Has the World Really Survived the Population Bomb? (Response to David Lam’s 2011 PAA Presidential Address: “How the World Survived the Population Bomb...”)
Stan Becker, Johns Hopkins University
In his PAA presidential address, David Lam (DL) documented the phenomenal progress of human societies over the past half century–increases in levels of education, increases in food per capita, lower proportions in poverty, and declining mortality and fertility rates--despite the addition of three billion persons to the planet, proving the neo-Malthusians wrong again. This paper challenges Lam’s view with two broad themes that he minimizes or ignores and that are directly related to our recent demographic and development history. First is our nonsustainable use of the Earth’s resources, essentially compromising the quality of life of future generations. Second, are our continued negative and often devastating effects on the ecosystem, in particular the extinction of thousands of other species with whom homo sapiens has shared the planet but which now are threatened by the very development that Lam extolls. The paper will draw on a diverse literature to illustrate these themes.