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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Energy and Population

To the Editors:

It is unfortunate that in his otherwise excellent article “Global Energy: The Latest Infatuation” (May–June), Vaclav Smil fails to mention a certain, safe, low-tech, low-cost and immediately available method for reducing energy consumption: a sharp reduction in the human population of the Earth. If every woman, world-wide, were to limit her reproductive effort to one successful pregnancy or fewer, the demand for energy would begin to decrease significantly within a few years.

Werner G. Heim
Colorado Springs, CO

Dr. Smil responds:

Only a catastrophe (a global megawar or an asteroid impact killing hundreds of millions) could bring a “sharp reduction” in human population that could lead to a significant decrease of energy demand “within a few years.” The only effective noncatastrophic way to moderate human numbers is by lowering total fertility. But doing so is necessarily a gradual process that, even when forced by government intervention, takes decades and may still result in massive increases in energy use. China, through its compulsory one-child policy introduced in 1978, has nearly halved its total fertility rate from about 3.0 children per adult woman during the late 1970s to just 1.54 in 2010. But during the same time its total energy use increased about 5.5 times and its average per capita consumption quadrupled.


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