Lecture 24 - Population and the Environment

author: Robert Wyman, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: May 14, 2010,   recorded: April 2009,   views: 4314
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)

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World population will continue to rise until at least 2050. Environmental impact is the product of the number of people and how much of their income and technology is devoted to either consumption or conservation. So far, the balance is far at the consumption end and, globally, environmental problems are increasing. Environmentalism has not come close to counteracting the footprint of a billion extra people every dozen years. The only massive success has been the decline in global fertility. People want fewer children, the contraceptive technology is available, and the cost is minimal. The only realistic possibility for ameliorating the environmental crisis might be to facilitate the continued decline of fertility.

Reading assignment:

Doolittle, Amity. "The Unseen, Unheard and Misunderstood: What Can We Learn from the Social History of Property Relations?" Tropical Resources: The Bulletin of the Yale Tropical Resources Institute, no. 21 (Spring 2002), pp. 4-5

Harrison, Paul. The Third Revolution: Environment, Population and a Sustainable World, pp. 73-87

Cohen, Joel E. How Many People Can the Earth Support, Introduction and pp. 10-13

Perlez, Jane. "Forests in Southeast Asia Fall to Prosperity's Ax." The New York Times, 29 April 2006

Hertsgaard, Mark. "Our Real China Problem." The Atlantic Monthly (November 1997), pp. 1-17

Dreifus, Claudia. "On the Ground and in the Water: Tracing a Giant Wave's Path." The New York Times, 25 December 2007

Haberman, Clyde. "Let Others Hit the Panic Button; Caviar's Served." The New York Times, 6 January 2006

Onishi, Norimitsu. "Ah, The Tonic of Ginseng! Especially a $65,000 Sprig!" The New York Times, 23 August 2007

Sciolino, Elaine. "Radicalism: Is the Devil in the Demographics?" The New York Times, 9 December 2001

Wyman, Robert. "The Projection Problem." Population and Environment, Vol. 24, no. 4 (2003), pp. 329-337

Resources: Notes - Lecture 24 [PDF]

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Reviews and comments:

Comment1 Mark, November 28, 2010 at 6:09 p.m.:

Consumption in developing and developed countries is the problem - not population of third world countries. The carbon footprint per capita is MUCH higher for an affluent American than a hundred people living in third world poverty. As China and India middle class grow, I do believe you will see (and are seeing) the American middle class shrink. Our EPA regulations may be the thorn in our side that conservatives will want to get rid of in order to compete with countries who have no such regulations. Overshoot and collapse? Eventually, perhaps when things heat up a bit more, the experts will be right (a perfect storm of global problems such as food and water shortages by 2030). We are living in interesting times - "survivalism" may be the fastest growing occupation for the youngest generation to get into - it could be the hobby that may save their life.

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