by William Stanton
published 2003 ISBN 0 906522 21 8 pp. vi + 230 £25
The human population explosion is demographic fact, starkly illustrated in Stanton's graphs of every nation's recorded population history. It began in the mid-18th century, as the Industrial Revolution introduced technologies that vastly expanded food production and began to control disease. By the mid-20th century the explosion was affecting the whole world.
Stanton draws on his graphic evidence to argue that the explosion marks a fundamental shift from a Darwinian world of ruthless competition, in which one population could only grow at the expense of another, to a gentler world of weak restraints on growth (WROG). Populations could now increase side by side. Tolerance and compassion for other people became possible. Environmental concerns, and the concept of 'human rights', were born. To most of us, today, WROG conditions seem natural and normal.
But WROG conditions are self-destructive, because the hugely expanded world population is rapidly devouring the finite resources, especially fossil fuels, that make WROG possible. We get glimpses of future resource wars in overpopulated regions such as Palestine and Rwanda, where Darwinian rivalry has resurfaced. Superficially, these are religious or tribal conflicts, but the deeper cause is competition within dense and divided populations for a limited resource: productive land. Such conflicts will become so common, as populations grow and resources shrink, that peacekeepers and compassionate aid will be ineffective. The resource wars will run their courses, and populations will crash.
The journey back to 'natural' levels of world population will not be a joyous one. Have policy-makers begun to grasp the scale of the problem that confronts them? Are they still dazzled by the contention that rates of increase are slowing, not grasping that all the time the numbers are mounting up?
Stanton's graphic evidence so clarifies the issue that its central importance to humankind cannot be denied. A response needs to be made to apparently ever-growing populations, at policy level: what should it be?
Running through the book on the upper parts of the pages is new reference material: an assemblage of 235 graphs and tables showing, in detail, the recorded growth of population in each of the world's independent nations, as well as in 49 geographical regions which have, separately, useful and relevant records. Each graph is accompanied by a brief historical summary of political, cultural, ethnic and environmental change. The graphs appear in alphabetical order in four groups based on current population size, as indicated on the edge of each right-hand page.
Running through the book on the lower parts of the pages is the Commentary, which discusses how and why the evidence of the graphs amplifies or is at variance with conventional wisdom, and goes on to outline scenarios of population development based on the new evidence.
Three novel concepts are introduced:
WROG (Weak Restraints On Growth)
The global WROG period is the two and a half centuries since about 1750, during which populations have exploded.
DC (Death Control)
DC population surges, characteristic of the WROG period, were made possible by science-based improvements in agriculture, industry and medicine.
VCL (Violent Cutback Level)
A population cannot rise naturally above this level, due to civil strife, genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc.
Cross-referencing is made easy by naming target nations in capitals, e.g. RWANDA, and including section numbers at the top of the page.