A veteran environmental journalist peeks into the future and reports some surprisingly good news.
Beginning with Thomas Robert Malthus in the late 1700s, the study of human populations has been dicey, attracting its share of crackpots and doomsayers, many of whom have warned against the “folly of philanthropy” and touted pernicious practices from forced sterilization to euthanasia. Demographers’ predictions also have a history of being spectacularly wrong—e.g., Paul Ehrlich, whose The Population Bomb (1968) forecast the starving death of billions in the 1980s. Pearce’s forthright recounting of this dubious record helps establish credibility bolstered further by his worldwide travel and informative interviews. The post–World War II decades of maximum population growth, he writes, the greatest surge in our history, are coming to an end. With contraception a near universal technology and with women now clearly in charge of their reproductive futures, soon after 2020 “the world’s population is primed to start falling for probably the first time since the Black Death in the fourteenth century.” New Scientist consultant Pearce (Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff, 2008, etc.) foresees a “kinder, gentler, wiser, and greener world,” a “low-mortality, low-fertility future” with “tribal elders” (dominated by women) taking center stage. Before entering this Promised Land we must first navigate a demographic “youth bulge,” the cohort responsible for much of today’s terrorism; apply new technologies to conserve environmental resources and stave off the worst effects of climate change; and curb rising consumption, a trend that threatens to negate advantages gained from defusing the population bomb. The author pictures an increasingly migratory world population—New York City today features more first-generation immigrants than at any other time in its history—and discovers silver linings even in megacity slums, which contain illustrative strategies for sustainable living.
Consistently interesting, informative and inspiring reporting.