The Viva Vine: vol #6, no #2: March / April 1997

Population:
Meat and the bomb that continues to tick:
Thirty years under population cloud--More than sheer numbers

By Pamela Rice

Remember The Population Bomb? Remember Paul Ehrlich, the book's author?

It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since the release of this groundbreaking work that predicted doom from human proliferation. For all these years, I've carried the thesis of The Population Bomb around like a cloud over my head. And now, with the 30th anniversary of its publication, I was reminded of the man who had darkened my skies.

E Magazine recently did an interview with Mr. Ehrlich and his partner/wife, fellow Stanford University professor Anne Ehrlich. And though not all of the predictions of Population Bomb have come to pass, it's clear that without radical change, a "collision," as E Magazine puts it, is sure to occur between humanity and "the consequences of runaway population growth."

But is it just the sheer number of humans that threatens our demise? Or is the issue more complex? When asked about this by E Magazine, Paul Ehrlich drew a distinction, and vegetarianism entered the equation.

E Magazine: Do you think of population as a sheer numbers problem? Is there a definitive carrying capacity of the Earth?

Paul Ehrlich: The carrying capacity of the Earth depends on the behavior of the individuals. At current behavior we're clearly above the carrying capacity because we're reducing the capacity of the planet to support people in the future. Now that doesn't mean that, in theory, if you worked out a system by which everyone was vegetarian and nobody went anywhere [drove cars], you might be able to permanently support something like the present population.

mowing down nature

So the best-known population authority acknowledges meat-eating as a definitive factor affecting the carrying capacity of life on Earth. And though Ehrlich says that a general awareness of population growth exists among the general public, he laments, "There is almost no concern about consumption control in the United States"-where consumption is at a fever pitch and where the world's third-largest population resides.

The march of the humans

In the six seconds it takes you to read this sentence, twenty-four people will be added to the Earth's population.

Within an hour, that number will reach 11,000. By day's end, 260,000.

Before you go to bed two nights from now, the net growth in human numbers will be enough to fill a city the size of San Francisco.

It took four million years for humanity to reach the 2 billion mark and only 30 years to add a third billion. Now we're increasing by 95 million every single year.

No wonder they call it the human race.


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