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Challenging The View That The World's Growing Population Represents Power, Prosperity

As the world’s population approaches seven billion, Joel Cohen, a mathematical biologist and the head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, examines the implications of “the enormous increases in households, cities, material consumption and waste” on health, agriculture, water security, the environment and poverty in this New York Times opinion piece. He writes, “For some in the West, the greatest challenge — because it is the least visible — is to shake off, at last, the view that large and growing numbers of people represent power and prosperity.”

“Today, while many people reject the equation of human numbers with power, it remains unpalatable, if not suicidal, for political leaders to admit that the United States and Europe do not need growing populations to prosper and be influential and that rich countries should reduce their rates of unintended pregnancy and help poor countries do likewise,” he writes. “Henceforth we need to measure our growth in prosperity: not by the sheer number of people who inhabit the earth, and not by flawed measurements like GDP, but by how well we satisfy basic human needs; by how well we foster dignity, creativity, community and cooperation; by how well we care for our biological and physical environment, our only home,” he concludes (10/23).