Sir David Attenborough has taken a break from narrating nature films and has gone back to a very old canard. He recently told the Radio Times in the UK that humans are a “plague on the Earth”. Tell us what you really think Sir David. The full quotation is:

“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.”

Now, Attenborough is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust according to the Telegraph. This Trust is now known as Population Matters, perhaps because the Trust couldn’t decide what our “optimum” population should be.  As patron, Attenborough has talked about in the past the “frightening explosion in human numbers” which somewhat contradicts his claim that the natural world is limiting our population growth.  But according to Attenborough we are outstripping our resources, and we can see this in the case of Ethiopia:

“We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”

We’ve debated this argument before on this blog – we are not running out of food. Our famines are not due to there being too many of us, but due to wastage and politics and war. (As we should remember, the world was much more hungry and famine much more common in the past when the human population was much lower.) We are able to feed more people on the same amount of land due to our technological advances (see for example, here and here) and those technological advances are driven by people of course. Humans are not only consumers, but we are also producers and a resource! We have to keep remembering that. 

On a somewhat different tack, Tom Chivers in the Telegraph has also disagreed with Sir David, which apparently “feels like slapping your grandfather in the face.” Chivers argues that population growth is in fact slowing down anyway and that there is no need to force the issue:

“…the most likely outcome at the moment is that the world population will peak some time around 2050 and at a population between eight and 10 billion. Obviously that’s more than we have now, but not so many more that we couldn’t feed everyone.”

It’s a shame when such respected persons like Sir David Attenborough stoop to scare-mongering and inflamed rhetoric like calling humanity a “plague”. Perhaps Attenborough has let the mask slip however. Do his comments show the innately anti-human mindset of those seeking to limiting our population? In opposition to Attenborough I would like to say that humanity is not a “plague”. Instead, it is a collection of over 7 billiion individuals. Each one of those individuals has his or her hopes, fears, dreams, loves and each is more valuable than we can possibly imagine. And that is not excepting Sir David. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...