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Impact of Population Growth

Author(s): Paul R. Ehrlich and John P. Holdren

Source: Science, New Series, Vol. 171, No. 3977 (Mar. 26, 1971), pp. 1212-1217
Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science
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resource demand or environmental im-
pact for absolute per capita increases,
and thus to underestimate the role of
the population multiplier. Moreover,
it is often assumed that population size
Impact of Population Growth and per capita impact are independent
variables, when in fact they are not.
Consider, for example, the recent article
Complacency concerning this component of man's by Coale (1), in which he disparages
the role of U.S. population growth in
predicament is unjustified and counterproductive. environmental problems by noting that
since 1940 "population has increased
Paul R. Ehrlich and John P. Holdren by 50 percent, but per capita use of
electricity has been multiplied several
times." This argument contains both the
fallacies to which we have just re-
The interlocking crises in popula- physical environment of urban ghettos, First, a closer examination of very
tion, resources, and environment have the human behavioral environment, rapid increases in many kinds of con-
been the focus of countless papers, and the epidemiological environment. sumption shows that these changes re-
dozens of prestigious symposia, and a 5) Theoretical solutions to our prob- flect a shift among alternatives within
growing avalanche of books. In this lems are often not operational and a larger (and much more slowly grow-
wealth of material, several questionable sometimes are not solutions.
ing) category. Thus the 760 percent
assertions have been appearing with We now examine these theorems increase in electricity consumption
increasing frequency. Perhaps the most in some detail. from 1940 to 1969 (4) occurred in
serious of these is the notion that the large part because the electrical com-
size and growth rate of the U.S. popu- ponent of the energy budget was (and
lation are only minor contributors to Population
Size and
is) increasing much faster than the
this country's adverse impact on local Per Capita Impact budget itself. (Electricity comprised 12
and global environments (1, 2). We percent of the U.S. energy consump-
propose to deal with this and several In an agricultural or technological tion in 1940 versus 22 percent today.)
related misconceptions here, before society, each human individual has a The total energy use, a more important
persistent and unrebutted repetition negative impact on his environment. figure than its electrical component in
entrenches them in the public mind- He is responsible for some of the sim- terms of resources and the environ-
if not the scientific literature. Our dis- plification (and resulting destabiliza- ment, increased much less dramatical-
cussion centers around five theorems tion) of ecological systems which re- ly-140 percent from 1940 to 1969.
which we believe are demonstrably sults from the practice of agriculture Under the simplest assumption (that
true and which provide a framework (3). He also participates in the utili- is, that a given increase in population
for realistic analysis: zation of renewable and nonrenewable size accounts for an exactly propor-
1) Population growth causes a dis- resources. The total negative impact tional increase in consumption), this
proportionate negative impact on the of such a society on the environment would mean that 38 percent of the
environment. can be expressed, in the simplest terms, increase in energy use during this
2) Problems of population size and by the relation riod is explained by population growth
growth, resource utilization and deple- I=P . F (the actual population increase from
tion, and environmental deterioration 1940 to 1969 was 53 percent). Similar
must be considered jointly and on a where P is the population, and F is a considerations reveal the imprudence
global basis. In this context, popula- function which measures the per capita of citing, say, aluminum consumption
tion control is obviously not a panacea impact. A great deal of complexity is to show that population growth is an
-it is necessary but not alone sufficient subsumed in this simple relation, how- "unimportant" factor in resource use.
to see us through the crisis. ever. For example, F increases with Certainly, aluminum consumption has
3) Population density is a poor mea- per capita consumption if technology swelled by over 1400 percent since
sure of populaction pressure, and re- is held constant, but may decrease in 1940, but much of the increase has
distributing population would be a some cases if more benign technol- been due to the substitution of aluim-
dangerous pseudosolution to the pop- ogies are introduced in the provision inum for steel in many applications.
ulation problem. of a constant level of consumption. Thus a fairer measure is combined
4) "Environment" must be broadly (We shall see in connection with theo- consumption of aluminum and steel,
construed to include such things as the rem 5 that there are limits to the im- which has risen only 117 percent since
provements one should anticipate from 1940. Again, under the simplest as-
Dr. Ehrlich is professor of biology at Stanford such "technological fixes.") sumption, population growth accounts
University, Palo Alto, California, and Dr. Holdren Pitfalls abound in the interpretation for 45 percent of the increase.
