“The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich’s

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Explain what is meant by “The Population Bomb” and to what extent do you agree that this bomb has been diffused. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years. ”- Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

The population bomb theory was made popular by Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book “The Population Bomb”, Ehrlich posited that that “population growth will increase unabated until a tipping point is reached where food supplies can no longer sustain the growth resulting in a devastating collapse”, characterized by famine and wars (Ehrlich- 1968). The theory bears similarities to Thomas Malthus’s Essay on Population (1798). Malthus posited that unchecked population growth would exceed the growth of means of subsistence, whilst checked population growth would keep in line both population and food supply growth.

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Ehrlich declares that he was seeking to “introduce millions of people to the fundamental issue of the Earth’s finite capacity to sustain human civilization and that the future of civilization was in grave doubt” (Ehrlich- 2000). Ehrlich used a scientific calculation to illustrate his claims. It centered around a general formula that could be used to assess the impact of the community on the environment, it is as follows; I= P x A x T [where I= environmental impact, P= population, A= affluence and T= technology] (Ehrlich 1968).

With this formula Ehrlich was able to come to the conclusion that wealthy technologically advanced countries would have a greater per capita impact on the limited resources of the earth. The theory essentially expressed the sentiments of increasing number of academics in the 1960’s that population growth and related issues at that time threaten the sustainability of the environment to the doom of civilization.

The population Bomb is not to be taken lightly, climate scientists add credence to the reality of a bomb with devastating implications for humanity, “we have grown in number to the point where our presence is perceptibly disabling the planet like a disease” (Lovelock -2007). When The Population Bomb was written, there were roughly 3. 5 billion people in the world, four decades later the world population has nearly doubled now slightly exceeding 6. 7 billion people (Population Reference Bureau 2008).

The current financial recession and the environmental consciousness of the last decade amplify the danger of the bomb. Climate change gives significant buttress to the plausibility that this bomb will detonate eventually in a most interesting way. That greenhouse gases and emissions have caused so much damage and that this has been the result of these activities of man and his attempts to meet his growing need with such a large population is credence enough for admittance that danger looms in the levels of growth of human population.

Furthermore, the threat now faced by climate change means that there is increasingly less options for sustenance from our environment. The matter of the population bomb being diffused is to a great extent impacted by utterances of the Ehrlich own comment in recent times, like Malthus’s revised essay, the original bomb conceded that current factors might give the impression that the bomb has been diffused. The first lines of the Prologue of Population Bomb (p. 1) declared that “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. ” This threat failed to materialize impart due to the Green Revolution which expanded food production, though it must be noted that there were challenges in the 1970s. Here in lies an irony the impact of the green revolution and increased mechanization in the long term, certainly over the last decade has proven harmful; aiding the reach of climate change.

A significant factor that influences perception about the diffusion of the bomb is the population statistics since the conceptualization of the bomb. Major progress has been made in curbing population growth. The United Nations Population facts August 2010 states that there has been substantial declines in fertility, total fertility in the rest of the developing world(excluding the least developed countries) declined by about 50 per cent between 1970-1975 and 2005-2010: from 5. to 2. 5 children per woman. Additionally fertility in the least developed countries dropped by 34 per cent since 1970-1975, from 6. 7 to 4. 4 children per woman. Bangladesh is exceptional with a reduction of over 60 per cent, from 6. 9 children per woman in 1970-1975 to an estimated 2. 4 in 2005-2010. Annual growth rates and the annual absolute increment of world population are falling. The growth rate peaked at 2. 1 per cent per year in the late 1960s and has since fallen to 1. per cent (see table 1), and the annual absolute increment to population peaked at about 87 million per year in the late 1980s and is now about 81 million. Population statistics from some key areas seem to indicate that there is a diffusion of the bomb in terms of population growth, most of Southern and Eastern Europe now registering fewer than 1. 4 babies per woman. Northern Europe is a little higher but still below replacement levels. Japan 1. 3, South Korea1. 3, China 1. 8, Thailand 1. 8, and even Vietnam 2. 1 all have fertility rates well below par (Pearce 2008).

Declines in world population at a glance may be taken to account for a diffusion of the bomb threat but this must be cautioned. The threat is not exclusively strapped to population growth. The bomb threat must be taken to have other elements and it is these elements that still pose explosive repercussions. Ehrlich’s theory encapsulated overconsumption as a problem as well as overuse of pesticides, and though he may not have foreseen it green house gases-climate change and its pervasive impacts on the physical world all seem to be wires on the bomb that needs to be cut and fast.

Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are depleting natural resources and causing environmental degradation, while reinforcing social inequity and poverty (International Conference on Population and Development 1994). Today’s global consumption is undermining the environmental resource base which places significant stress on the earth’s ability to replenish its self, the cycles of nature are being shortened and interrupted.

The earth is unable therefore to meet the increasingly traumatic demands placed on it. The United States alone consumes nearly a quarter of Earth’s resource flows. While the factors influencing reproductive patterns are now relatively well recognized, and thus the ways in which family-size choices can be altered, equivalent understanding of consumption choices has not been established (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 2008) and this holds volatile implications if not speedily addressed.

Overuse of pesticides, especially DDT, remains a serious problem (Cowan and Gunby1996), a problem that is inextricably linked to the global trends in consumption. Intensification of agricultural production has become necessary in light of current population size, which though steadied is still large; extensive fertilization and increased need for pesticides have had to be increased likewise and this is contaminating water resources.

Water resources are an essential for the existence of man an existence that is therefore threatened by current population size Since The Bomb was written, increases in greenhouse gas flows into the atmosphere, a consequence of the near doubling of the human population and the near tripling of global consumption, indicate that the results likely will be catastrophic climate disruption caused by greenhouse heating (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 2008). Man must take no pride in assuming that if he has slowed population growth he can continue his other exploitations of earth, this is clearly not a plausible option.

Humanity may still indeed suffer from the effects of population growth through the consequences of global warming which are pervasive and extensive. The earth’s temperature are increasing and this has resulted in the ice sheets in the Artics melting at unsafe rates, rates that will cause sea levels to rise, a rise which threatens the existences of many countries not least of which are the Caribbean. Barbados especially faces unfathomable effects since sea level rises by even a meter threatens to salinate the limited freshwater reservoirs in that island.

The sea level rises also pose implications for saturating agricultural land and may force a retreat of man inward to the continents and this retreat will deplete forestry areas further complicating global climate. The size of the hole in the ozone layer in October 1998 was three times the size of the USA, larger than it had ever been before. In autumn 2000, the hole in the ozone layer was at its largest ever. Since 1994, ozone depletion rates have fallen from 8% to 4% per annum. However, even at current rates, the ozone layer will not be healed until 2050(NASA). At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable. ”(Watt 2010)The growing and menacing levels at which man has eroded the protective barrier the ozone once was may not have been a prediction of Ehrlich but it certainly represents one of the crucial pieces of evidence that his suggestions where right and frighteningly, that the bomb threat still looms. Basic evidence that represents the bombs still great threat is simply the history of the population theorists.

Malthus’ predictions about population and the dangers of unchecked growth were said to have been averted by the measures proposed by Ester Boserup. Boserup a critic of Malthus had theorized that upgrading the productivity of the food supply and inventiveness of man would prevent the doom Malthus predicted. Boserup’s theory and the effectiveness of the agricultural revolutions seemed to have been the answer but it is the simple fact that because the issue of population growth had to be revisited, because the world had once again reached crisis level warranting the Population bomb by Ehrlich, Boserup was wrong.

The initial doom Malthus warned of which was echoed by Ehrlich has not be diffused but may merely be postponed; a postponement that simply sifts the detonation time of the bomb. Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb theory holds significant suggestions as to the finite nature of the earth and the vulnerability of its natural resources. The theory basically seeks to bring awareness to the negative effects that increasing population growths will have on the environment, energy consumption and available food supply.

The theory relied on the principle of increasing proportionality whereas if population growth rates increased so too would the world’s resource consumption. Humanity is at threat of this bomb because of the population growth and the exploitation of the earth by man. There matter of the bomb is not to be underestimated as there is clear merit to the ideas Ehrlich proposed. The environment has been adversely compromised by man’s exploitation and this exploitation has created a threat to the very existence of man.


* Ehrlich P. 2000. Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect. * Ehrlich, P.R. & Ehrlich, A.H. 2009. The Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development The Population Bomb Revisited * Human Development Report 1998 Overview, United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Figures quoted use data from 1995 * Lovelock, J. 1979 Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

* O’Neill, B.C., Mackellar, F.L. & Lutz, W. 2000 Population and Climate Change, * Pearce, F. 2008.The Population Bomb: Has it been defused? * Population Reference Bureau. 2008. 2008 World Population Data Sheet. Washington DC: Population Reference Bureau * US space agency
National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) * Watt, K. Ecologist, Editor in Chief, Encyclopedia of Human Ecology Advisory Board Member, Center for the Study of CO2 and Climate Change

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“The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich’s. (2017, Feb 16). Retrieved from


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