The Doomsday Debate
How many people i~an .theearth support The earth’s “carrying capacity” involves three factors: (1) the ..resources available, (2) the level of technology, and (3),..the standard of living at which -people are supported. One estimate, for. example, claims that, at our present level of technology, the entire world could support only. 1 billion people at the American standard of living [Murdoch; 1975, . pp. 461-462]. Thus,’if the entire world is to enjoy the American .standard . of living (at . present technology), three out of four people would have to “go away. the neo-Malthusians believe that Malthus was not incorrect just premature. World sources are limited. We have no way to create’ more land more water, more coal or oil. We shall not “run out” of oil suddenly, as when the last drop is drained from a tank. Instead, but that growth measured in numbers of additional persons is higher than ever (see Table 17-2). Unless population growth falls very
rapidly, the prediction is for a massive die off within a very few decades Mesarovic and Pestel, 1974; 1977; Catton, 1980;Webb and Jacobson, 1982]. The “optimist” school claims that such doomsday predictions have been, and always will be, wrong Paarlberg, 1980]. The optimists are confident that science and technology can provide substitutes for scarce materials, fertilize eroded lands, and provide growing abundance for a growing population. [Kahn, 1976, 1979, 1982; Simon, 1981, 1981a;
1981b]. Population growth, according to Simon ,is no threat, because this increases the supply of brilliant minds to invent the new technology. The argument is bitter, but two facts are beyond argument. First, present rates of population growth cannot be maintained indefinitely.
Population growth will greatly decline at some point in the future, either through planning or through misery. Second, without sharp declines in population growth, spectacular breakthroughs in science and technology
must come quickly to avert disaster. Among the optimists who predict such breakthroughs, the names of prominent natural scientists are conspicuously absent.