Dr. James Bonner, noted biologist of California Institute of Technology, has studied for more than 15 years the threat of world population explosion. He is an authority on the interplay between modern industry, population, food, and the outdoors. In this personal TV interview with Garner Ted Armstrong, Dr. Bonner speaks plainly about this explosive problem.
QUESTION: Dr. Bonner, from your studies, how would you define the "population explosion"?
ANSWER: Population explosion means that the population increases rapidly. A side effect that plagues us in getting to work in the morning is the population explosion of automobiles. But generally when we talk about "the population explosion," we mean the exceedingly rapid increase in the number of human beings on our planet.
Today there are about three and a half billion people on our world. They are increasing at a rate of more than two percent per year, an increase of some seventy million people per year. This rate of increase of human beings is greater than the rate at which many countries find it possible to provide means of support for people — food, housing, all of the necessities of life that people must have.
Indeed, in many parts of the world people are getting poorer each year instead of richer, because people are increasing more rapidly than the means to support them.
QUESTION: Is population outstripping our ability to produce food?
ANSWER: Oh, it is indeed. I think that most people in our country don't appreciate the gravity of the food situation in the world at large. In most of the world there's much less than one acre of cultivated land per person, in contrast to the two acres per person available in our country. People in our country don't realize the gravity of the food problem in such places as India, Pakistan, much of Latin America, most of Africa, where today more than one half of all people go to bed hungry each night.
And still population numbers are increasing more rapidly than food supplies in all of these areas.
QUESTION: In the event of a bad year, a poor monsoon or floods, what happens — do people just starve to death?
ANSWER: The last time there was a monsoon failure, the United States made massive shipments of food to India. Indeed we used up our vast reserves of grain in feeding and tiding the Indians over this failure of the monsoon.
But you ask, what happens the next time there's a monsoon failure. That's the sort of thing that leads people who study the world's food and population problem to the conclusion that when such inevitable monsoon failures do occur they will someday happen simultaneously in several areas. And the U.S. won't be able to supply the required food to all of those areas simultaneously.
When that time occurs, we must expect massive famines in the underdeveloped countries — and there will be literally nothing that we here in the United States can do about it.
QUESTION: This puts the United States in the position of Atlas, with all the world's problems on our shoulders. If famine were to strike two or three different countries at the same time, what do we do? The political overtones are a little frightening.
ANSWER: It would indeed be a very embarrassing time for the United States. Should we send food to all hungry areas and let them starve more slowly, or shall we choose nations which we will preserve from famine, allowing other nations to starve?
When the time of massive famines comes, as now seems inevitable, let's decide ahead of time which policy we will adhere to, on which criteria we will select whom we will help.
QUESTION: Specialists have agreed that it is inevitable that famines will strike the human race periodically. This doesn't take into account sudden unexpected catastrophes. It could happen next spring — or next fall. It could happen to parts of the world that would directly affect us.
ANSWER: It would, as in Latin America.
QUESTION: What is the likelihood of a massive famine resulting as it were from accident, just by the caprice of nature?
ANSWER: The probability that famine will take place someplace in the world each year is very high. There's a famine going on in Biafra right now. Small pockets of famine are occurring in Southeast Asia and in Latin American countries, as you know. The probability that each year there'll be a bigger-than-average famine someplace is still quite high.
It would be my guess that we'll see middle-size famines in Africa, India, and Latin America in the near future, and maybe a few years afterwards, middle-size famines in two of these areas at once. And, as the Paddock brothers wrote in Famine 1975! I agree that by 1975, most probably, we'll have very large-scale famines — famines that we won't be able to alleviate!
QUESTION: What would you call a large-scale famine?
ANSWER: I don't want to be too gruesome about the scale. A famine affecting tens of millions of people would be a small-scale famine. A middle-size famine would involve a hundred million people. A large-scale famine would involve many hundreds of millions. The world will probably see such famines before we gain the technical ability to grow the food to support the number of people who are left, and before we gain the ability to convince people not to multiply so rapidly.
QUESTION: Then this is an inevitable virtually an insoluble problem — and tens of millions will — not maybe, but will — die?
ANSWER: Yes. Those who study the matter agree that famines are inevitable, and they agree that such massive famines will reduce the population of the more crowded areas of the earth's surface to a level at which that area can support itself with food. Such famines will encourage populations to learn how to limit their numbers. Finally, as populations are stabilized, the slow growth of agricultural productivity will be able to increase the amount of food per person per year in places like India, where today people are getting less food per person per year.
QUESTION: What about birth control and government-sponsored programs, such as in India?
ANSWER: Those are problems that face all our developing nations. Of course, we do have the technical means to prevent conception, but problems remain. We have to make people want to limit their family size. This is not easy.
Let's take a typical Indian farmer, for example. He has been taught for thousands of years that if anybody's going to support him in his old age, he has to have surviving children. Until this generation, in order to have a surviving child, one had to have eight or ten children.
This is an attitude that has to be gotten rid of, but it persists, nonetheless. The result is that the population increases rapidly. There is very good evidence that in large segments of the population of developing nations there would be no acceptance of birth control. It has to be sold.
QUESTION: What about the United States? Do we have a population problem too?
ANSWER: Very definitely. Of course, the U.S. population isn't growing as rapidly as that of the underdeveloped areas. But still it's growing at an appreciable rate — about 1 percent per year. Many of the problems of the cities, schools, and traffic are associated with population growth.
Here is a frightening statistic. I have calculated that at the present rate of U. S. population growth, with the increasing pattern of leisure and of people taking vacation trips, that in 1984 — if everyone decides to take his vacation on the same day in August and goes to a national park or monument — each one of us will have only about one square foot of land to stand on!
QUESTION: Back to the global picture and the threat of impending famines — do you foresee FOOD WARS erupting because of massive starvation?
ANSWER: Oh, indeed I do foresee food wars. In a time of national catastrophe, people naturally blame the government. I think we'll see a lot of overthrow of governments and we'll see Communist parties rising to power here and there. The Communists will say, "The reason we're having a famine is because our government isn't organized Correctly. Communists can do it correctly." They will just say it. They won't be telling the truth, but people will believe it because at least it would be a change.
So we will see many governments overthrown because of the coming massive famines. We will see new governments arising, many of which will not be friendly toward us, nor us toward them. We will have to learn to disregard the formal political alignment of our developing countries and view them instead as countries populated by people in need.