In his book The Population Bomb, first published in 1968, the year I graduated from high school, Paul R. Ehrlich made several predictions about the future of our planet based on his understanding of population growth and food supplies. Ehrlich’s projections were not new. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), a British political economist and mathematician, proposed that population growth would outstrip any increase in food supplies in his day.
Malthus theorized that food production follows an arithmetical growth rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so forth) while population growth follows a geometrical pattern (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, ad infinitum). The hypothesis seemed irrefutable because it was based on mathematics! These “irrefutable facts” meant to Malthus that mass starvation for Great Britain was imminent and inevitable. More than 200 years have passed since the publication of Malthus’s essay, and Great Britain is more populace and productive than it was when Malthus made his calculations.
The failure of the Malthusian worldview did not deter Ehrlich from making similar predictions. He asserted dogmatically, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death despite any crash programs embarked upon now.” In 1969, Ehrlich continued with his predictions, stating, “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.” The same year, he predicted in an article entitled “Eco-Catastrophe!” that by 1980 the United States would see life expectancy drop to 42 years because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would plummet to 22.6 million. The facts tell a different story.
“All you can see is growing wealth around the world, increased caloric intake, increased life expectancy, increased per-capita wealth,” says Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies for the Cato Institute, a Washington research center that opposes most government intervention.
“We are increasingly conquering death around the world,” Taylor adds. “A century ago, human life expectancy was about 30 years. Now it’s 60 or 70 years. People are not starving to death. They are getting better food and they are living longer.”
And because they are living better, Taylor said, people are having fewer children.
In the mid-seventies, with the release of his book The End of Affluence, Ehrlich outlined a Hollywood-style disaster scenario where he foresaw the President dissolving Congress “during the food riots of the 1980s,” followed by the United States suffering a nuclear attack for its mass use of insecticides. Like Malthus before him, in 1969 Ehrlich did not see much of a future for England. “I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
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In 1976, he went beyond predicting food scarcity and took it upon himself to make unfounded pronouncements about natural resources. “Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity . . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.” Economist Julian Simon won a bet with Paul Ehrlich on whether the price of five strategic metals which Ehrlich chose (copper, chrome, nickel, tin, tungsten) would rise or fall in a ten-year period from 1980 to 1990. All five metals went down in price. Ehrlich lost the bet. Prices continue to fall. The year 2001 saw “the worst decline in commodity prices in at least 31 years. Copper fell to a 14-year low, coffee was the cheapest since 1971. and cotton dropped to its lowest price in more than two decades.”
Despite being wrong on nearly every environmental prediction, Ehrlich and others who have adopted his worldview continue to insist that overpopulation is an out-of-control problem. And yet Ehrlich has never explained how “overpopulated” Japan, Belgium, and Holland, with more than 500 people per square mile, have a higher standard of living than Columbia, Kenya, and Ethiopia with less than 100 people per square mile. Why is it that “very densely populated places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore report no famines”? Hong Kong has 20 times the number of people per square mile as India, and yet, the standard of living in India is one hundredth of what it is in Hong Kong. Consider Singapore. This tiny nation “has more than 10,000 people per square mile, and its income per capita is more than 200 times higher than that of Ethiopia.”
The escalating prices and shortages we are seeing in commodities are the result of government control of markets. The lack of food in underdeveloped countries is the result of government interference and war. What do politicians believe the solution is? More government control.
The fact is, there is what Ben Wattenberg described as a “Birth Dearth.”
Demographic analysis reveals, however, that birth rates have declined by as much as 50% over the last 50 years. In fact, most developed countries of the world are now showing below replacement fertility levels. (Replacement rate fertility in the absence of major wars, epidemics, or famine is 2.1 children per woman.)
Since the early 1970s, the world’s fertility rate (the total number of children the average woman will bear in her lifetime) has decreased from 6 to 2.9. The United Nations Population Development Division projects that the world fertility rate will drop to 2.05 children per woman by 2050, less than the replacement rate.
The economic and social effects of the population decline are already apparent in much of Europe. It is estimated that there are more than 59 countries around the world that are experiencing below replacement fertility.
The United States may actually lead the way in declining birthrates. Recent information shows the U.S. birthrate at less than 1.7 today, down from 3.7 children in 1957.