is a physicist at the Lawrence Radiation Labora-
tory, University of California, Livermore. This of manifest increases in the total im- The "simplest assumption" is not
article is adapted from a paper presented before
the President's Commission on Population Growth pact I. For instance, it is easy to mis- valid, however, and this is the second
and the American Future on 17 November 1970. take changes in the composition of flaw in Coale's example (and in his
1212 SCIENCE, VOL. 171
thesis). In short, he has failed to rec- Similarly, as the richest fisheries stocks volume of effluent to lower and lower
ognize that per capita consumption of are depleted, the yield per unit effort levels (diminishing returns again!).
energy and resources, and the asso- drops, and more and more energy per Consider municipal sewage, for ex-
ciated per capita impact on the envi- capita is required to maintain the sup- ample. The cost of removing 80 to 90
ronment, are themselves functions of ply (5). Once a stock is depleted it percent of the biochemical and chem-
the population size. Our previous equa- may not recover-it may be nonre- ical oxygen demand, 90 percent of the
tion is more accurately written newable. suspended solids, and 60 percent of the
Population size influences per capita resistant organic material by means of
-=P F (P)
impact in ways other than diminishing secondary treatment is about 8 cents
displaying the fact that impact can in- returns. As one example, consider the per 1000 gallons (3785 liters) in a large
crease faster than linearly with popu- oversimplified but instructive situation plant (7). But if the volume of sewage is
lation. Of course, whether F (P) is an in which each person in the popula- such that its nutrient content creates a
increasing or decreasing function of P tion has links with every other person serious eutrophication problem (as is
depends in part on whether diminishing -roads, telephone lines, and so forth. the case in the United States today),
returns or economies of scale are These links involve energy and ma- or if supply considerations dictate the
dominant in the activities of im- terials in their construction and use. reuse of sewage water for industry,
portance. In populous, industrial na- Since the number of links increases agriculture, or groundwater recharge,
tions such as the United States, most much more rapidly than the number advanced treatment is necessary. The
economies of scale are already being of people (6), so does the per capita cost ranges from two to four times
exploited; we are on the diminishing consumption associated with the links. as much as for secondary treatment
returns part of most of the important Other factors may cause much (17 cents per 1000 gallons for carbon
curves. steeper positive slopes in the per capita absorption; 34 cents per 1000 gallons
As one example of diminishing re- impact function, F (P). One such for disinfection to yield a potable sup-
turns, consider the problem of provid- phenomenon is the threshold effect. Be- ply). This dramatic example of dimin-
ing nonrenewable resources such as low a certain level of pollution trees ishing returns in pollution control
minerals and fossil fuels to a growing will survive in smog. But, at some could be repeated for stack gases, auto-
population, even at fixed levels of pei point, when a small increment in mobile exhausts, and so forth.
capita consumption. As the richest sup- population produces a small increment Now consider a situation in which
plies of these resources and those near- in smog, living trees become dead the limited capacity of the environ-
est to centers of use are consumed, trees. Five hundred people may be ment to absorb abuse requires that we
we are obliged to use lower-grade ores, able to live around a lake and dump hold man's impact in some sector con-
drill deeper, and extend our supply their raw sewage into the lake, and the stant as population doubles. This means
networks. All these activities increase natural systems of the lake will be per capita effectiveness of pollution
our per capita use of energy and our able to break down the sewage and control in this sector must double
per capita impact on the environment. keep the lake from undergoing rapid (that is, effluent per person must be
In the case of partly renewable re- ecological change. Five hundred and halved). In a typical situation, this
sources such as water (which is ef- five people may overload the system would yield doubled per capita costs,
fectively nonrenewable when ground- and result in a "polluted" or eutrophic or quadrupled total costs (and proba-
water supplies are mined at rates far lake. Another phenomenon capable of bly energy consumption) in this sector
exceeding natural recharge), per capita causing near-discontinuities is the for a doubling of population. Of course,
costs and environmental impact esca- synergism. For instance, as cities push diminishing returns and threshold ef-
late dramatically when the human out into farmland, air pollution in- fects may be still more serious: we
population demands more than is creasingly becomes a mixture of agri- may easily have an eightfold increase
locally available. Here the loss of free- cultural chemicals with power plant in control costs for a doubling of popu-
flowing rivers and other economic, and automobile effluents. Sulfur diox- lation. Such arguments leave little
esthetic, and ecological costs of mas- ide from the city paralyzes the clean- ground for the assumption, popularized
sive water-movement projects repre- ing mechanisms of the lungs, thus in- by Barry Commoner (2, 8) and others,
sent'increased per capita diseconomies creasing the residence time of potential that a 1 percent rate of population
directly stimulated by population carcinogens in the agricultural chemi- growth spawns only 1 percent effects.
