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Instructor Class Description

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Stewart E Tolnay
SOC 401
Seattle Campus

Special Topics in Sociology

Selected topics of contemporary interest taught by a sociologist active in the field. Topics vary and may be substantive, theoretical, or methodological.

Class description

SOCIOLOGY 401C. HAS THE POPULATION BOMB BEEN DEFUSED?

Paul Ehrlich published his classic book, The Population Bomb, in 1968. His book described the dire social, economic, and environmental consequences that would result from the high rates of population growth that prevailed in much of the world. Ehrlich predicted global disaster if the nations of the world did not very quickly reduce their population growth rates. The Population Bomb established Ehrlich as the leading spokesperson and advocate for “zero population growth.” He published prolifically on the topic and appeared regularly on television and radio programs to communicate his apocalyptic message. The Population Bomb also triggered violent intellectual reactions. Some questioned Ehrlich’s assessment of current demographic conditions. Others denied the widespread and serious consequences predicted by Ehrlich. One of the most well-known critics, Julian Simon, argued that people are the most valuable “resource” and that efforts to curb population growth reduced the number of human geniuses that would be born.

2013 marks the 45th anniversary of the publication of The Population Bomb and an opportune time to take stock of the controversy it spawned. This class will examine the demographic dynamics that produce population growth. We will survey trends in important demographic, social, economic, and environmental conditions during the last forty-five years. By the end of the course students should have acquired the information necessary to answer the question, “Has the population bomb been defused?”

Student learning goals

How and why human populations grow or decrease in size.

World trends in fertility, mortality, and population growth during the last 50 years.

How population size and growth are related to other societal conditions.

Future prospects for economic growth/security, social stability, and environmental protection, in light of current demographic predictions for the growth in human populations around the world.

How to predict future population size, under differing assumption regarding fertility, mortality, and population growth.

To prepare a "white paper" for the United Nations that describes and assesses the current social, demographic, economic, and environmental conditions of a major country, and to project the likely future for the same nation.

General method of instruction

Combination of lecture and discussion.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Stewart E Tolnay
Date: 12/03/2013