Thursday, September 6, 2012

'Defusing the population bomb'

'Defusing the population bomb'

Unlike my previous post (Diffusing the population bomb), this version is focused on Defusing the Bomb and its problems in the Philippines.

Biologist Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" (1968) was written as "Population, Resources, and Environment" with PR Ehrlich & AH Ehrlich as authors. The publisher, however, "exercised his right" to select "Population Bomb" and also insisted on a single author. The book highlights the issues already of concern then.

After 40 years, the original authors report that the Population Bomb has been praised and vilified, but no controversy on the book's significance -- "in calling attention to the demographic element in the human predicament." And that the Bomb did exactly what they had hoped -- alerted people to the environmental issues and their importance on the human future (see The population bomb revisited, 2009).

Actions taken by the world scientific community

In their Revisit article, the Ehrlichs mention two groups of world leading scientists, which released warning statements in 1993: (a) The Union of Concerned Scientists -- including more than half of all living Nobel Laureates in science -- over 1500 of which signed the statement and (b) a group of 58 Science Academies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society.

The Scientists' warning said in part: “Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society.”

And that of the Academies: "Resource use, waste production and environmental degradation are accelerated by population growth" and as this further increases, the potential for irreversible changes also increases, with far-reaching magnitude.

How the Bomb has been defused

G Easterbrook - The Wall Street Journal, 2009.
Norman Borlaug's work on wheat in the '50s and '60s lead to the Green Revolution, and a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Borlaugʹs efforts -- combined with those of the many agriculture‐extension agents he trained, and the crop‐research facilities he founded in poor nations -- saved the lives of one billion human beings. He saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived, it added.

JA Goldstone - Foreign Affairs, 2010
Forty-two years ago, Paul Ehrlich warned that mass starvation would strike in the 1970s and 1980s. Thanks to innovations and efforts -- such as the “green revolution” and family planning -- Ehrlich’s worst fears did not come to pass. In fact, since the 1970s, global economic output has increased and fertility has fallen dramatically, especially in developing countries.

F Pearce - Nature, Published online 11 May 2011
We are doing quite well at defusing the population bomb. Women today have half as many babies as their grandmothers did. World fertility has fallen from 4.9 children per woman in the early 1960s to an expected 2.45 between 2010 and 2015.

Situation in the Philippine

(a) From Raul Suarez, a Fil-Canadian Professor, Univ. Calif. at Santa Barbara.
Dear Flor,
I would like to share an article, which became a chapter in our book. It had previously been rejected when submitted for publication to the Philippine Star [column editor is now Vice-President for Academic Affairs, University of the Philippines -- FL]: Happy birthday Darwin: lamentations on science and religion].
I encourage everyone to read Jared Diamond's book on Collapse (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).

Flor, I must take issue with your statement that "most harmful predictions -- like Paul Ehrlich's “Population Bomb” (1968) -- have largely failed. Continued research stopped the serious threats."

Diamond, for example, has pointed out in interviews that we can see Ehrlich's predictions already unfolding. Others have pointed out that the "green revolution" one of the great achievements of modern science, has only postponed what is inevitable if human population growth and its consequences are not brought under control.

If aliens were observing us, they would wonder why there is even a debate about the RH bill. It is because old men in robes in a place called Rome, who vowed not to reproduce, insist that the rest of us should keep doing so regardless of the consequences. They claim that this teaching comes from someone born 2,000 years ago, yet according to their own records, he never said such a thing.

(b) From Ben de Lumen, a Fil-American Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley,
Dear Raul,
Well said. The Philippines has often been compared with Thailand because of many similarities and one big difference: Phil is predominantly Catholic, Thai is Buddhist. As of 2010, the population of Thai is 65M, Phil is 93M, a difference of 28M, which is about the population of Malaysia. A Thai scientist made a comment that she is surprised that Phil is still talking about population planning when Thai took care of that issue 20 years ago! [In 1990, both countries had nearly the same population: 58-60M -- FL]


Most developing countries have been successful in defusing the population bomb. After over 10 years debating the Reproductive Health bill, the Senate President says, Expect long RH debate in Senate—Enrile (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3 Sept 2012).

The Catholic bishops and politicians are mainly to blame. Our Science Academy (National Academy of Science & Technology), has been silent; it has not issued any useful statement. Are our poor destined to remain trapped and bear the wrath of the Bomb?

Flor Lacanilao
Retired professor of marine science

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