Book Review of "Elephants in the Volkswagen" by Lindsey Grant

By Wayne Lutton
Volume 2, Number 4 (Summer 1992)
Issue theme: "Twenty years later: a lost opportunity"




by Lindsey Grant, et al

W. H. Freeman & Co.

272 pp., $22.95 (hardcover)

$13.95 (paperback)

[phone orders accepted at


Overpopulation is commonly regarded as a Third World problem, when it is acknowledged at all (it may be recalled that in 1984 the Reagan Adminis-tration, at the urging of the Vatican, dis-missed 'population pressure' as a factor contributing to national and international problems). Yet, there is scarcely a pressing issue - whether it be unemploy-ment, falling education standards, urban blight, racial minority tensions, environmental degradation, or energy availability - that is not affected by the quantity and quality of our population. During this election year, when, ideally, issues should be raised and frankly discussed, no one has thus far been willing to note how growing population relates to growing problems.

Lindsey Grant, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environmental and Population Affairs, asked a group of experts in the fields of energy use, agriculture, labor, economics, biology, demographics, resource management, immigration policy, geology, sociology, and national defense this question 'ideally, given the issues facing the country, how many Americans should there be? How can we get there, and how long would it take?' The responses to his challenge are included in Elephants in the Volkswagen, the first book published in this country to forthrightly link the size of our population with a host of pressing problems.

Grant and his colleagues challenge the fundamental assumptions of those who contend that continuing growth is desirable or even possible. They argue that the U.S. is already over-populated, and that we lack the resource base to sustain the relatively high standard of living we have enjoyed throughout the post-World War II era. National policies and social behavior are exacerbating the situation Paul Werbos of the National Science Foundation observes that the least able tend to have the most children. Vernon Briggs of Cornell University notes that current immigration policies favor the entry of the unskilled and the ill-educated.

Crowded societies do not leave much room for the kinds of freedoms that are possible to enjoy in uncrowded ones. Had this country stabilized its population at the 1950 mark of 150 million, we would not require any imported oil, pollution would be markedly lower, and many other problems would be less intense or non-existent. In calling for dramatically reduced U.S. population density, the authors of this symposium show how individual prosperity and a quality environment can be assured for future generations.

'Grant and his colleagues

challenge the fundamental

assumptions of those who contend

that continuing growth is

desirable or even possible.'

'Unfortunately,' as Garrett Hardin reminds us, 'it is difficult to believe in bad news until ruin is fully upon us.' Elephants in the Volkswagen courageously confronts the hard questions about population, while offering a number of realistic answers. Hopefully, it will help touch off the national debate that is required if we are to evade some of the consequences of our past follies. ?