Stanford expert speaks on dangers of rapid human overpopulation


Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, spoke to students and Manhattan residents as a part of the Provost’s Lecture Series in Forum Hall on Wednesday morning. His lecture was entitled “Population, Environment, and the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere: Can We Save The World?”

Ehrlich, who is also a professor in population studies at Stanford, has received numerous awards and accolades for his 1968 publication, “The Population Bomb,” which discussed a variety of issues regarding human population.

“We are clearly, genetically and biologically, small group animals,” Ehrlich said. “We evolved to live in groups of up to 150 people.”

Ehrlich discussed three overlapping topics that together presented a strong argument about the problems causing global climate change and why students and faculty at K-State should be concerned and active about this topic.

The first dilemma that people should consider, according to Ehrlich, is the problem of overpopulation. Humans have started having such problems due to the exponential increase in population in recent years.

“One of the biggest changes, of course, has been our capacity to wreck the world,” he added.

To maintain a global standard of living equal to that of an average Kansan, Ehrlich estimated it would take about four to five other earths. The reason overpopulation is a problem is because our world’s resources are limited and always will be.

“You can’t negotiate with nature,” he said.

An effective solution, simple as it sounds, would be to make the birth rate less than the death rate, Ehrlich said. He said this could be achieved by giving women truly equal rights worldwide, which would lead to education and thus proper contraception.

Consumption was the second problem that Ehrlich elaborated on. He reiterated the idea that our world’s resources are limited, and that they affect more than just the population, but also have adverse effects on the agricultural system.

The final idea that Ehrlich discussed was the idea of what he called “the culture gap.” According to Ehrlich, education is one of the most important factors in stimulating change.

“There are huge gaps in education that must be closed in order to provide solutions to these problems,” he said.

One interesting phenomenon that he’s observed is that people tend to actually do something if they are convinced everybody else around them is doing it too. The bandwagon technique seems to be incredibly effective, he said, as shown in many studies done by his friends and colleagues.

“We’re either going to have to change our ways, or they’re going to be changed for us,” Ehrlich said. “It’s going to be unpleasant.”

Despite some bleak predictions, Ehrlich assured the audience that change is possible, albeit slowly. After the initial lecture, there was a Q&A session during which students and faculty asked a multitude of questions.

Blair Johnson, senior in mathematics, said she attended the lecture not only because she was interested in the subject matter, but also because she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity provided by K-State to witness, in person, a lecture given by a highly renowned figure.

“I was interested in what he had to say, of course, but I didn’t want to regret missing such a prominent figure. I agree that population is too large, but I just didn’t know what to do about it,” Johnson said.

Danielle Deorsey, sophomore in landscape architecture, said she attended for similar reasons.

“I attended the lecture, because I was interested in the lecture topic and what he had to say about it,” Deorsey said.

Deorsey said she was especially intrigued by what Ehrlich said about equality and education.

“I think that what he said about the correlation between women’s rights and the birthrate stood out to me the most,” she added. “The idea that if women were given the same exact rights and education as men, we would see the birthrate decrease was an intriguing idea.”