growth. cals. The joint effect may be much It is to be emphasized that the pos-
Diminishing returns are also opera- more than the sum of the individual sible existence of "economies of scale"
tive in increasing food production to effects. Investigation of synergistic ef- does not invalidate these arguments.
meet the needs of growing populations. fects is one of the most neglected areas Such savings, if available at all, would
Typically, attempts are made both to of environmental evaluation. apply in the case of our sewage ex-
overproduce on land already farmed Not only is there a connection be- ample to a change in the amount of
and to extend agriculture to marginal tween population size and per capita effluent to be handled at an installation
land. The former requires dispropor- damage to the environment, but the of a given type. For most technologies,
tionate energy use in obtaining and dis- cost of maintaining environmental the United States is already more than
tributing water, fertilizer, and pesti- quality at a _given level escalates dis- populous enough to achieve such econ-
cides. The latter also increases per proportionately as population size in- omies and is doing so. They are ac-
capita energy use, since the amount of creases. This effect occurs in part be- counted for in our example by citing
energy invested per unit yield increases cause costs increase very rapidly as one figures for the largest treatment plants
as less desirable land is cultivated. tries to reduce contaminants per unit of each type. Population growth, on
26 MARCH 1971 1213
the other hand, forces us into quanti- This proves only that their economists ports 63 percent of its cereals, in-
tative and qualitative changes in how are as shortsighted as ours. cluding 100 percent of its corn and
we handle each unit volume of efflu- It is abundantly clear that the entire rice. It also imports all of its cotton,
ent-what fraction and what kinds of context in which we view the world 77 percent of its wool, and all of its
material we remove. Here economies resource pool and the relationships be- iron ore, antimony, bauxite, chromium,
of scale do not apply at all, and dimin- tween developed and underdeveloped copper, gold, lead, magnesite, manga-
ishing returns are the rule. countries must be changed, if we are to nese, mercury, molybdenum, nickel,
have any hope of achieving a stable silver, tin, tungsten, vanadium, zinc,
and prosperous existence for all human phosphate rock (fertilizer), potash
Global Context beings. It cannot be stated too force- (fertilizer), asbestos, and diamonds. It
fully that the developed countries (or, produces energy equivalent to some
We will not deal in detail with the more accurately, the overdeveloped 20 million metric tons of coal and
best example of the global nature and countries) are the principal culprits in consumes the equivalent of over 47
interconnections of population resource the consumption and dispersion of the million metric tons (14).
and environmental problems-namely, world's nonrenewable resources (12) A certain preoccupation with density
the problems involved in feeding a as well as in appropriating much more as a useful measure of overpopulation
world in which 10 to 20 million peo- than their share of the world's protein. is apparent in the article by Coale (1).
