Population Matters

William Pan on PHE

William Pan on PHE

More than four decades ago, Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren said complacency concerning the impact of human population growth is “unjustified and counterproductive.” More than two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus made the case that “the way we have to reduce the birth rate is family planning and delaying marriage, [thus] expanding the number of years between births,” says Duke University’s (U.S.)  William Pan in this week’s podcast.

Both, though controversial in some respects, are part of the historical arch of population, health, and environment (PHE) studies, Pan argues.

“Everyone knows about Thomas Malthus. He’s the father of demography; he’s probably the father of PHE as well,” says Pan. Malthus is perhaps best known for his apocalyptic predictions of famine and disease, but Pan says his pioneering study of population-environment dynamics laid the groundwork for more nuanced and advanced scholarship today.

Still, when it comes to population, “the investigation of synergistic effects is one of the most neglected areas of environmental research,” says Pan. “And that is still true today.”

He suggests there is a disconnect between practitioners and academic scholars that needs to be addressed in order to further advance the field.

Over the course of a series of seminars at Duke, on “where are the intersections that are most fruitful between academics, researchers, and implementers,” Pans says they concluded “we should be pushing forward with some more NGO-academic partnerships, either through increased training or some other kind of program that can start creating PHE degrees.” He pointed out as a positive example that Cornell is currently advertising for the very first “PHE faculty” appointment.


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