Legalized abortion, no doubt, has also had a profound effect on the number of children born worldwide. Legalized abortion and declining birth rates have combined for what some have termed “catastrophic consequences.” A documentary entitled The Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family details the combination as “one of the most ominous events of modern history.” (Source)
Economist Robert J. Samuelson gets it right: “By not having children, people are voting against the future—their countries’ and perhaps their own.”
Even birth rates among Muslims in Europe have seen a decline. David P. Goldman calls it “the closing of the Muslim womb.”
If demographic winter is encroaching slowly on the West, a snap frost has overtaken the Muslim world. Europe has had two hundred years to make the transition from the high fertility rates of rural life to the low fertility rates of the industrial world. Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, and Algeria are attempting it in twenty. The graying of the Muslim world in lapsed time, as it were, can have only tragic consequences.
The Muslim world is on the brink of the fastest population decline in recorded history. Academic demographers are stunned. “In most of the Islamic world it’s amazing, the decline in fertility that has happened,” Hania Zlotnik, head of the United Nations’ population research branch, told a 2009 conference.
While pro-abortion liberals are doing the environmentally friendly and politically correct thing by not having children and supporting abortion for others, conservatives with their larger families could dominate the culture in a generation or two if they remove their children from government schools. At least one very liberal columnist has noticed the problem: “[F]or the past 30 years or so, conservatives—particularly those of the right-wing red-state Christian strain—have been out-breeding liberals by a margin of at least 20 percent, if not far more. . . . Libs just aren’t procreating like they could/should be.”
In his book The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark comments “that Christian prohibition of abortion and infanticide contributed to the success of the new religion. ‘Christian and pagan subcultures must have differed greatly in their fertility rates,’ Stark argues, so that ‘a superior birthrate also contributed to the success of the early church.’”
Hopefully it will happen again, but it’s up to us to take advantage of their stupidity.
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths
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Thomas R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 2 vols. (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., ), 1958.
Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, rev. ed. (Rivercity, MA: Rivercity Press, 1975), xi. Quoted in Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 67. In the first edition, Ehrlich stated: “There is not enough food today. How much there will be tomorrow is open to debate. If the optimists are correct, today’s level of misery will be perpetuated for perhaps two decades into the future. If the pessimists are correct, massive famines will occur soon, possibly in the early 1970’s, certainly by the early 1980’s. So far most of the evidence seems to be on the side of the pessimists, and we should plan on the assumption that they are correct. After all, some two billion people aren’t being properly fed in 1968!” (Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb [Binghamton, NY: Sierra Club, 1969], 36–37).
The exception to “increased life expectancy” is the rampage of AIDS-like diseases in African nations. This epidemic has little to do with population growth and more to do with lifestyle choices and poor sanitary conditions. Africa’s inability to deal with these problems is the result of mistaken ideological, political, and spiritual assumptions about reality.
Jeff Nesmith, “6 Billion and Growing Fast,” The Atlanta Journal/Constitution (October 10, 1999), D3. Large families were often necessary because of high infant mortality, long-term family care (true social security), and the need for manual labor. With better medical care, capitalist economies, and advances in technology, families, on average, choose to have fewer children.
Paul R. Ehrlich, The End of Affluence: A Blueprint for Your Future (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974).
Michael Fumento, “Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Strikes Out Again,” Investor’s Business Daily (December 16, 1997).
Quoted in Fumento, “Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Strikes Out Again.”
For an account of the wager, see John Tierney, “Betting the Planet,” New York Times Magazine (December 2, 1990), 52. Copper is being replaced in the communication’s industry by “fiber optics.” Two hair-thin fiber optic strands can carry 24,000 telephone calls. It would take 48,000 copper wires to carry the same number of calls.
Bloomberg News, “Commodity prices hit worst decline in 31 years,” Atlanta Journal/Constitution (January 2, 2002), D3.
Thomas Sowell, The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective (New York: William Morrow, 1983), 212.
Sowell, Economics and Politics of Race, 211.
David P. Goldman, How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam is Dying Too) (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2011), 1.
Mark Morford, “When Liberals Rule the World: Stats say the GOP is dying. But red-staters are breeding like drunken ferrets. Who wins?,” SF Gate (March 28, 2007).
Goldman, How Civilizations Die, 157.