ple starve to death annually (9), and Because of this consumption, and be- He points to the existence of urban
in which the population is growing by cause of the enormous negative impact problems such as smog in Sydney,
some 70 million people per year. The on the global environment accompany- Australia, "even though the total popu-
ecological problems created by high- ing it, the population growth in these lation of Australia is about 12 million
yield agriculture are awesome (3, 10) countries must be regarded as the most in an area 80 percent as big as the
and are bound to have a negative feed- serious in the world today. United States," as evidence that en-
back on food production. Indeed, the In relation to theorem 2 we must vironmental problems are unrelated to
Food and Agriculture Organization of emphasize that, even if population population size. His argument would
the United Nations has reported that growth were halted, the present popu- be more persuasive if problems of
in 1969 the world suffered its first lation of the world could easily destroy population distribution were the only
absolute decline in fisheries yield since civilization as we know it. There is a ones with environmental consequences,
1950. It seems likely that part of this wide choice of weapons-from un- and if population distribution were un-
decline is attributable to pollution stable plant monocultures and agri- related to resource distribution and
originating in terrestrial agriculture. cultural hazes to DDT, mercury, and population size. Actually, since the
A second source of the fisheries de- thermonuclear bombs. If population carrying capacity of the Australian con-
cline is, of course, overexploitation of size were reduced and per capita con- tinent is far below that of the United
fisheries by the developed countries. sumption remained the same (or in- States, one would expect distribution
This problem, in turn, is illustrative creased), we would still quickly run problems-of which Sydney's smog is
of the situation in regard to many out of vital, high-grade resources or one symptom-to be encountered at a
other resources, where similarly rapa- generate conflicts over diminishing sup- much lower total population there. Re-
cious and shortsighted behavior by the plies. Racism, economic exploitation, sources, such as water, are in very
developed nations is compromising the and war will not be eliminated by short supply, and people cluster where
aspirations of the bulk of humanity to population control (of course, they are resources are available. (Evidently, it
a decent existence. It is now becoming unlikely to be eliminated without it). cannot be emphasized enough that
more widely comprehended that the carrying capacity includes the avail-
United States alone accounts for per- ability of a wide variety of resources
haps 30 percent of the nonrenewable Population Density and Distribution in addition to space itself, and that
resources consumed in the world each population pressure is measured rela-
year (for example, 37 percent of the Theorem 3 deals with a problem re- tive to the carrying capacity. One would
energy, 25 percent of the steel, 28 per- lated to the inequitable utilization of expect water, soils, or the ability of
cent of the tin, and 33 percent of the world resources. One of the common- the environment to absorb wastes to
synthetic rubber) (11). This behavior est errors made by the uninitiated is be the limiting resource in far more
is in large part inconsistent with Amer- to assume that population density (peo- instances than land area.)
ican rhetoric about "developing" the ple per square mile) is the critical mea- In addition, of course, many of the
countries of the Third World. We may sure of overpopulation or underpopu- most serious environmental problems
be able to afford the technology to lation. For instance, Wattenberg states are essentially independent of the way
mine lower grade deposits when we that the United States is not very in which population is distributed.
have squandered the world's rich ores, crowded by "international standards" These include the global problems of
but the underdeveloped countries, as because Holland has 18 times the popu- weather modification by carbon dioxide
their needs grow and their means re- lation density (13). We call this no- and particulate pollution, and the
main meager, will not be able to do so. tion "the Netherlands fallacy." The threats to the biosphere posed by man's
Some observers argue that the poor Netherlands actually requires large massive inputs of pesticides, heavy
countries are today economically de- chunks of the earth's resources and metals, and oil (15). Similarly, the
pendent on our use of their resources, vast areas of land not within its borders problems of resource depletion and
and indeed that economists in these to maintain itself. For example, it is ecosystem simplification by agriculture
countries complain that world demand the second largest per capita importer depend on how many people there are
for their raw materials is too low (1). of protein in the world, and it im- and their patterns of consumption, but
1214 SCIENCE, VOL. 171
not in any major way on how they are growth in the United States (17). The cine has made widespread plague im-
distributed. 4 percent figure now amounts to about possible (21). The Asian influenza
Naturally, we do not dispute that $30 billion per year. It seems safe to epidemic of 1968 killed relatively few
smog and most other familiar urban conclude that the faster we grow the people only because the virus hap-
ills are serious problems, or that they less likely it is that we will find the pened to be nonfatal to people in other-
are related to population distribution. funds either to alter population distribu- wise good health, not because of pub-
Like many of the difficulties we face, tion patterns or to deal more compre- lic health measures. Far deadlier
these problems will not be cured sim- hensively and realistically with our viruses, which easily could be scourges
ply by stopping population growth; di- problems. without precedent in the population
rect and well-conceived assaults on the at large, have on more than one oc-
problems themselves will also be re- casion been confined to research
quired. Such measures may occasion- Meaning of Environment workers largely by good luck [for
ally include the redistributionof popu- example, the Marburgvirusincident of
lation, but the considerable difficulties Theorem 4 emphasizes the compre- 1967 (22) and the Lassa fever incident
and costs of this approach should not hensiveness of the environment crisis. of 1970 (21, 23)].
