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    Ecologist Says Unchecked Population Growth Could Bring Misery

    Ithaca, N.Y. — As the earth’s population surpasses the 6 billion
    mark, some researchers are predicting how the planet’s burgeoning
    population will affect the environment and quality of life for
    humans in another 100 years.

    David Pimentel, a Cornell University professor of ecology and
    agricultural sciences, sees several possible scenarios for the 22nd
    century: A planet with 2 billion people thriving in harmony with
    the environment; or, at the other extreme, 12 billion miserable
    humans suffering a difficult life with limited resources and
    widespread famine. Pimentel says the next century is crucial
    because the human population could pass sustainable limits.

    ‘We must avoid letting human numbers continue to increase and
    surpass the limit of the earth’s natural resources and forcing
    natural forces to control our number by disease, malnutrition and
    violent conflicts over resources,’ Pimentel writes in his report,
    ‘Will Limits of the Earth’s Resources Control Human Numbers?’ which
    appeared in the first issue of the journal Environment, Development
    and Sustainability.

    Pimental says the only way to manage the earth’s population is
    to reduce the number of children per couple. He estimates that if
    people average 1.5 children per couple, the optimal earth
    population of 2 billion could be achieved in 100 years. Even
    slightly more children per couple will make the earth’s number’s
    swell in short order: ‘If we adopted a policy of 2.1 children
    starting tomorrow, the world population will continue to increase
    and 60 years from now we will have close to 12 billion people,’ he

    Pimentel says that in order for every person on earth to have
    adequate resources of food, shelter and clothing, the ideal
    population on the earth should be about 2 billion — approximately
    the number of people living on the planet in the 1950s. These
    fortunate 2 billion will be free from poverty and starvation,
    living in an environment capable of sustaining human life with
    dignity, the report suggests.

    But even at a reduced world population — achieved, ideally, by
    democratically determined population control practices and sound
    resource-management policies — life for the average person cannot
    be as luxurious as it is for many Americans today, with a standard
    of living about half of that in the United States in the 1990s, or
    the standard experienced by the average European today.

    In addition to reducing the earth’s population, cropland needs
    to be preserved, and water and energy must be conserved, Pimentel
    says. ‘None of these solutions, unfortunately, will be painless,’
    Pimentel points out. While Pimentel holds some optimism that if
    people recognize the problem there will be a movement toward a
    solution: ‘But the question is, when will we recognize that this is
    a problem? History dictates that we humans never get at a problem
    until there is a crisis.’

    Pimentel concedes that the findings of the report are
    disturbing: ‘I found that it’s a lot worse than I had anticipated.
    I have children and grandchildren and, unless something is done,
    the future doesn’t look too bright,’ he said.

    Contact: David Pimentel, professor of ecology and
    agricultural sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY,

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    Published on Oct 9, 2007


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