The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s 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.?
These words, from Dr.
Paul R. Ehrlichs book The Population Bomb, predicted a grim future for the world of 1968 when the book was published. Today, the debate rages on about how much life our planet can hold. With world population estimates currently around 5.5 billion, and a projected population of over 10 billion by 2100, the question of resource scarcity is raised. Will there be enough resources to support the exploding population of our planet? Also, is it true that population growth is necessary for economic prosperity, or is it responsible for problems such as hunger and poverty?
One of the first things that need to be considered in the population debate is the issue of carrying capacity.
? Many different people define carrying capacity in many different ways, and in this lies a major problem. Basic ecology textbooks define carrying capacity as the number of individuals in a population that the resources of a particular habitat can support. Others define it as the point at which the birth rate is equal to the death rate, while still others define is as the average size of a population that is neither increasing or decreasing.
Each different definition of carrying capacity has different arguments for the earth being above or below its carrying capacity, or of having infinite carrying capacity. Also, many other factors must be considered when estimating the earths capacity by any of the above definitions. For instance, one must consider the level of prosperity of the people, the technology available, and the distribution of available wealth.
Under certain conditions, the world might not easily hold even 1 billion people, while under other conditions a number as high as 20 billion is possible.
Another factor in overpopulation that must be considered is that of life expectancy. According to United Nations estimates, the life expectancy in developed nations in the 1950s was approximately 66.0 years, while third world nations enjoyed a life expectancy of 40.7 years. Due to substantial declines in infant mortality, the average life expectancy in developed nations was 74.
0 years and 64.7 years in developing countries. However, although the majority of this increase is due to decreases in infant mortality, jumps with this large of an increase cannot be entirely explained by that alone. New developments in medicine and technology have increased life spans across the board.
Even more promising, and perhaps alarming, is the fact that predicted upper limits?of human life expectancy have regularly been surpassed, and increases in life expectancy even appear to be accelerating. These average life expectancy increases, if they continue, will allow the world population to skyrocket at an even faster rate.
Finally, and perhaps the most important issue that must be discussed in the debate on overpopulation is the issue of resource scarcity. So called experts?love to enter the debate and make doomsday predictions that the world will run out of food, or oil, much like Dr. Paul Ehrlich did in his book, The Population Bomb. However, these predictions never seem to come true.
Julian Simon, an economist, has an idea about natural resources which has sparked mountains of debate from both camps in the overpopulation discussion. Simon asserts that all natural resources are infinite.
While this claim may seem audacious at first, it becomes clearer exactly what he means when studied. His point is definitely not that there are an infinite number of gold or copper atoms in the earth. The mass of the earth is finite, and current scientific studies imply that even the mass of the universe is finite. Simon is saying that resources are indefinite in the sense that we will never run out of them for whatever we decide to use .