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Revisiting ‘The Population Bomb’

Posted on Apr 26, 2012
James Cridland (CC BY 2.0)

The optimum human population of Earth—the number that would guarantee everyone access to the necessities of a decent life, according to Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich—is 1.5 to 2 billion people. Seven billion inhabit the planet now and 2 billion more will be added by 2050. 

Those numbers call for a radical reduction of the population and a redistribution of resources, Ehrlich argues. Otherwise, billions more hungry people will crowd a planet increasingly prone to cataclysmic disasters, including viruses and nuclear war. —ARK

Paul Ehrlich in The Guardian:

“How many you support depends on lifestyles. We came up with 1.5 to 2 billion because you can have big active cities and wilderness. If you want a battery chicken world where everyone has minimum space and food and everyone is kept just about alive you might be able to support in the long term about 4 or 5 billion people. But you already have 7 billion. So we have to humanely and as rapidly as possible move to population shrinkage.”

“The question is: can you go over the top without a disaster, like a worldwide plague or a nuclear war between India and Pakistan? If we go on at the pace we are there’s going to be various forms of disaster. Some maybe slow motion disasters like people getting more and more hungry, or catastrophic disasters because the more people you have the greater the chance of some weird virus transferring from animal to human populations, there could be a vast die-off.”

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, April 30, 2012 at 2:12 am Link to this comment

After the sterlization camps in India, I think certain sectors in the U.S. decided to unleash AIDS.

I believe they planned to wipe out all the Africans, people of African descent, fags, and godless promiscuous types, or at least put a serious dent in their respective numbers.

Some of you might be saying, “golly EmileZ, aren’t you going out on a limb with such a crazy theory???”

(and if you are Surfboy, you might be thinking: “Duh… EmileZ is so dumb and he is not a big boy like me.”)

Well, you may be right my skeptical friends (if I have any), but I ask… does it make any more sense than the official “green monkey” explanation that C. Everett Koop saw fit to formally announce to us in the midst of the great Ronald Reagan administration???

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By gerard, April 29, 2012 at 9:40 am Link to this comment

Like I said, as long as you have to beg to stay alive, people will have lots of kids so somebody will be left standing to beg for them when they get too old to beg.

Like I said, talk to the Pope and the Cards. And the Mormons.

Like I said, make it possible for parents to live without renting their daughters out for sex.
Provide enough jobs for women that they don’t have to sell themselves.

Like I said, buy a good supply of condoms just in case—and/or cut back by 2/3 on the amount of gas, food, electricity, and other miscellaneous
“essentials” you consume so there is enough left for the other 3/4 of the world.

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By heterochromatic, April 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment

gerard——- China’s population is forecast to hit
~1.45b by 2030 and then may decline (and the limiting
factor is) likely to be a lack of water while India is
expected to surpass China in population and reach more
than 1.5b

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By gerard, April 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment

From Wikipedia:
  “China is the largest country by population in the world, being home to 1.3 billion people. China is expected to witness a zero population growth rate by 2030. China’s population growth has slowed since the beginning of this century. It is because China’s family planning policy, which was formulated in the early 1970s, encourages late marriages and late childbearing, and limits most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two children. Without the policy, the country’s population would be 400 million more than the current 1.3 billion people. According to the government projection, the work-age population will then drop to 870 million.

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By gerard, April 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm Link to this comment

Reminder:  Known fact: As soon as living standards rise to moderate levels, population DECREASE occurs automatically. Moderate levels are attainable in many, many places. 
  Destitute families have many children because:
1. Most such children do not live long, and yet
2. It takes many children, raised to be beggars or dump-diggers, to scrounge or scavange enough to feed themselves and their family members who are too old or too sick to beg.

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By Maani, April 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm Link to this comment


Who said anything about the 1%?  LOL.  I said “rich.”  So it depends how broadly we define “rich.”  (Of course, to a person in India living on $2 a day, I’M rich!  LOL)

Still, you have a point.  And they probably don’t taste very good either!


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By heterochromatic, April 27, 2012 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment

Maani—- unless you can multiply the rich like loaves and fishes, that !% won’t feed
the multitudes…. for long…...and may prove to be just the first course.

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By Maani, April 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment

Simple solution: eat the rich.  LOL.

