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A Talk with Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Kathy Ricketts Reitinger, July 1999
In 1965, as a young biologist at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Ehrlich traveled around the world on a sabbatical research trip to study the taxonomy, evolution and ecology of butterflies -- the focus of his scientific career. Ironically, he found that the native flora and fauna on even the most remote tropical islands had been damaged or destroyed by humans to make way for agriculture and housing. In addition, the cities of Third World countries he visited were alarmingly overcrowded and impoverished. Three years later, he published The Population Bomb, a revolutionary book which predicted worldwide famine and widespread disaster if the current rates of population growth were not slowed. Thirty years later, the global population growth has slowed and it seems possible that we will be able to eventually control and stabilize population.
Zegrahm News recently traveled to Stanford University to discuss with Dr. Ehrlich his current feelings about the world's population and his predictions about our future on the planet.
You introduced the equation, I=PAT, which illustrates the impact of any human group upon the environment: Impact = Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology. When you first proposed this equation, you felt that "P" was the most critical in controlling and reducing human impact on the Earth. Do you still think that population growth is the most critical problem facing us today?
Not anymore. Although the world is still vastly overpopulated, the past 30 years have shown that population can be controlled. People can be convinced that it may be in their best interest to produce smaller families. However, no one has any idea of how to convince humanity that it is in their best interest to consume less, instead of more. Even if 'P' is reduced, the steady rise of 'A' in the Impact Equation means that our crushing impact on the Earth will continue to increase."
In your work, you manage to string enough statistics and stories together to form a horrifying picture: humankind rapidly creating our own demise in the assumption that our Earth and its resources will provide an unlimited supply of space and sustenance. You manage very successfully to "shake people awake" to what is happening throughout the world. What can be done to stop this demise?
Don't have families with more than one or two children. Encourage religious institutions to support birth control and family planning; encourage politicians to support the same. Reduce consumption.
People may not be as interested in driving their big, fuel-guzzling cars if it costs them $5+ per gallon at the gas station. They might think twice before filling their huge bathtubs or watering their lawns daily if the costs of water and natural gas triple. They may not insist upon meat every day if the prices reflect the true cost in terms of the Earth's resources.
In a nutshell, do as much as you can, in whatever arena you can.