22 October 2005

The Population Bomb

“Just remember that, at the current growth rate, in a few thousand years everything in the visible universe would be converted into people, and the ball of people would be expanding at the speed of light.”
[Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb]

In the early 1970s (perhaps late 1960s, I’m not quite sure), Paul Ehrlich in his (now infamous) book, The Population Bomb, predicted that, by the end of the 20th century, human want would outstrip available resources; India would collapse due to its inability to feed itself; and mass starvation would sweep the globe. Many believed him then, accepting his words as some sort of prophecy. However, as you can see, you are all still here reading this blog; and Ehrlich’s dark words now sound like the words of a madman… or, at least, pure fantasy.

Ehrlich believed that our planet’s natural resources were finite and would, one day, be used up if our demand for them did not decrease. With an ever-increasing population fuelling demand and rapid industrialization consuming more and more resources, he felt confident of his prediction. Added to this were his concerns over pollution, environmental degradations and incidence of widespread diseases. Today, although we are alive and have not disintegrated into an Ehrlich-style catastrophe, we do carry concerns over the same issues.

The growth in world population is indeed a problem in our hands… spurring on related concerns over food, water, healthcare, housing, electricity, education, employment… and depletion of natural resources such as forests and oil reserves. But, that’s not all that’s bothering us today. Migrations of huge numbers of people from less developed countries to developed nations, and from rural areas into cities within a country have become socio-economic as well as political problems.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, an US Agency researching population trends and their implications:

“Through most of history, the human population has lived a rural lifestyle, dependent on agriculture and hunting for survival. In 1800, only 3 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas. By 1900, almost 14 percent were urbanites, although only 12 cities had 1 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, 30 percent of the world's population resided in urban centers. The number of cities with over 1 million people had grown to 83.

The world has experienced unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. In 2000, about 47 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas, about 2.8 billion. There are 411 cities over 1 million. More developed nations are about 76 percent urban, while 40 percent of residents of less developed countries live in urban areas. However, urbanization is occurring rapidly in many less developed countries. It is expected that 60 percent of the world population will be urban by 2030, and that most urban growth will occur in less developed countries.”

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