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of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens


Challenge of Overpopulation

Now for some real problems -- Don't Panic, PANIC

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John L. Farrands (1921-1996) was a physicist and engineer. From 1971 to 1977 he was the Chief Defence Scientist for two Australian governments. He was then appointed Permanent Head of the Department of Science, which subsequently became the Department of Science and the Environment, and the Department of Science and Technology. He was leader of the Australian delegation to the UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development (Vienna, 1979). The following excerpts are from the concluding chapter (Now for some real problems) of his book: Don't Panic, Panic: the use and abuse of science to create fear (Melbourne, Text Publishing, 1993) [Emphasis added]

Estimates are that we are adding about a million more people ever four days; that comes to 91 million ever year and the 91 million will increase year after year. If the acceleration continues, we may well face disaster in the lifetime of some of us living today. If the disaster should turn out not to be global but merely regional (somebody else's problem) it will nevertheless create huge dislocation, discomfort, and enormous damage to the global environment. (p. 150)

Given the point I have been hammering, you could be forgiven for saying, "They might be wrong. Don't panic". But this time you would not be on such sure ground. Population growth is the fundamental problem you should panic about, the problem which will make all our palliatives about resources, peace, the environment, the conservation of cuddly animals come to nought. (p. 151)

The errors of timing in previous predictions do not alter the fact that there is a problem. It may not be as imminent as the worst scenarios would have us fear; it may be that technology can fend off the problem -- it will for some time.... The fact is, however, that if the world population continues to increase on a percentage basis there will be too many of us... (p. 158)

It is a matter of complete astonishment to me that the popular movements of banner-wavers can manage to focus on the ephemeral and trivial while this enormous problem is staring the world in the face. If one believed in conspiracy theories, and of course the readers of this book don't, one might suggest that the emphasis in the news media is designed to deflect public concern from the major issues of our time. "And what", you may ask, "is more important than the greenhouse effect, radiation and cholesterol?" The answer is population growth. Just this once don't say, "They might be wrong. Don't panic." This time PANIC! (p. 158)

If the problem of future population growth is real, and we wish to take steps to inhibit it, we should try to understand it. (p. 159)

Overpopulation is not an insoluble problem, but it is a very difficult problem. It is also a problem that, considering its nature, will take time to solve,and that time is running out. While we are addressing the much less important topics that I have taken as case studies in this book, the nations of the world, singly and separately, are merely nibbling at the edges of this one. They must not be allowed to get away with it. Action requires pressure from a public which understands the scientific, social and economic aspects of the problem. That means you. PANIC! (p. 167).

In 1992 perhaps the largest collection of government representatives ever to assemble in one place met at Rio for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Known commonly as the Rio Summit... it was intended to address environmental issues of global concern. Effort was concentrated on so-called greenhouse emission gases by the developed world and the preservation of diversity of species, mostly in the Third World. Whatever the practical outcome, it is noteworthy that for whatever reason, religious or cultural, the problem of population was not addressed. Unbelievable. (p. 176)

The combined problems of population growth and economic growth demand that we apply more intelligence to their solution than we have shown to date in our global environmental and economic planning, or we shall just be like the frog in the slowly boiling pan of water who never identifies the point of discomfort level beyond which it is fatal to stay. The frog is boiled alive, every time. (p. 176)

We are at risk

As the major scares are re-evaluated, as must be done continuously, and as we become indifferent to them, new scares will have to be invented.... In the light of such changes, you might think that the discussion I am trying to stimulate is unnecessary -- that I have put forward arguments against causes that are already lost. Not so. It was not my intention to say that there isn't a greenhouse effect of some kind, that dietary habits don't matter at all, that smoking is good for you. Rather, I want to encourage scepticism about what is printed and televised by people with a vested interest in calamity: the news services, some scientists, some anti-scientists, some bureaucrats and some activists.

If we are to make reasonable judgments in the public domain, we need to generate a climate of scepticism by education. (p. 187)

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