be underestimated. People live where All too many people think in terms of
they do not because of a perverse in- national parks and trout streams when
tention to add to the problems of their they say "environment."For this rea- Solutions: Theoretical and Practical
society but for reasons of economic son many of the suppressedpeople of
necessity, convenience, and desire for our nation consider ecology to be just Theorem 5 states that theoretical
agreeable surroundings.Areas that are one more "racist shuck" (18). They solutions to our problems are often not
uninhabited or sparsely populated to- are apathetic or even hostile toward operational, and sometimes are not
day are presumably that way because efforts to avert further environmental solutions. In terms of the problem of
they are deficient in some of the requi- and sociological deterioration, because feeding the world, for example, tech-
site factors. In many cases, the remedy, they have no reason to believe they nological fixes suffer from limitations
for such deficiencies-for example, the will share the fruits of success (19). in scale, lead time, and cost (24). Thus
provision of water and power to the Slums, cockroaches, and rats are eco- potentially attractive theoretical ap-
wastelands of central Nevada-would logical problems, too. The correction proaches-such as desalting seawater
be extraordinarilyexpensive in dollars, of ghetto conditions in Detroit is for agriculture,new irrigation systems,
energy, and resources and would prob- neither more nor less important than high-protein diet supplements-prove
ably create environmentalhavoc. (Will saving the Great Lakes-both are im- inadequate in practice. They are too
we justify the rape of Canada's rivers perative. little, too late, and too expensive, or
to "colonize" more of our western We must pay careful attention to they have sociological costs which
deserts?) sources of conflict both within the hobble their effectiveness (25). More-
Moving people to more "habitable" United States and between nations. over, many aspects of our technological
areas, such as the central valley of Conflict within the United States blocks fixes, such as synthetic organic pesti-
California or, indeed, most suburbs, progress toward solving our problems; cides and inorganic nitrogen fertilizers,
exacerbates another serious problem- conflict among nations can easily have created vast environmentalprob-
the paving-over of prime farmland. "solve" them once and for all. Recent lems which seem certain to erode global
This is already so serious in California laboratory studies on human beings productivity and ecosystem stability
that, if current trends continue, about support the anecdotal evidence that (26). This is not to say that important
50 percent of the best acreage in the crowding may increase aggressiveness gains have not been made through the
nation's leading agricultural state will in human males (20). These results application of technology to agricul-
be destroyed by the year 2020 (16). underscore long-standing suspicions ture in the poor countries, or that
Encouraging that trend hardly seems that population growth, translated further technological advances are not
wise. through the inevitable uneven distribu- worth seeking. But it must be stressed
Whatever attempts may be made to tion into physical crowding, will tend that even the most enlightened tech-
solve distribution-related problems, to make the solution of all of our nology cannot relieve the necessity of
they will be undermined if population problems more difficult. grappling forthrightly and promptly
growth continues, for two reasons. As a final example of the need to with population growth [as Norman
First, population growth and the ag- view "environment"broadly, note that Borlaug aptly observedon being notified
gravation of distribution problems are human beings live in an epidemiologi- of his Nobel Prize for development of
correlated-part of the increase will cal environment which deteriorates the new wheats (27)].
