Population and the Environment (Paul Ehrlich)

As our population passes the 7 Billion mark Prof Paul Ehrlich warns against the “myths” of limitless population and economic growth. A few remarks about his talk:

  • Population growth is often conveniently put forward as a scapegoat, obviating the need to perhaps examine our economic system (a point made here: Limits to growth (Dennis Meadows)). Many argue that the current environmental crisis results from the impact of a growing number of poor taking on the same habits of resource exploitation as the rich. The growing levels of carbon emissions in China, Brazil and India are often regarded as writing on the wall. Others have argued that the flaw in this argument is that the (increasing) ecological footprints in those countries are largely the result of industrial and agricultural production to supply a disproportionate amount of goods to the rich (including those nations’ wealthier urban centres) (see: The emerging debt crisis (North South Report)A fate worse than debt (Susan George)Tools of Change (Amulya Reddy)). They would probably argue against Ehrlich and say that growth of globalised production is the cause for much of the environmental disruption in the South. This contributes to highly insecure living conditions for the poor, which is, in turn, at least partly responsible for high rates of population growth.
  • Ehrlich explains that the environmental crisis results from adding up the big impacts of a few rich people to the small impacts of a huge number of poor people. What he doesn’t explain here is how poverty and wealth are linked, how population growth is (at least partly) a result of increasing poverty and inequity, which is (at least partly) a result of environmental degradation in poor nations, which is (at least partly) linked to increasing wealth in rich nations, etc… For a documentary discussing the historical origins of all of this, see: The end of poverty? (Philippe Diaz).

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