The following is the second speech given by Don Feder to the Moscow
Demography Summit. It is entitled: “Malthus, Ehrlich, Gore And Other Population
Mystics”. It can also be found at grasstopsusa.com.
Something that happened to me
a few years ago may throw light on the popular mindset regarding what’s called
I was standing in the middle
of Ronald Reagan/National Airport in Washington, D.C. talking on my cell phone
about demographic winter (the precipitous worldwide decline in birthrates).
When the call was over, I was accosted by a middle-aged woman with a scowl on
her face who told me emphatically: “Well, if families are having fewer
children, that’s a good thing. There are too many people in the world.”
“If there are too many people,”
I innocently inquired, “how many should there be? What’s the right number?”
The lady began sputtering: “I
really don’t know. I just know there are too many?” To which I replied, “How
can you know there are too many of anything if you’d don’t know what the right
number is?” The concept “too many” presupposes a correct quantity or the right
number. You see, that’s the thing: Almost no one who carries on about
overpopulation has any idea of how many people there should be.
In 1798, when he published “An
Essay On The Principle of Population” – that’s the short title — Thomas
Malthus was convinced there were too many people in the world and further
increases in population would lead to war and mass starvation.
Malthus believed that, left
unchecked, population growth would far outstrip increases in food production.
This was in an age when the soil was tilled by horse or oxen-drawn plows and
the world’s population was then an estimated 970 million.
When he published “The
Population Bomb” in 1968, entomologist (that’s someone who studies insects)
Paul Ehrlich told his readers that there were far too many of us – a conclusion
he reached on a trip to Calcutta. And if he’d visited Montana, he would have
concluded there were too many trees. Unless population was drastically
curtailed, Ehrlich predicted with total assurance, “In the 1970s and 1980s
hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash
There were then around 3
billion people in the world, less than half today’s number. If you missed
hundreds of millions of people starving to death in the 1970s and 1980s, that’s
because it never happened. The only starvation that occurred was due to civil
war, collectivized agriculture or government mishandling of food supplies.
Over the past four decades
(just as over the past 200 years), food production has far surpassed population
growth. It always does.
Speaking in New York recently,
former Vice President and voodoo climatologist Al Gore warned of environmental
Armageddon — a world drowning in pollution — unless we can stabilize
Gore says we can do this
through what he calls “fertility management” and “educating and empowering
women and girls” to make the right choices. When Al Gore says he wants women
and girls to make the “right choices” he means those of which Al Gore approves
– family limitation trough contraception and abortion.
The world now has seven times
as many of us as when Malthus made his apocalyptic forecast. There are over
twice as many as when Ehrlich looked into his crystal ball and saw mass
worldwide starvation. Neither of those failed predictions has deterred the
population mystics, who continue to concoct end-of-the-world scenarios based on
Instead of starvation, it’s
now an environmental cataclysm – mountains of trash, seas of pollution and an
ever-widening hole in the ozone layer. Each person is said to have a “carbon
footprint,” which leaves an indelible mark on the planet.
And when the latest generation
of population hysterics is proven wrong, once again, the next will cometh with
their own forecasts of gloom and doom.
Thousands of years ago, when
we were all living in caves or huts, the paleo-Malthusians probably thought the
world was overcrowded then and confidently predicted decimation of the herds of
woolly mammoths if population growth continued unabated.
The truth is: These are people
who don’t like people.
They long for a pristine world
where everyone has a few hundred acres of land, replete with all kinds of cute,
cuddly animals, and they and their friends can have their solitude, while still
enjoying the benefits of an advanced industrial civilization, including central
air-conditioning, plasma TVs and cappuccino-makers.
Here’s another truth: You
can’t have progress – progress of any kind – without population growth. In the
past 200 years, the world’s population grew from around 970 million to 6.8
billion – almost a seven-fold increase. That population explosion fueled every
human advance from the industrial revolution to the computer age. The same
period saw a phenomenal growth of productivity, scientific achievement, health
and material comfort.
More people equal a greater
capacity for production, development of resources and innovation — which in
turn leads to higher standards of living all around.
As the late economist Julian
Simon noted, people are the ultimate resource. Growing wealth is always
accompanied by robust population growth. By the way, it’s no coincidence that
the Industrial Revolution happened in Britain, which had the highest population
density in Europe in the early 19th century.
Overpopulation is a myth.
Under-population could soon be a reality. When there aren’t enough of us to
keep industries humming, to grow the food, develop the natural resources,
manufacture the products and provide the services needed to keep society
functioning – that’s under-population.
When there aren’t enough young
workers to pay the pensions of the elderly, that’s under-population. When one
child is asked to care for two retired parents and four elderly grandparents,
When the housing market
collapses because there aren’t enough buyers for existing (not to mention new)
housing units, that’s under-population. When developing nations are drained of
young men to meet the labor needs of developed nations which refuse to
reproduce in adequate numbers, that’s under-population. When a nation’s
one-child-per-family policy results in a situation in which millions of young
men will never be able to find wives, that’s a consequence of under-population.
When a nation with land-hungry neighbors doesn’t have the soldiers to protect
its borders, that’s under-population.
One last truth: like Paul
Ehrlich and Al Gore, most of us in this room won’t live long enough to
experience the full impact of declining birthrates. Regrettably, our children
and our grandchildren will. And that’s why what we’re doing here at the Moscow
Demographic Summit is so vitally important.
Don Feder is a former
Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also
maintains his own website, DonFeder.com.