A new book makes the case oft-repeated. Does the evidence support his conclusions?
Niger has the world’s highest fertility rate (about seven births per woman), maintained in part by the persistence of human slavery. The Philippines have a glut of fishermen, but are running out of fish. Pakistan is set to become the world’s fourth-most-populous nation by 2050. “We’re praying that Pakistan only doubles,” the director of a Pakistani health organization says. “We are a crowded, underdeveloped nation — more a crowd than a nation. So we’ll have more illiterates, more youths without productive jobs and more chaos.”
The question mark that ends the book’s subtitle is as significant as what precedes it. If we dramatically reduce the planet’s human population, we might have a future here. Then again, it might already be too late. Weisman raises the example of the passenger pigeon. During the 19th century it was one of the most abundant birds on earth, with as many as five billion in America alone. The passenger pigeon went extinct in 1914, but it was doomed long before then, even as it still numbered in the millions, since its habitat and food supply had already dwindled beyond sustenance level. “Was it possible,” Weisman writes, “that my own species might also already be the living dead.” Earth Control, Review of Alan Weisman’s book, Countdown