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By gerard, April 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

Mr.Freeze: Asking the TD village crone ain’t gonna help much as I have been out of touch with Endor for quite some time.  However—I’m taking a stab at it:
1. Statistics don’t exactly lie—but they usually leave important things out, due to either oversight or underestimation. They can also stupify.
2. I’m scared pea green myself, but haven’t given up hope because I think that doesn’t help. I keep grasping at straws—and swimming like crazy. Why?
I often suspect it is because I nearly died the day I was born. Naturally ...
3. Rapping on and on about the danger of “too many people” encourages war mongers to “take up arms against ... whoever looks most vulnerable. Soon, mass murder becomes “doing the world a favor.” What?
Weapons of mass destruction become “godgiven agencies of survival,” etc.
4. Understanding, organization for the mutual benefit of the “humane” race could do a lot in a hurry. Mutual self respect.(A seriously well organized UN based on experiences of UNESCO, ILO, Oxfam, etc.
5.Moratorium on number of births worldwide plus monetary reward for limiting, awarded toall those who need it to reach a minimum essential standard of living. (1 or 2 child policy) (Rich countries, corporations, churches taxed. Queen of England donate two or three castles and some ceremonial claptrap, etc. etc. Vatican? Reward “bit donors” with praise, recognition etc. Nobel Peace Prizes to nations for best overall work on decreasing?
6. Use Internet in all major languages to publish facts, plus statistics on progress monthly.
7. Replace slums with schools. Known fact: Population decrease occurs as soon as living standards are raised to moderate possibilities. Destitute families have many children because 1. Most do not live long, and 2. Many are necessary to raise as beggars in order for some to survive. (Vicious circle model.)
Yeah, maybe.

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By SoTexGuy, April 27, 2012 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

The article ignores the truth.. we are living the disaster!

Loss of freedoms, quality of life, degradation of our environments, the ‘other nations’ (non-human) directly expunged.. a rat race for survival for a growing segment of humanity as well.

Humans are adaptable, though. We have gotten accustomed to this toxic status quo and we will tolerate much worse.

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By Margaret Currey, April 27, 2012 at 2:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Big B:

Although we might run out of gasoline the imfracture of years past river travel, sailing ships food will be imported but rich countries like the U.S. will import less and since it will take longer to get to some ports I think some people will go hungry but when people go hungry will that limit the ability of mankind to make babies.

People like Santorum will think making children is good but he and his church will think twice when people start going hungry and maybe then will overpopulated nations think of control.

But then another aspect is when global warming really kicks in some nations will have less land to grows any crops and if there is change in weather patterns population will be forced to go down when there is less land to grow food.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, April 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm Link to this comment

Gerard - This article got me thinking:

If I recall correctly, you’re 98 years old right? It’s estimated that when you were born there were a “mere” 1.8 billion inhabitants on earth. By the time I was in HS and we were in the midst of huge discussions about population growth, there were about 4.2 billion and today there are 7+ billion.

I’m sincerely curious: has all this additional humanity (ourselves included) made the world a “better” place? Are we fulfilling our “destiny” as a species? Is our utter and total dominion of this fragile planet something to be proud of? Are we more humane because there are more of us? Or are we merely breeding ourselves and this planet into extinction? I’d sure like to read your impressions…..

Whenever I read stories about the sheer mass of humanity on earth, I’m reminded of a scene in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 as one character looks out the window of an airplane and as he gazes on the lights below he says, yes, look at all the people down there….“I suppose they all want some dignity.” Well, I’m afraid that 7 billion (and the billions more on the way) won’t have the luxury of dignity. The vast majority of humanity will live as slaves once the earth’s resources have been consumed….just my opinion.

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By Big B, April 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment

This same group said years ago that world population would not top 7 billion until about 2025. Unless there is some pestilence in the next 20 years we will hit 10 to 12 billion by 2050.

But hey, when the gasoline starts to run out in about 30 years, and corporate farming starts dying, and there won’t be any fuel to deliver what we manage to grow anyway, Starvation may keep us under 10 billion.

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By podunksteve, April 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Earth is self correcting. If there is an
overpopulation of a species eventually something will
thin out the herd; Starvation and/or disease being the
most likely culprit. Of course with starvation and
disease we human will add war to the equation for self
correction. It’s gonna suck.I hope I’m already dead
when it eventually comes to pass

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By berniem, April 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment

Pick a problem, any problem facing humanity and our long term viability as a specicies, and I defy you to tell me that the #1 cause is not over population resulting from ignorance and superstitious beliefs of “man’s” devine right to do as HE(as in patriarchal domination)deems fit. Throughout history when too many people occupy too restricted a space providing finite resources the ugly reality of Social Darwinism has been invoked with the winner mindlessly exploiting the spoils until forced to expand into the next target of opportunity renewing the deadly cycle. This is why we are in the condition we see ourselves in today. When idiot-ologues like Santorum poo-poohs humanity’s responsibilities to the Earth, parasitic religious “leaders” scream about the sinfulness of contraception, or tools like Inhoufe, et al bore us with their greed-inspired “facts” derived from corporate sponsored pseudo-scientists reassuring us that our profligate comsumption is not to blame for the diminishing vibrance of our ecology and so many people actually believe this blather, then I fear that stupidity will reign and our tenure on this planet will be short lived!

