Population Bomb: The Overpopulation Theory That Fell Flat | Retro Report on PBS


-Overpopulation, so long predicted, has stolen upon us. It’s getting worse week by week. -In the 1960s, a new kind of fear began
to spread across America. -The U.S. could be
busting out at the seams by the end of the century. -If we do not, by humane
means, limit our numbers, then numbers are going
to be limited by more famines and shortages and consequent
social conflicts. -The idea that human population was outstripping the Earth’s
ability to support mankind was a powerful one,
and it was one man, Stanford biologist
Paul Ehrlich… -Population growth will
kill you stone-cold dead. -…who pushed
the dramatic message home. -If we continue
to let population grow and if we continue to exploit
the underdeveloped countries, if we continue
to pollute the seas with a wide variety
of compounds and so on, it’s very difficult for me
to picture things holding together for more
than another decade or so. The basic point is so simple. We have a finite planet
with finite resources and, in such a system, you can’t
have infinite population growth. -Ehrlich, who had
previously focused his scientific research
on butterflies, laid out his hypothesis
in a slim volume called “The Population Bomb.” It was a call to action
for many, including a student
Ehrlich advised: Stewart Brand. -There’s too many people
and we’d like to see people have fewer children,
and better ones. -The whole idea that people
make more people who make more people,
until there’s too many people and, by then, it’s too late, that’s a very
persuasive argument. -Adrienne Germain,
a women’s health advocate, found herself drawn
to Ehrlich as well, due to his support
of birth control. -The message was that we
were already in a crisis and, if we didn’t have urgent
and immediate action, the world would simply
destroy itself. -Look at what the year
2000 will be. Our cities are gonna be
choked with people. They’re going to be choked
with traffic. They’re gonna be
choked with crime. They’re going to be choked
with pollution and they will be impossible
places in which to live. ♪♪ -Paul’s picture of doom
and gloom looked real. -Net world population is increasing by 23 people
every 10 seconds. It’s clear that
world population growth remains completely
out of control. -I bought it totally. Many of my friends
bought it totally. I organized an event for 60 people
to starve in public. -Maybe anybody who’s thinkin’
of having a third child oughta go hungry a week. -The mood became,
“Don’t have kids. There’s enough
of them in the world and, if your friends have kids, it’s fine if they feel
uncomfortable about that.” -We had formed an organization
called Zero Population Growth and then Johnny took me
on “The Tonight Show.” -Would you welcome
Dr. Paul Ehrlich. [ Whistling and applause ]
[ Piano plays tranquil tune ] -You have to get the death rate
and birthrate in balance and there’s only
two ways to do it. One is to bring
the birthrate down. The other is to push
the death rate up. -I did the show maybe 20 times
and we went from six chapters and 600 members to 600 chapters
and 60,000 members. -We’re starting in now. This is the first step. -The Bagleys belong
to a growing number of young marrieds who favor ZPG,
Zero Population Growth. -How many children do you have? -Two.
I have two children. -Ehrlich’s views on how
to bring that birthrate down were concrete: “compulsion
if voluntary methods fail,” creating a “blacklist of people,
companies, and organizations impeding population control”
in the United States, “Responsibility prizes”
for childless marriages, a tax on children, and a luxury tax
on diapers and cribs. -Our concerns about population
became misanthropic and it was taken
with so much seriousness that Paul Ehrlich
would recommend things like putting stuff in public water that would make people
not as fertile. -Panic is not too strong
a word to use for some of the advocates that
I referred to as true believers. -It appears that large families
are on the way out and ZPG may be possible. -The idea also took hold
in the developing world, where governments like India’s had already begun to embrace
population control. -The core message of the work, population growth
outstripping food supply, resonated quite a bit with India’s elites,
with the middle classes. They much preferred to believe
that the poor were poor because of too many children,
rather than being poor because of an unfair
and unequal economic system. ♪♪ -If you start with that
problem definition, then, it’s almost inevitable that there will be circumstances where governments
and other actors will act in a way that is coercive. -In the mid-1970s, the Indian government began
a controversial program to encourage
mass sterilization. -We do want to create
an atmosphere in which people realize
the importance of this program. -It led to abuses. Access to food aid and housing
were sometimes used as coercion. Others weren’t even
given a choice. -More than eight million
sterilizations were performed, many forcibly. The people, in the words
of one family planning expert, were treated like cattle. -Zero Population Growth
is a tragic frame, in the sense that it was assumed
that there was no way out, that people would just
go on reproducing until there really was a desperate circumstance
in the world. -Ehrlich’s message
could be summed up in a dramatic prediction. -Sometime in the next 15 years,
the end will come, and by the end, I mean
an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity. Predictions do not
necessarily come true. The critics go in and look
at these little stories that won’t come true and, when they didn’t come true,
say, “Ehrlich was wrong.” -But Ehrlich says it could still
be just a matter of time. -One of the things
that people don’t understand is that timing,
to an ecologist, is very, very different from timing
to an average person. -How many years do you have
to not have the world end to decide whatever reason you
thought the world was gonna end, it actually maybe didn’t end
because that reason was wrong? -Ehrlich predicted that,
by the 1970s, India would be starving. Quite to the contrary. The green revolution
came to India with a big bang and a boom,
in such a rapid way that India has never
looked back. -Although an estimated three million children
around the world still die of malnutrition
every year, the green revolution’s
farming technology helped lessen rates of hunger
in the developing world over the decades, even as the world’s
population skyrocketed. -There’s a tendency
to apply to human beings the same sort of models that may apply
for the insect world. The difference, of course, is that human beings
are conscious beings and we do all kinds of things
to change our destiny. -That story is playing out
today in parts of India. In growing cities,
like Chennai, in the south, large families,
once needed for farming are no longer always seen
as the key to success. -Previously, my father used
to have four children and my grandfather used
to have seven children, but things have changed. Even myself,
I have only two children. Even my sister
is having only one kid because, now, education become
the first priority here. -The population bomb
was defused by urbanization; by people getting out of poverty
all over the world; by having enough to eat, so you
didn’t have multiple children, in the hopes that some
of them would survive. [ Horns blaring ] It’s somewhat ironic that
what Paul Ehrlich saw as a horrible,
hellish vision of the future is what turned the population
bomb upside-down. -Brand says that Ehrlich
did succeed in raising awareness
about important issues, such as the destructive effect population growth can have
on the environment, even if some of his predictions
didn’t come to pass. -If you ask me the question, “Are there things that I have
written in the past that I wouldn’t write today?” The answer is certainly yes. I expressed more certainty
because I was trying to bring people
to get something done. -But his core message
remains the same today. There are nearly four billion
more people in the world and they are consuming more
resources than ever before. -I do not think my language was too apocalyptic
in “The Population Bomb.” My language would be
even more apocalyptic today. The idea that every woman should
have as many babies as she wants is, to me, exactly
the same kind of idea as everybody
oughta be permitted to throw as much
of their garbage into their neighbor’s
backyard as they want. -But, if the world were
to succeed in its decades-old task to curb
population growth, what then? -What if large population
is not bad, but is good? -What many more countries
are already trying to come to terms with is aging
of the population. -Japan needs more women
to have children. -America’s in the midst
of a baby bust. -China is hoping
for a new baby boom. -The point at which
population peaks, around nine billion
in the 2040s or ’50s, the story will not be,
“Oh, my god. We got nine billion people.
How horrible.” It’ll be, “Oh, my god.
We’re running out of people.” ♪♪

