Population Bomb a Dud?

Your headline (Editorial Pages, June 3), "World's Population Bomb May Be a Dud," and Ben Wattenberg's article under it are both cockeyed.

The population bomb wasn't a dud. It has already exploded. Wattenberg missed it. But then it's hard to hear with your head buried in the sand.

Wattenberg casually dismisses the United Nations world population projection from 5 billion people to 10 billion by the middle of the next century as ho-hum. That is population explosion. But the issue is not numbers of human beings. The issue is whether the land and economies of the population-exploding countries can sustain such enormous growth.

The Worldwatch Institute, using Population Reference Bureau and World Bank data, points out in its "State of the World" report that in the 18 fastest-growing Third World countries grain production per person has steadily decreased from the base period 1970-72 to 1985.

In the same report, the Population Reference Bureau identified eight major Third World nations with explosive population increases suffering from declining incomes in the period of 1980-86.

In addition, many of these same countries have been devastating their natural resources through deforestation (for firewood and slash-and-burn agriculture), soil exhaustion and erosion, desertification from overgrazing and loss of soil fertility from overproduction or misuse of land.

In the same edition of The Times that carried Wattenberg's faulty analysis of population data, reporter Richard Boudreaux wrote of the environmental destruction taking place in Panama as desperate (overpopulated) subsistence farmers slash and burn tropical forests for short-lived farming efforts while, at the same time, creating massive erosion, which is filling a fresh water lake upon which operation of the Panama Canal is dependent!

Panama is not the exception, it's the rule in many tropical nations. And in Africa desertification, starvation and declining food production is so common it is no longer being reported. Television and Hollywood stars are busy chasing other catastrophes (AIDS), and Ethiopia has slipped out of sight. But the dying and destruction hasn't stopped. And neither has the population explosion.

The Wattenberg article with its soothing tone that "everything's going to be all right" is pure denial of reality. The threat to the future of this planet and to the lives of our children and their children may not be from nuclear destruction. It could come from "the silent explosion" of mushrooming, uncontrollable population growth.

Let's face that reality, not hide from it.


Pacific Palisades

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