Watch: Joel E. Cohen on Solving the Resource-Population Equation in the Developing WorldDecember 14, 2010 By Wilson Center Staff
“It’s very hard to put a number on a quantity that depends on future events, processes we don’t understand, and values that may change over time,” said Joel E. Cohenof the Rockefeller University in this interview with ECSP. “That doesn’t mean we have no problems and it doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do.”There are three schools of thought or proposed “panaceas,” when it comes to balancing natural resources and population, said Cohen: a bigger pie (new technology to increase productivity), fewer forks (reduced consumption), and better manners (reduced irrational market inequities and better governance).
In the 15 years since his book How Many People Can the Earth Support? was published, Cohen’s approach has changed. While the 1996 book lacked a definitive policy recommendation, he is now analyzing options. “The evolution of my thought has moved from ‘how many people can the Earth support?’ to ‘what do we need to solve problems?’” he said.
You need adequate child and maternal nutrition to produce potential problem solvers and you need education to give them the tools to do it with, said Cohen, who studied the impact of universal primary and secondary education with colleagues at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
“If you look at a map of stunting in the world, there are parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where more than half the children are stunted – that means two standard deviations [of] height below normal for their age,” said Cohen. “Those populations are handicapped at the starting gate because they don’t have the problem solvers.”