The Population Bomb: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Population Bomb  
Author Paul R. Ehrlich
Country United States
Language English
Subject(s) Population
Publisher Ballantine Books
Publication date 1968
Pages 201

The Population Bomb was a best-selling book written by Paul R. Ehrlich in 1968. It warned of the mass starvation of humans in 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation and advocated immediate action to limit population growth. The book also popularized the previously coined term, population bomb.[1] The book has been criticized in recent decades for its alarmist tone and unfilled predictions. Erlich stands by the basic ideas in the book.


General description of the book

The Population Bomb was written at the suggestion of David Brower,[citation needed] the executive director of the environmentalist Sierra Club, following an article Ehrlich wrote for the New Scientist magazine in December, 1967.[citation needed] In that article, Ehrlich predicted that the world would experience famines sometime between 1970 and 1985 due to population growth outstripping resources.

Early editions of The Population Bomb began with the statement:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will 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...[2]

The book dealt not only with food shortage, but also with other kinds of crises caused by rapid population growth. A "population bomb", as defined in the book, required only three things: a rapid rate of change, a limit of some sort, and delays in perceiving the limit.[citation needed]

Also worth noting is Ehrlich's introduction of the Impact formula or I PAT:

I = P × A × T (where I = Environmental Impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology)

It states that the impact a community has on the environment, can be calculated by multiplying the community's population by its wealth and how developed it is. Ehrlich thus argued, affluent technological nations have a greater per capita impact on the limited resources of the earth than do poorer nations.

The book sold over two million copies, raised the general awareness of population and environmental issues, and influenced 1960s and 1970s public policy.[citation needed].


Restatement of Malthusian theory

The Population Bomb has been characterized by critics as primarily a repetition of the Malthusian catastrophe argument[citation needed] that population growth will outpace agricultural growth unless controlled. Ehrlich observed that since about 1930 the population of the world had doubled within a single generation, from 2 billion to nearly 4 billion, and was on track to do so again. He assumed that available resources, on the other hand, and in particular food, were nearly at their limits.[citation needed] Some critics compare Ehrlich unfavorably to Malthus, saying that although Thomas Malthus did not make a firm prediction of imminent catastrophe, Ehrlich warned of a potential massive disaster within the next decade or two. In addition, critics state that unlike Malthus, Ehrlich did not see any means of avoiding the disaster entirely,[citation needed] and proposed solutions that were much more radical than those discussed by Malthus such as starving whole countries that refused to implement population control measures.[citation needed]. Admittedly, world population had more than quadrupled between the time that Malthus wrote (1798) and the time that Ehrlich did, and many other scientists besides Ehrlich were likewise very worried about the situation.

Current world population situation

The world's population doubled from 3 billion in 1959 to 6 billion in 1999. It is currently (2010) at 6.8 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by around 2042 [3]. It will reach 12 billion by around 2100 if the current (2010) world fertility rate of about 2.6 babies per woman does not decline, and if the current (and historically low) world death rate remains low or goes even lower.

More than 36 millions died of hunger or diseases caused by malnutrition in 2006."[4]. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is by far the biggest contributor to child mortality, present in half of all cases. Environmental issues with agriculture has hampered the finding of acceptable solutions to these problems.


Ehrlich's critics claim that he made other predictions that did not come to pass in addition to his prediction of massive starvation of the 1970s and 1980s. Amongst such remarks, Ehrlich stated that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980." Admittedly, another statement of his in the Population Bomb indicates that his pessimistic views were widely shared by other scientists in 1968: "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks that India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." In the book's 1971 edition, the latter prediction was removed, as the food situation in India suddenly improved.

At present (2010), India has almost 1.2 billion people, having nearly tripled its population from around 400 million in 1960. Its average fertility rate, according to 2009 statistics, is about 2.7 babies per woman, essentially unchanged since 2004. That 2.7 rate means India's population is still growing rapidly because, due to the benefits of modern medicine (e.g. infant vaccines), the average death rate has declined from previous high levels. Most experts therefore expect the population of India to reach 1.7 billion already by around 2050.

