The role of population growth in past history and present and future e
conomic growth and development is still not well understood. The spect
acular growth of world population in the past has been closely associa
ted with economic progress and growing prosperity, and the evidence of
its harmful effect on development is weaker than often thought. Pover
ty and famine in developing countries should usually not be ascribed t
o population growth but to natural disasters and disastrous policies.
The demographic transition adjusts birth rates to death rates but only
with a lag, and world population will rise considerably well into the
next century no matter what governments in developing countries do to
encourage family planning. Population is not a policy variable that g
overnments can turn on or off at will. Policy attention should be dire
cted not only to restraining population, but to ways to accommodate th
e inevitable and to promote and develop technologies that will make th
is possible with minimal environmental destruction.