More: Population, Nature and What Women Want

By Robert Engelman (Island Press, 2008), $24.95, 242 pages plus notes, bibliography and index. ISBN 978-1597260190

Reviewed by Frank Lock

This well written book is extensively researched and has a sense of humor. Its author is vice president for programs at the Worldwatch Institute and was vice president for research at Population Action International. The book's ten chapters have such interesting titles as "The Grandmother of Invention," "Punishing Eve," and "Zen and the Art of Population Maintenance."  The idea for the book came from population activist Sharon Camp, who suggested that if the world's women could determine for themselves when and when not to have children, population problems would resolve themselves. 

Noting in the introduction that a net 215,000 people are added to the planet every day, Engleman asks some important questions:  Why do people have such a poor notion of population statistics?  Why do the media track economic growth but not population?  Why do environmentalists ignore demography?  Why is there a widespread notion that the real population crisis is not growth but decline?  The next few pages discuss the global warming and human suffering caused by Earth's billowing population.  The introduction concludes with the book's theme:  "It's astounding how many words have flowed in the population debate without much consideration of the lives of those who bear and raise children."

The book describes strategies for successful procreation and for the evolution of marriage.  After describing the pre-history of human migration and the fate of the Neanderthals, Engelman postulates that humans have been able to relate to each other in large groups due to the evolution of language.

The environmental impact of increasing population is an important theme.  Intensive farming, described as a mixed blessing, is one important factor.  According to Smithsonian Institute forensics expert Douglas Ubelaker, "Infant mortality, tooth decay, anemia, infectious disease--it all went downhill (worsened) with agriculture and sedentism."  And according to noted author and geologist Jared Diamond, maximum population means maximum environmental impact.  As an example, Engelman describes the ongoing environmental disaster in Madagascar.

Regarding women's attempts at population control through contraception, Engelman writes "Although intensely personal, collectively these childbearing decisions shape the dynamics and structures of human populations--assuming the intentions are realized."  This leads to a conclusion of the effect of female equality on the outcomes of ancient societies.  "In some of the settled societies…there is evidence of relatively high status for women in general.  …Yet this relative gender equality may have cost these societies the population growth they eventually needed to defend themselves from the more demographically dynamic pastoral invaders."

In a chapter titled "Axial Age," Engleman indicates that humanity shifted on its axis by subjugating women's role in society. The chapter deals in large part with contraception.  Engelman presents evidence that women who assumed the role of midwife began to be identified and prosecuted as witches, and discusses the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and migration of Europeans into the New World.

The book includes the interesting story of social reformer Margaret Sanger, as well as the population control policies of the United States and other countries.  Another interesting story explains that Texas Congressman George H. W. Bush was nicknamed "Congressman Rubbers" for his avid support of population control, yet when he became Ronald Reagan's running mate in 1980 Bush announced that there would be no more talk about population and family planning.

Engelman's central theme in all this is, "The best way to 'control' population is to give up control, in fact to give control away to those who can best decide for themselves when to bear a child."  And, in the final chapter, "The clearest principle to guide us is that those who bear children should be the ones…to decide when to do so.  …Wanting not more people, but more for all people, we might find ourselves at home again, with more nature than we thought possible, in an Eden we can keep."

More is an encouraging book that I recommend to everyone with an interest in the long term future of humanity and our world.

Frank Lock
Retired, formerly at Lemon Bay High School

These contributions haven not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of APS.