by Edd Doerr
On September 14 there appeared a rather longish op ed piece in the New York Times (!) titled "Overpopulation Is Not the Problem", authored by one Erle C. Ellis, who is identified as a biologist serving on the faculties of not one but two distinguished universities that would probably be embarrassed to be named. The gist of Ellis's rather dreadful and certainly unsceentific screed is that there is no problem with human overpopulation: "There is really no such thing as a human carrying capacity." After my initial shock wore off -- after all, this was not April Fool's Day -- I stumbled to my computer and dispatched this letter to the estimable New York daily, which has yet to publish it:
"Erle Ellis's 'Overpopulation Not the Problem' op ed (Sept 14) is out of sync with science. It ignores climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, deforestation, desertification, carbon dioxide build-up, and global political messes and inadequate action. The Ford administration's 1975 National Security Study Memorandum 200 report spelled this out in detail when world population was only half what it is today. Ellis's piece is as irresponsible as loony climate change denial." (Letters to editors have to be very short.)
This reminds me of an incident that took place in Indianapolis back in the 1950s. I was asked to be on a Sunday evening radio talk show to discuss the population problem, which was even then being discussed by scientists like Julian Huxley. (The show's topic had been my suggestion to the show's producer.) The other guests on the show were the head of Indiana Planned Parenthood and a liberal Presbyterian minister. The show went well, but the following morning we were greeted by a screaming newspaper headline "Population Bomb Backfires". The show's host was fired for daring to discuss such a topic in public. In fact, none of us guests on the show ever mentioned the words "contraception" or "birth control". And I ended up being blackballed to teach in the city's public schools.