Venus, Mars and Marston Bates

Most of us think of conservation and ecology as more or less the same thing, with conservation the first step toward the restoration of an ecologically balanced state of nature. But through the first half of the twentieth century, the two words signified quite different things.

In the teens, 20s and 30s, biology textbook authors positioned ecology as a minor sub-discipline of their field, and characterized it unflatteringly as a descriptive, womanly endeavor. As Edward Loranus Rice states in An Introduction to Biology (1935), “it would not be wide of the mark to define ecology as the domestic science, or home economics, of animals and plants” (p. 4).

Conservation on the other hand was progressive, manly.

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Biology’s Bomb: Graphing “Explosive” Population Growth in Cold War Textbooks

Cartoon reprinted in "The Population Bomb: Is Voluntary Human Sterilization the Answer" (c. 1961), a pamphlet published by Dixie Cup magnate Hugh Moore.

Cartoon reprinted in “The Population Bomb: Is Voluntary Human Sterilization the Answer” (c. 1961), a pamphlet published by Dixie Cup magnate Hugh Moore.

Prior to World War II, America’s protectors thought the country’s innocence could be guarded at its gates. Citizen biologists saw the nation’s border as kind of cartographic diaphragm, not entirely reliable in individual instances, but adequate to the task of containing the pool of potential breeders.

But conflict had led to contact, and contact had led to fear. Like the physicist’s “gadget,” biology’s “bomb” was conjured to protect the national body from penetration.

The “population bomb” was made as real and scary to school children in the 1960s as the H-bombs that drove them under their desks.

True, from the publication of George W. Hunter’s A Civic Biology in 1914 on, students had been taught that America had a “population problem.” But for the first four decades of the twentieth century, that problem wasn’t runaway growth, it was “differential reproduction.” Pre-war biology textbooks in fact warned that total population would level off by 1970 (see graph below), and when it did, the “quality” of the population would begin to decline if present fertility trends continued. The threat wasn’t one of too many babies. The threat was that too many babies were being born to the ‘wrong’ people – the poor, the criminal, the so-called ‘feeble-minded,’ the swarthy and the black.

As E. E. Stanford fussed in his 1940 biology textbook, Man & the Living World, “Families of professional and business classes of supposedly intellectual rating are not replacing themselves, while those of farmers, laborers, and above all, ‘reliefers’ still maintain increase” (722).

But by the war’s end, Stanford’s worry was decidedly out of fashion, a quaint relic, a Zeppelin in a jet age. Continue reading

Karl Sax and The Population Explosion

Another quick post ahead of longer article on pre- and post-WWII population rhetoric. This from Karl Sax, The Population Explosion, the November 1956 entry in the Foreign Policy Association’s well-regarded “Headline Series” (click pic to view).

Sax is a very interesting transitional figure. Though he titled his 1945 article in The Science of Man in the World Crisis, “Population Problems,” his concern even by that late date was not on overpopulation, but on “differential fertility.” In other words, even at war’s end, Sax remained a eugenicist concerned with browning, not breeding, and the geography of his worries were more national than planetary.

However, Sax’s explicitly race-based “populationism” was fast falling out of fashion, as evidenced by articles like “The Concept of Race” by Wilton Marion Krogman, which shared space in The Science of Man in the World Crisis.

Change came in 1948 when two books – Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet and William Vogt’s Road to Survival – introduced (or at least attempted to introduce) a more race-neutral ecologically based populationism. (See Pierre Desrochers and Christine Hoffbauer’s excellent article on this topic.)

But Sax would not be left behind. By 1951 he had adopted Osborn and Vogt’s “population bomb” metaphor, later popularized by Hugh Moore and Paul Ehrlich. In an article for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Sax wrote, “population pressure [is] a far greater threat to world civilization than the atomic bomb.” In 1955 Sax authored Standing Room Only: The Challenge of Overpopulation.” This pamphlet was distilled from that book.

I’ll leave it to you to judge just how “race-neutral” Sax and the new populationism had become. (See for example Sax’s comparison of Puerto Rico and Japan on pages 42 and 43.)