surely be absorbed in urban areas that with crowding and malnutrition-both Technological attempts to ameliorate
can least afford the growth. Indeed, of which increase with population the environmental impact of popula-
barringthe unlikely prompt reversal of growth.The hazardposed by the preva- tion growth and rising per capita afflu-
present trends, most of it will be ab- lence of these conditions in the world ence in the developed countries suffer
sorbedthere. Second, populationgrowth today is compounded by man's un- from practical limitations similar to
puts a disproportionate drain on the precedented mobility: potential car- those just mentioned. Not only do such
very financial resourcesneeded to com- riers of diseases of every description measures tend to be slow, costly, and
bat its symptoms. Economist Joseph move routinely and in substantial insufficientin scale, but in additionthey
Spengler has estimated that 4 percent numbers from continent to continent most often shift our impact rather than
of national income goes to support our in a matter of hours. Nor is there any remove it. For example, our first
1 percent per year rate of population reason to believe that modern medi- generation of smog-control devices in-
26 MARCH 1971 1215
creased emissions of oxides of nitrogen probable role in the extinction of many lation is so considerable. To conclude
while reducing those of hydrocarbons Pleistocene mammals (29), through the that this means population control
and carbon monoxide. Our unhappiness destruction of the soils of Mesopotamia should be assigned low priority strikes
about eutrophication has led to the by salination and erosion, to the de- us as curious logic. Precisely because
replacement of phosphates in deter- forestation of Europe in the Middle population is the most difficult and
gents with compounds like NTA- Ages and the American dustbowls of slowest to yield among the components
nitrilotriacetic acid-which has car- the 1930's, to cite only some highlights. of environmental deterioration, we
cinogenic breakdown products and ap- Man's contemporary arsenal of syn- must start on it at once. To ignore
parently enhances teratogenic effects thetic technological bludgeons indis- population today because the problem
of heavy metals (28). And our distaste putably magnifies the potential for is a tough one is to commit ourselves
for lung diseases apparently induced disaster, but these were evolved in to even gloomier prospects 20 years
by sulfur dioxide inclines us to ac- some measure to cope with popula- hence, when most of the "easy" means
cept the hazards of radioactive waste tion pressures, not independently of to reduce per capita impact on the en-
disposal, fuel reprocessing, routine them. Moreover, it is worth noting that, vironment will have been exhausted.
low-level emissions of radiation, and of the four environmental threats The desperate and repressive measures
an apparently small but finite risk of viewed by the prestigious Williamstown for population control which might be
catastrophic accidents associated with study (15) as globally significant, three contemplated then are reason in them-
nuclear fission power plants. Similarly, are associated with pre-1940 tech- selves to proceed with foresight,
electric automobiles would simply shift nologies which have simply increased alacrity, and compassion today.
part of the environmental burden of in scale [heavy metals, oil in the seas,
References and Notes
personal transportation from the vicin- and carbon dioxide and particulates in
1. A. J. Coale, Science 170, 132 (1970).
ity of highways to the vicinity of power the atmosphere, the latter probably due 2. B. Commoner, Saturday Rev. 53, 50 (1970);
plants. in considerable part to agriculture Humanist 30, 10 (1970).
3. For a general discussion, see P. R. Ehrlich
We are not suggesting here that elec- (30)]. Surely, then, we can anticipate and A. H. Ehrlich, Population, Resources, En-
tric cars, or nuclear power plants, or that supplying food, fiber, and metals vironment (Freeman, San Francisco, 1970),
substitutes for phosphates are inher- chap. 7. More technical treatments of the
for a population even larger than relationship between complexity and stability
ently bad. We argue rather that they, today's will have a profound (and may be found in R. H. MacArthur, Ecology
36, 533 (1955); D. R. Margalef, Gen. Syst. 3,
too, pose environmental costs which destabilizing) effect on the global 3671 (1958); E. G. Leigh, Jr., Proc. Nat.
must be weighed against those they Acad. Sci. U.S. 53, 777 (1965); and 0. T.
ecosystem under any set of technolog-
Loucks, "Evolution of diversity, efficiency,
eliminate. In many cases the choice is ical assumptions. and stability of a community," paper delivered
not obvious, and in all cases there will at AAAS meeting, Dallas, Texas, 30 Dec. 1968.
4. The figures used in this paragraph are all
be some environmental impact. The based on data in Statistical Abstract of the
United States 1970 (U.S. Department of Com-
residual per capita impact, after all the Conclusion merce) (Government Printing Office, Washing-
best choices have been made, must then ton, D.C., 1970).
5. A dramatic example of this effect is given
be multiplied by the population en- John Platt has aptly described man's in R. Payne's analysis of the whale fisheries
gaging in the activity. If there are too present predicament as "a storm of [N.Y. Zool. Soc. Newsl. (Nov. 1968)]. The
graphs in Payne's paper are reproduced in
many people, even the most wisely crisis problems" (31). Complacency Ehrlich and Ehrlich (3).
managed technology will not keep the 6. If N is the number of people, then the numn-
concerning any component of these ber of links is N(N-1)/2, and the number of
environment from being overstressed. problems-sociological, technological, links per capita is (N-1)/2.
