immigration issues, or ecological collapse, mass extinction or climate change. And yet it wasn’t anything of the sort. I concluded that this was because it’s all too difficult, far harder than any of the specific development issues since it’s connected to what we do as a species: competitive breeding among peoples, cross-contaminated by issues around patriarchy, family planning, sex education, adoption, immigration, juvenile pregnancies, class, honour killings, religion, euthanasia, test-tube babies, you name it!
Besides, for various reasons that have been perfectly valid for at least 99% of our species’ time on Earth, few people even see that there might be a problem with ‘population’. Into this mess only the bravest or most foolhardy are likely to venture. So I chickened out, and here we still are, heading for unimaginable global calamity and taking the whole living world down with us. What to do?
© Julian Caldecott