Human locusts?

In his foreword to this collection of essays, Timothy E Writh of the US State Department asserts that "the Clinton administration is poised to take a leadership role on global population and environmental issues". Many of the writers in this book are the architects of the new thinking on population and environment. The entire book reflects the American orientation of the authors and the publisher.

In spite of this, it is refreshing to note that the editor candidly observes that contrary to conventional wisdom, consumption in the North poses a greater threat than population growth in the South, in terms of global climate change.

The outstanding characteristic of this book is that though it deals with the problem of large numbers, it is not studded with unnecessary statistical tables and footnotes. It does use statistics to support its argument, and the essays cover a wide range of interlinkages between environment and population.

Mark Sagoff presents an interesting differentiation between nature and environment. According to him, "the environment is what nature becomes when we view it as a life-support system and as a collection of materials." In view of the doubling of world population, the demographers expect over that in the next fifty years there will be more than enough people on the earth to destroy nature and imperil the environment.

On the other hand, Allen Theeis Durning warns that if the life supporting ecosystems have to be maintained for future generations, then the consumer society will have to dramatically curtail its use of resources--partly by shifting to high quality, low-input durabel goods and partly by seeking fulfilment through human relationships and other non-material avenues.

Homer-Dixon Boutwell hammers on the thesis of significant causal links between scarcities of renewable resources and violence. But this thesis will remain controverisal in the absence of more substantial emphirical evidence.

The book does take the reader beyond the numbers, and despite some subtle advocacy of the US state department under the Clinton Administration, it does bring forth in a lucid manner, the different facets of population issues, with an eye on environment.

Ashish Bose is a demographer