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How Many People Can the Earth Support?

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Past attempts to answer this question have ranged widely from less than 1 billion to more than 1,000 billion?one sign that there is no single right answer. More than half of the estimates, however, fall within a much narrower range: between 4 billion and 16 billion. In any case, with the world population now at 5.7 billion, and increasing by approximately 90 million per year, we have entered a zone where limits on the human carrying capacity of the Earth have been anticipated, and may well be encountered. In this...
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Overview

Past attempts to answer this question have ranged widely from less than 1 billion to more than 1,000 billion—one sign that there is no single right answer. More than half of the estimates, however, fall within a much narrower range: between 4 billion and 16 billion. In any case, with the world population now at 5.7 billion, and increasing by approximately 90 million per year, we have entered a zone where limits on the human carrying capacity of the Earth have been anticipated, and may well be encountered. In this analysis of one of the most crucial questions of our time, a leading scholar in the field reviews the history of world population growth and gives a refreshingly frank appraisal of what little can be known about its future. In the process, he offers the most comprehensive account yet available of how various people have tried to estimate the planet's human carrying capacity.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Biologist Cohen investigates the Earth's human carrying capacity. (Sept.)
Gilbert Taylor
The earth can support somewhere between 1 billion and 1,000 billion people, depending on the demographer doing the reckoning, but a reckoning is coming should humanity keep going forth and multiplying. But what is the critical mass of the population bomb? For the bright reader without an agenda to push, Cohen offers this overview of the history of human population, the factors theorized to modulate its growth, and the methods used to project the future number of the teeming multitude. Fortunately for holding interest, Cohen refrains from delivering a dry actuarial accounting--though the text is dense with statistics--and enlivens demography with tales of how experts have calculated and predicted doom since Malthus sounded the overpopulation alarm. The variations in an ultimate limit to Earth's carrying capacity, Cohen emphasizes, issue from that "fuzzy zone between [human] choices and [natural] constraints," and he ably delimits quantities of resources, such as water, and neutrally sets out the economic and value choices over which humanity has theoretical control. A cogent presentation for open-minded nondemographers seeking to make informed opinions rather than ratifying preconceived ideas
Edward O. Wilson
“The definitive work on the global population problem. Cohen, one of the foremost theoretical biologists in the world, has brought extraordinary analytic powers and humanitarian learning to the topic, and those who care about the human future will do well to read his conclusions.”
William D. Nordhaus
“It would be hard to conceive of a better book for those interested in a scholarly and nonideological review and analysis of population issues. . . . Fascinating and lucid. . . . A gem of a book.”
Thomas E. Lovejoy
“A probing, scholarly analysis of the population issue in all its complexity. . . . An enduring resource book.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393038620
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/1995
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.51 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Joel E. Cohen is head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Introduction 3
1 Between Choices and Constraints 5
Pt. 2 Past Human Population Growth 23
2 Four Evolutions in Population Growth 25
3 People Control the Growth of Nonhuman Populations 32
4 People Control the Growth of Human Populations 46
5 Human Population History in Numbers and Graphs 76
6 The Uniqueness of the Present Relative to the Past 97
Pt. 3 Future Human Population Growth 107
7 Projection Methods: The Hazy Crystal Ball 109
8 Mathematical cartoons of human population size and carrying capacity
Notes 447
Bibliography 481
Acknowledgments 505
Index 507
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