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The Population Bomb

From Academic Kids

The Population Bomb (1968) is a book written by Paul R. Ehrlich. A best-selling work, it predicted disaster for humanity due to overpopulation and the "population explosion". The book predicted that "in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death." This prediction did not come true, due for the most part to the efforts of Norman Borlaug's "Green Revolution" of the 1960s. Although the book is primarily a repetition of the Malthusian catastrophe argument, that population growth will outpace agricultural growth unless controlled, it expressed the possibility of disaster in broader terms.

A "population bomb," as defined in the book, requires only three things:

  • A rapid rate of change
  • A limit of some sort
  • Delays in perceiving the limit

As an example, consider a limit on cheap fossil fuel energy. A seemingly endless fossil fuel supply exists, but the amount of effort required for energy production varies with the quality of the raw materials. Once the light, sweet, crude oil which can be produced and processed quickly and cheaply is drained, the rate of oil production will decline. Therefore, processed fuel products such as gasoline, diesel and heating oil will become more scarce. Because demand is increasing as the human population expands and the outsourcing of U.S. industry creates new relatively wealthy consumers in Third World nations, the amount of per-capita energy from fossil fuels will decline, decreasing the quality of life.

This example clearly meets the first criterion, rapid rate of change, because there are multiple factors on a global scale, resource depletion and demand expansion. It meets the second if you accept mainstream ideas about fossil fuels being non-renewable. It meets the third critera because the issue has been reported on for over thirty years.

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