Excerpts from Paul Ehrlich

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970's the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to 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, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to "stretch" the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control. Population control is the conscious regulation of the numbers of human beings to meet the needs, not just of individual families, but of society as a whole.

Nothing could be more misleading to our children than our present affluent society. They will inherit a totally different world, a world in which the standards, politics, and economics of the 1960's are dead. As the most powerful nation in the world today, and its largest consumer, the United States cannot stand isolated. We are today involved in the events leading to famine; tomorrow we may be destroyed by its consequences.

Our position requires that we take immediate action at home and promote effective action worldwide. We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail. We must use our political power to push other countries into programs which combine agricultural development and population control. And while this is being done we must take action to reverse the deterioration of our environment before population pressure permanently ruins our planet. The birth rate must be brought into balance with the death rate or mankind will breed itself into oblivion. We can no longer afford merely to treat the symptoms of the cancer of population growth; the cancer itself must be cut out. Population control is the only answer. PROLOGUE (The Population Bomb, Paul R. Ehrlich, 1968)

(Note: world population in 1968 was 3.5 billion.)

What assumptions are being made about the relationship between population and environmental deterioration? Between population and famine?

What was actually going on at this time in agricultural development?

What was actually going on in fertility rates?


· .. human beings possess considerable ability to adapt to new conditions (such as resource scarcity) through rapid social and technological changes. Given present technologies, levels of consumption, and socioeconomic organization, has that adaptability made today's human population sustainable? The answer to this question is clearly no, by a very simple standard. The present population of 5.5 billion is being maintained only through the exhaustion and dispersion of a one-time inheritance of natural capital. ... Essential elements of this diminishing capital include high grade agricultural soils, groundwater that accumulated during the end of the last ice age, and biodiversity; each is being depleted globally at rates orders of magnitude in excess of regeneration,and has no known substitute that could be feasibly supplied at levels close to those required.... it is evident that the human enterprise has not only exceeded its current carrying capacity, but is actually reducing future carrying capacity.

The usual consequence for an animal population that exceeds its local biophysical carrying capacity is a population decline, brought about by a combination of increased mortality, reduced fecundity, and emigration where possible... A classic example is that of 29 reindeer introduced to St. Matthew Island, which propagated to 6000, destroyed their resource base, and declined to fewer than 50 individuals ... Can human beings lower their per-capita impact at a rate sufficiently high to counterbalance their explosive increases in population?  Daily, Gretchen C., and Paul R. Ehrlich  1992  Population, sustainability, and Earth's carrying capacity. BioScience 42(10):761-771, references omitted.

(Note the world population in 1992.

What assumptions are being made about the relationship between population and environmental deterioration?

How do population-resource relations differ between deer and humans?