We need a global debate on population
London Independent 
June 15, 2010
A growing number of scientists are going where politicians fear to tread by calling for a wider public debate on the sensitive issue of the global human population, which is set to rise from the present 6.8 billion to perhaps 9 billion by 2050.
Lord Rees, the president of the Royal Society, brought the subject up in his excellent Reith Lectures; Sir David Attenborough has become a champion of those who believe population has been relegated as an environmental issue; and more recently Professor Aubrey Manning, presenter of the BBC’s Earth Story, has stated that the sheer number of humans on the planet is the greatest menace the world faces.
Scientists have a reputation for saying things as they are, not as they should be. Politicians, forever looking for short-term solutions to keep them in office, do not, as a rule, look further than the middle distance. Yet population is one of those over-the-horizon threats without enemies, as Lord Rees put it. It is a disaster in slow motion, and all politicians seem to do is provide the sort of platitudes articulated by Michael Heseltine, who recently fielded a question on Radio 4 by saying that the problems associated with population never turn out to be as bad as predicted – which is probably true if you can enjoy your own Oxfordshire arboretum.
No doubt Heseltine and his fellow politicians who are in favour of doing nothing about population will cite the words of John P Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, who wrote these words in 1969 when he was a young ecologist: “If the population control measures are not initiated immediately, and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come.”