Gazette Covers Overpopulation Lecture

This overburdened truck in Niger symbolizes world overpopulation. Photo by Roberto Neumiller

Author Alan Weisman describes hazards of population growth in talk at Mount Holyoke College

By LAUREN QUIRICI, Gazette Contributing Writer

Note: This article was published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on December 4.

SOUTH HADLEY — Earth’s population grows by 1 million every 4½ days and it is projected to reach 11 billion by the end of the century. That unprecedented rate of growth has author Alan Weisman concerned about the future of our planet and species.

Weisman visited Mount Holyoke College last month to talk about his latest book, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? That is the sequel to The World Without Us, which he wrote six years ago what would happen to Earth if the human population suddenly vanished.

“I wrote it because I want a world with us,” Weisman told about 75 people at Mount Holyoke. “Some of my best friends are homo sapiens. I married one.”

Weisman, an award-winning journalist whose reports have been featured in publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Discover, Vanity Fair, Orion, and on NPR, has also taught writing and journalism at Prescott College, Williams College, and the University of Arizona.

His newest book focuses on how to save our species by addressing the need to slow the population growth—and fast. “I don’t pull any punches in Countdown,” Weisman said. “We are facing some serious challenges this century. The number of humans on this planet is far more than nature ever intended, and our demands are changing the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, and our soils in dangerous ways.”

Weisman referred to Israel and Palestine as demonstrating the consequences of religious and political pressures that encourage people to reproduce. “Today there are nearly 12 million (people) jammed between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and by the middle of the century, there will be 21 million, and a lot less water,” he warned.

Despite many alarming statistics, Weisman said that he did not feel discouraged at the end of his research. “I came out of this book far more encouraged than when I went in,” he said.

He related the story of Iran’s success in turning around the population growth that its government had encouraged with the goal of building an army.

Among Weisman’s suggestions for population growth reform are the need to make contraception readily available to everyone, consideration of adoption as an alternative to reproduction, and the need to encourage an economy that does not depend on perpetual growth.

The importance of women’s education throughout the world is a focal point for Weisman.

“Everywhere I went, even in the poorest countries, female education is the most effective contraceptive of them all. Boy, am I preaching to the choir,” Weisman quipped, receiving a laugh from the audience at the all-women’s college.

Weisman reported that in Iran, where 60 percent of college students are female, the majority of educated women on average have fewer than two children, a birth rate that would help slow population growth if it were more widespread.