Thursday, September 02, 2004

Kill Them All?

This semester I’m the teaching assistant for Emily Chamlee-Wright’s microeconomics class, which implicitly includes me doing a few other miscellaneous things, too. One of them was getting Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Explosion for economic development. As I was flipping through it on my way from the library, I couldn’t help but ponder the book’s subtitle: “From Global Warming to Rain Forest Destruction, Famine, and Air and Water Pollution—Why Overpopulation Is Our #1 Environmental Problem.”

Does anyone know what “overpopulation” is? I have no idea when a population becomes big enough to be “too much.” What’s too much? Last semester, I friend of mine and I got into a discussion about population growth and he mentioned that fatal word. So I asked him what it meant and eventually was able to get out this (paraphrased) definition:

“Overpopulation occurs when the human population has a detrimental effect on the environment.”

To which I responded, “So one person is ‘overpopulation?’” My friend quickly changed his definition to include only “significant” amounts of pollution—whatever that means.

For a much less ambiguous discussion about population, read Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource, though his conclusions are polar opposite of Ehrlich’s. It’s a much more thoughtful book, too, as Simon carefully considers his opponents’ arguments. He even dedicates over ten pages of his epilogue in the second addition to answering critics of the first. Long time intellectual rival, Paul Ehrlich, never even mentions Simon or his arguments in The Population Explosion.

If anti-population environmentalists are going to make claims that implicitly justify the taking of human life, they could be a lot more definite and thoughtful in their arguments.

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