Overpopulation: The Dirtiest Word
In this 2010 piece for Mother Jones, Julia Whitty looks at the issues we face as global population swells over the next half century and why no one wants to talk about the problem.
In The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted inevitable mass starvation as early as the 1970s and 1980s—notably in India, which he claimed could not possibly attain food self-sufficiency. Instead, American agronomist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” brought dwarf wheat strains and chemical fertilizers to increase India’s crop yields 168 percent within a decade. This monumental achievement defused the bomb and earned Ehrlich the dismissive title of Malthusian: just one more in a line of pessimists forecasting phantom famines. Ever since, the subject has been largely taboo. Scientists from a variety of fields privately tell me the issue of overpopulation is simply too controversial—too inflamed with passions to get funded, too strong a magnet for ideologues. Those who’ve tackled it tell me of harassment, even physical threats, from a frightening fringe.