13 thoughts on “Population Bomb: The Overpopulation Theory That Fell Flat | Retro Report on PBS

  1. Contrary to the popular belief India is actually not reproducing that fast. Infact India has reached the fertility rate of 2.3 which is very near to replacement fertility rate of 2.1. Fertility rate is how many children are being born on an average from a woman. Actually India is doing so good that some researchers guess that India will reach the replacement fertility rate by 2019 2020. but this doesn't also mean that after reaching the replacement fertility rate the population will start declining infact this may take several decades to slow down because of the initial head start. According to a United Nations Research report, India's population will peak at 1.7 billion in 2060 and will decline to 1.5 billion in 2100. Actually there is a video on YouTube named why the world's population will not exceed 11 billion have a look at it.

  2. I support a program that doesn’t let low income & IQ people to have children. Only people with high IQ’s & income should be allowed to breed.

  3. Fantastic, I was just talking about the video (edit: original RR video The Population Bomb https://youtu.be/W8XOF3SOu8I ) you reference. I'd love to see more "Follow-up" videos like this after seeing all the old Retro Report videos

  4. Ah, back when people actually listened to legitimate concerns instead of thinking it was fake news. Has anyone realized that maybe stuff like roe v wade, contraception and chinas child policy fixed our problem instead of thinking it was a fluke? Did anyone stop to think that if we did nothing then the doctor would be right? Did anyone stop and think that india not starving was a good thing? Good god if anything will end humanity it will be lack of common sense. You cant fix a problem without doing something about it

  5. The last part of the video might need some clarification, we need more people only because we had too big of a drop of birthrate too fast, and therefore can't keep up with the aging population. I doubt infinite population growth is simply a good thing.

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  7. The truth is the population growth rate has long been slowing down. 

    The Earth's population grew by one billion people between 1999 and 2011. But every 12-15 years when we add one billion people, one billion represents less of a percentage than it did 12-15 years prior. In order for the growth rate to stay constant, it would have to keep doubling every 12-15 years (we'd have to reach 14 billion in 2023-2026). 

    According to the UN the world's population is meant to peak within the coming decades and by the end of this century the planet should begin to lose about one billion people every 20 years.

  8. We aren't over populated, we can fit the entire human population into the size of texas.
    We are overpopulated with Consumers!!!
    Every child is a Consumer!!!
    We are seeing problems such as habitat destruction, populated air and water. Look at the amazon that they were burning to grow cotton and soy for CONSUMERS!!!

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