In contending that a change in the 7. These figures and the others in this paragraph
economic, ecological-is unjustified and are from Cleaning Our Environment: The
way we use technology will invalidate counterproductive. It is time to admit Chemical Basis for Action (American Chemi-
these arguments, Commoner (2, 8) cal Society, Washington, D.C., 1969), pp.
that there are no monolithic solutions 95-162.
claims that our important environ- to the problems we face. Indeed, pop- 8. In his unpublished testimony before the
mental problems began in the 1940's President's Commission on Population Growth
ulation control, the redirection of tech- and the American Future (17 Nov. 1970),
with the introduction and rapid spread nology, the transition from open to Commoner acknowledged the operation of
of certain "synthetic" technologies: diminishing returns, threshold effects, and so
closed resource cycles, the equitable on. Since such factors apparently do not ac-
pesticides and herbicides, inorganic distribution of opportunity and the count for all of the increase in per capita
impact on the environment in recent decades,
fertilizers, plastics, nuclear energy, and ingredients of prosperity must all be however, Commoner drew the unwarranted
conclusion that they are negligible.
high-compression gasoline engines. In accomplished if there is to be a future 9. R. Dumont and B. Rosier, The Hungry Fu-
so arguing, he appears to make two worth having. Failure in any of these ture (Praeger, New York, 1969), pp. 34-35.
unfounded assumptions. The first is 10. L. Brown, Sci. Amer. 223, 160 (1970); P. R.
areas will surely sabotage the entire
Ehrlich, War on Hunger 4, 1 (1970).
that man's pre-1940 environmental im- enterprise. 11. These figures are based on data from the
United Nations Statistical Yearbook 1969
pact was innocuous and, without In connection with the five theorems (United Nations, New York, 1969), with
changes for the worse in technology, elaborated here, we have dealt at length estimates added for the consumption by Main-
land China when none were included.
would have remained innocuous even at with the notion that population 12. The notion that dispersed resources, because
a much larger population size. The growth in industrial nations such as the they have not left the planet, are still avail-
able to us, and the hope that mineral supplies
second assumption is that the advent United States is a minor factor, safely can be extended indefinitely by the applica-
of the new technologies was indepen- ignored. Those who so argue often tion of vast amounts of energy to common
rock have been the subject of lively debate
dent of the attempt to meet human add that, anyway, population control elsewhere. See, for example, the articles by
needs and desires in a growing popu- would be the slowest to take effect of P. Cloud, T. Lovering, A. Weinberg,
Texas Quart. 11, 103, 127, 90 (Summer 1968);
lation. Actually, man's record as a all possible attacks on our various and Resources and Man (National Academy
of Sciences) (Freeman, San Francisco, 1969).
simplifier of ecosystems and plunderer problems, since the inertia in attitudes While the pessimists seem to have had the
of resources can be traced from his and in the age structure of the popu- better of this argument, the entire matter is

1216 SCIENCE, VOL. 171

academic in the context of the rate problem California Institute of Ecology, Davis, April 24. P. R. Ehrlich and J. P. Holdren, BioScience
we face in the next 30 years. Over that time 1969). 19, 1065 (1969).
period, at least, cost, lead time, and logistics 17. J. J. Spengler, in Population: The Vital 25. See L. Brown [Seeds of Change (Praeger,
will see to it that industrial economies and Revolution, R. Freedman, Ed. (Doubleday, New York, 1970)] for a discussion of unem-
dreams of development stand or fall with the New York, 1964), p. 67. ployment problems exacerbated by the Green
availability of high-grade resources. 18. R. Chrisman, Scanlan's 1, 46 (August 1970). Revolution.
13. B. Wattenberg, New Republic 162, 18 (4 Apr. 19. A more extensive discussion of this point is 26. G. Woodwell, Science 168, 429 (1970).
and 11 Apr. 1970). given in an article by P. R. Ehrlich and A. 27. New York Times, 22 Oct. 1970, p. 18; News-
14. These figures are from (11), from the FAO H. Ehrlich, in Global Ecology: Readings week 76, 50 (2 Nov. 1970).
Trade Yearbook, the FAO Production Year- Toward a Rational Strategy for Man, J. P. 28. S. S. Epstein, Environment 12, No. 7, 2
book (United Nations, New York, 1968), and Holdren and P. R. Ehrlich, Eds. (Harcourt, (Sept. 1970); New York Times service, 17
from G. Borgstrom, Too Many (Collier- Brace, Jovanovich, New York, in press). Nov. 1970.
