The Population Bomb

The Population Bomb By Paul Erhlich The book The Population Bomb, Paul Erhlich describes the impending problem of human overpopulation. Eventhough this book was written in the 1960s, Erhlich still brings up many points which are still valid in todays society. Environmental science often is not thought of by the public or the government, let alone the problem of human overpopulation, so this book served as one of the first looks into the issue. Environmental activists are often shunned as being too leftist or straight out insane. By making many logistical arguments, Mr. Erhlich shows us that environmental problems arent so farfetched.

Erhlich speaks of several problems which are intertwined with the one of population. The first problem which Erhlich delves into, is that of the depleted food source. As the population grows larger, the food supply diminishes. He claims that there are 2 natural solutions to this problem; one being the death rate solution, and the other, the birth rate solution. The death rate solution would be the increase in the death rate and the birth rate solution would be a decrease in the birth rate, respectively. Erhlich also warns that the doubling times of populations are becoming more frequent and that exponential growth will start occurring, and from studies done on animal populations, we know that exponential growth leads to near extinction.

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Another problem Erhlich speaks of is the environmental erosion due to human exploitation. Humans also always turn to pesticides to take care of their problems, however they do not realize that what they are doing is slowly killing themselves and everything on the Earth, along with the pests the poison is intended for. As a cause of the overuse of pesticides, the agricultural worth of the farmland is also decreasing. Erhlich warns that pesticides only create resistant pests and aid in the formation of cancer. Some pesticides seem to have no apparent effects, but they actually are building up in the body, by being stored in the fatty tissue, such as DDT.

Erhlich also speaks of the arising problems created by the use of monoculture for farming and of the simple ecosystems we are creating to make things easier for ourselves. By implementing monoculture, we are facilitating the destruction of the crops. Crops are more susceptible to disease and pests by not having any variety. Pesticides also cause pollution. They pollute not only our air, but our land, water and bodies. Pesticides run off from the land into rivers, then are carried into the ocean where they contaminate our food and water supplies, leading in some cases to death. For instance, Lake Erie is now “dead” because of pollution.

It is horrible that we are killing the very thing which supports us. The only time when the government will take action to help the environment is when there is massive death tolls. Erhlich claims that we are playing “environmental roulette” by ignoring the preservation of the environment. Lead pollution, over reliance on fossil fuels, and pesticides are ruining the Earth. We have too many cars, too many people, too little water and not enough food. Erhlich says that if we do not stop what we are doing, then nature will remedy itself of this problem by way of a death solution.

We have unknowingly begun self-extermination. Overpopulation causes diseases to be more readily spread. There will not be enough doctors to take care of the sick, sanitation will go down, and vectors will be able to survive and spread diseases. Viruses will be spread by our rapid transportation systems and biological warfare may take place. (How right he was about that!) Erhlich explains that we need to begin using contraception, need to begin caring and environmentalists need to be allowed to take action. We also should increase food production and let farmland rest to regain lost nutrients.

To my knowledge the novel did not have much direct effect on the way environmental science is approached. What this book did accomplish is to alert people to the problem. No one ever thinks that human population could be a problem. According to humans, humans are never the source of a problem, so then why concern yourself with something such as human population? This book along with Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, helped to open up the society to new ideas. This book was quite amusing to me, as it was written in 1960 and made some conjectures as to what the world would be like by the year 2000. Erhlich predicted that our population might be able to survive if we kept it below 5 billion people.

The population is over that now, and we are still alive. Overall, his message to the public was correct and true. Paul Erhlich did make me think and worry for our future.