In addition Ehrlich said: "One general prediction can be made with confidence: the cost of feeding yourself and your family will continue to increase. There may be minor fluctuations in food prices, but the overall trend will be up".

Some of the predictions came true[citation needed] but the effects are mainly unfelt in the developed world, according to Ehrlich critics.[citation needed] The world food production has grown exponentially at a rate much higher than population growth in both developed and developing countries,[citation needed] partially due to the efforts of Norman Borlaug's "Green Revolution" of the 1960s. The food per capita level is the highest in history, and, according to a Russian textbook published in 2006, population growth rates have significantly slowed, especially in the developed world [5].

Famine has not been eliminated, but its root cause has been political instability, not global food shortage.[6] The Indian economist and Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, has argued that nations with democracy and a free press have virtually never suffered from extended famines.[citation needed]. Nevertheless, in 2009 the U.N. reported that one billion of the world's population of nearly seven billion people were in a constant state of hunger, and that the proportion of hungry to non-hungry was expected to rise considerably in the coming decades because most population growth was occurring in the least developed countries.

Specific critics

A leading critic of Ehrlich was Julian Lincoln Simon, a Cornucopian economist and libertarian theorist who authored the book The Ultimate Resource, in which he argued that a larger population is a benefit, not a cost. Of the repeated predictions of disaster, Simon complained "As soon as one predicted disaster doesn't occur, the doomsayers skip to another... why don't [they] see that, in the aggregate, things are getting better? Why do they always think we're at a turning point -- or at the end of the road?"[citation needed]Criticizing Ehrlich on similar grounds as Simon was Ronald Bailey, a leader in the wise use movement, who wrote a book in 1993 entitled Eco-Scam where he blasted the views of Ehrlich, Lester Brown, Carl Sagan and other environmental theorists.

Ehrlich has also had some critics on the political left. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjørn Lomborg disputes many of the claims in The Population Bomb.[citation needed]

Ehrlich's response

In a 2004 Grist Magazine interview,[7] Ehrlich acknowledged some specific predictions he had made, in the years around the time the Population Bomb was published, that had not come to pass. However, as to a number of his fundamental ideas and assertions he maintained that facts and science proved them correct.

In answer to the question: "Were your predictions in The Population Bomb right?", Ehrlich responded:

Anne and I have always followed U.N. population projections as modified by the Population Reference Bureau -- so we never made "predictions," even though idiots think we have. When I wrote The Population Bomb in 1968, there were 3.5 billion people. Since then we've added another 2.8 billion -- many more than the total population (2 billion) when I was born in 1932. If that's not a population explosion, what is? My basic claims (and those of the many scientific colleagues who reviewed my work) were that population growth was a major problem. Fifty-eight academies of science said that same thing in 1994, as did the world scientists' warning to humanity in the same year. My view has become depressingly mainline!

See also


  1. ^ The phrase "population bomb", was already in use. For example, see this article. Quality Analysis and Quality Control, Canadian Medical Association Journal, June 9, 1962, vol. 86, p. 1074
  2. ^ Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. 1st ed. Cuthogue, N.Y.: Bucaneer, 1971. Print.
  3. ^ website U.S. Census Bureau homepage
  4. ^ Jean Ziegler, L'Empire de la honte, Fayard, 2007 ISBN 978-2-253-12115-2 p.130.
  5. ^ Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D. "Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Compact Macromodels of the World System Growth", URRS Publishers, Moscow, Russia, 2006, (available in English).
  6. ^ "Food Security and Nutrition in the Last 50 Years", FAO Corporate Document Repository, publication date unavailable.
  7. ^ Paul Ehrlich, famed ecologist, answers readers' questions, August 13, 2004, Grist Magazine

External links

  • Paul R Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich. The Population Bomb Revisited, Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, (2009) I(3)
  • Dr. Albert Bartlett, 2004 lecture, "Arithmetic, Population and Energy," [1]
  • "The Global Food Crisis," June 2009 article, National Geographic Magazine, [2]

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address