Michael Tobias Interview: The Dangers of Global Overpopulation

MOTHER's interview with Michael Tobias covers the dangers of global overpopulation, and the effect overpopulation will have on natural resources.

| August/September 1997

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    Mr. Tobias's warnings of runaway overpopulation and its precisely measurable impact on global ecosystems have earned him many academic enemies . . . and more than a few admirers.

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Michael Tobias discusses the dangers of global overpopulation in this MOTHER EARTH NEWS interview. 

In 1798, a taciturn and decidedly non-confrontational professor and cleric named Thomas Robert Malthus turned the world of Western economics and burgeoning national hopefulness upside down. In his Essay on the Principle of Population, he suggested, among other things, that humankind was, now and forever, playing a hopeless game of population vs. natural resources, a game that the vast majority of humankind would inevitably lose. Malthus's doomsday scenario of the dangers of global overpopulation had such widespread adherents (conveniently among economic conservatives), that Great Britain summarily declared much of its social welfare programs hopeless.

Michael Tobias both critiqued and reinvigorated Malthus's theories in his 1994 book, World War III. A student of population expert Paul Ehrlich, a graduate of the universities of Colorado and Tel Aviv with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz, a professor, and a career environmental advocate, Mr. Tobias's warnings of runaway overpopulation and its precisely measurable impact on global ecosystems have earned him many academic enemies . . . and more than a few admirers. Though skeptical about some of his conclusions, it was difficult to find deep-rooted fault with a man so committed to the betterment of both our regional and global worlds, and we spent a few hours with him and his crystal ball one immoderately cold May afternoon. —Matthew Scanlon 

As I was reading not only your book, but also information from organizations as diverse as the World Bank and Zero Population Growth and writers such as Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, it quickly became clear that there is a huge amount of contradictory information with respect to what effect world population growth has had on the environment. For instance, Paul Ehrlich was featured in an interview in MOTHER very early on in our history. Among other things, he predicted that . . . basically he admitted in a statement that the battle to feed all of humanity is over, that in the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death. 

Which they did.

Well, as often as not, they starved because they were the victims of civil war famine, not the bottom-line ability to feed ourselves. Wars in certain specific areas like Ethiopia, Rwanda being prime examples. 

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