Macmillan, Toronto, Ont., 1969). 20. J. L. Freedman, A. Levy, J. Price, R. 29. G. S. Krantz, Amer. Sci. 58, 164 (Mar.-Apr.
15. Man's Impact on the Global Environment, Welte, M. Katz, P. R. Ehrlich, in preparation. 1970).
Report of the Study of Critical Environmental 21. J. Lederberg, Washington Post (15 Mar. and 30. R. A. Bryson and W. M. Wendland, in
Problems (M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 22 Mar. 1970). Global Effects of Environmental Pollution,
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16. A Model of Society, Progress Report of the Lancet 1967-1, 1119, 1128 (1967). 1970).
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of a colleague on an average of one

out of three times; on a second, in-
dependent reading of the same series
of chest films, a physician would dis-
agree with his own previous diagnosis
on an average of one out of five times.
Signal Detectability The results of the intensive studies of
this phenomenon, which came to be
and Medical Decision-Making known as observer error, are shown in
an ROC graph in Fig. 1. The ROC
curve is plotted on normal-normal
Signal detectability studies help radiologists evaluate coordinates (codex 41,453), according
to the detection theory convention of
equipment systems and performance of assistants. false positive and true positive diagnoses
on the x- and y-axes, respectively. Two
Lee B. Lusted parameters are abstracted from an
ROC curve: the slope, and the sensitiv-
ity index de', where de' is defined as
twice the normal deviates of the inter-
section of the ROC curve and the
Signal detection theory can be used a signal is present and his sensory negative diagonal. The slope is inter-
to investigate two problems of interest capabilities as a signal detector. Re- preted as the ratio of the standard
to radiologists. First, the central con- ceiver operating characteristic (ROC) deviations of two distributions that,
cern in the study of radiographic image curves can be used to separate the sen- hypothetically, underlie the detection
quality is to gain knowledge of the way sory and nonsensory variables. A large process. The measure d,' is normalized
in which physical image quality affects body of literature is available on signal by averaging the two variances of the
a diagnosis, not necessarily to design detection theory in psychophysics (2) underlying data-generating distributions.
high fidelity imaging systems (1). Sec- and the use of ROC curves (3). The more sensitively the observer per-
ond, the increasing demand for diagnos- forms as a signal detector, the larger
tic radiology examinations has stimu- the value of d'.
lated studies to determine whether the ROC Curve for Interpreting The ROC curve in Fig. 1 can ex-
effectiveness and efficiency of radi- Chest Roentgenograms plain the variation in roentgenogram
ologists can be increased by the use of interpretation. Suppose that the six
trained technical assistants. In 1946 a group of radiologists and points on the curve represent the diag-
Detection theory is a basis for treat- phthisiologists began an investigation to noses of six different physicians who
ing discrimination experiments in psy- evaluate the effectiveness of various have identical sensory capabilities for
chophysics. In such experiments, one roentgenographic and photofluoro- detecting the signals (film densities) of
attempts to learn something about a graphic techniques in detecting active tuberculosis on the chest roentgeno-
sensory system by determining just how pulmonary tuberculosis. Yerushalmy, gram, but they have different criteria
small a change in some aspect of the who helped to initiate the study, has for what densities should actually be
stimulus can be reliably detected. A recently reviewed the results and the called tuberculosis. One assumes that
central feature of this analysis is the studies which followed (4). In the they have the same sensory capabilities
distinction made between the criterion course of the investigation it was dis- because the index of detectability, de',
that the observer uses to decide whether covered that the variation in the in- is the same for each physician.
terpretations of chest roentgenograms The upper points on the curve repre-
was of a disturbing magnitude: a phy- sent individuals with more liberal
The author is professor of radiology at the
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637. sician would disagree with the diagnosis decision criteria, whereas the lower
26 MARCH 1971 1217