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By Bill Desmond, April 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and
others have population doubling times of less than
forty years.  The U.S. before 2050, will be over five
hundred million.  This is unsustainable, and
unthinkable given the current levels of poverty,
violence, hunger, resource depletion and levels of
If you want a nightmare vision of the future- our
future as a species- travel to a slum in Mumbai, or
Calcutta, or soon, Detroit.
And yet, the rhetoric from the republican right
centers on funding birth control and women’s rights
to abortion services, while the Pope travels to
central and South America and condemns condoms.

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By Marian Griffith, April 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why is a war between pakistan and india suggested instead of the usa and anybody?

Mostly because the USA has a more or less stable population (unless of course the rabid right gets their say and all forms of anti-conceptives and education are ending up banned, but that is unlikely to happen.)
India and Pakistan on the other hand have a mostly poor population, generally have no access to any form of birth control and already have a majority of the population living in poverty, plus they have been at each other’s throat for decades now. Those are recipies for war, only the next big one between those two ends up being a nuclear war.

However, if it makes you feel better, the likeliest candidate for mass killing of humans is lack of drinkable water combined with rampant plagues. We are already beginning to lose the war against communicatable diseases (they increasingly become resistant against even our best medicines) and the more people in poor condition there are the quicker the evolution of bacteria and viruses.

Of course we may run out of oil first, which will cause a rather widespread famine as the majority of people now live in huge cities that can by no stretch of imagination supply enough food without mass transportation. Which is based on cheap oil being available. 200,000 seems to be as big as cities can get without mechanised transport (after that the area needed to supply the food grows larger than transport can cover before the food goes bad). Admitted we have since developed agriculture by quite a bit so we probably will be able to support cities of about a million people these days. So if we lose oil then a lot of people will go looking for food before they starve.

It is possible to argue about the exact numbers, but it would be a good idea to take a bit more seriously the need to control the population explosion.
Preferably before it kills us.

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By heterochromatic, April 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

ARK—-the number that would guarantee everyone access to the necessities of a
decent life, according to Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich——

you sure that you want to posit some “guarantee”  rather than saying something
more in line with what Ehrlich is actually saying? he’s guaranteeing that the
resources for 2b people is there, that that those folks would all get enough of

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By ACT I, April 26, 2012 at 11:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hasn’t Ehrlich heard of global warming?  Per James Lovelock, by the end of this century it will reduce the world’s population to about 500 million, perhaps even less.

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By gerard, April 26, 2012 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

—“the number that would guarantee everyone access to the necessities of a decent life..” (What are considered “necessities” and how “guaranteed”?Plus the next essential question:  As life-supporting
standards are reached, population increase declines (historical fact). So, how would that decrease figure in?
—Why is nuclear war “between India and Pakistan” suggested instead of other nations such as the US?  Seems suspiciously prejudicial to me in many ways. You, too?
—How are humongous statistics like this supposed to help us?  Fight more wars, kill more people, and don’t worry about it? Do nothing about economic inequities, though many things can and should be done?  Yet no suggestions about how?
—No information about steps that could and should be taken immediately such as financial incentives for NOT having so many children—means cut back on the NEED for more children in order to have more family members to do begging for the family’s preservation?
—Have a serious talk with Popes and Imams and Mormons (dare I mention it? I personally know ONE couple (2) increased to 29 offspring in TWO generations, and proud of it!)
—Convince (force?) corporations to stop pollulting ground and water otherwise needed for future food production?
—Work on population problems cooperatively not competitively. Take the U.N. seriously instead of treating it like a cross between a think tank and a puppet show.
  Unless the answers to these and other such questions become commonly known worldwide (Internet?),such statistics are only half the picture.


1.5 to 2 billion people. Seven billion inhabit the planet now and another 2 billion will be added by 2050. 

Those numbers call for a radical reduction of the population and a redistribution of resources, Ehrlich argues. Otherwise, billions more hungry people will crowd a planet increasingly prone to cataclysmic disasters, including viruses and nucl

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