Population bombs as reason to panic

Published on Thursday, 11 July 2013 21:49 - Written by

If there’s not enough to worry about — what with climate change, unrest in the Middle East and stubborn unemployment — then people can worry about there being too many people.

Population alarmism is back, and naturally, we’re being told that our unnatural species is a threat to the planet.

“On a recent trip to Mexico, I sat in the central square in Guanajuato watching a lively scene of children at play,” author Laura Carroll wrote for the Huffington Post recently. “Adorable as they were, I couldn’t help but notice how many of them had pregnant mothers with two or more children already in tow. Scenes like this bring to mind the question of whether we have not only reached but already gone over a tipping point where the world’s finite resources will no longer support our growing population.”

There’s even a term for the kind of people who believe children are a blessing.

“The current bedrock of social and cultural conditioning rests in pronatalism — a set of beliefs that is pro-birth, encourages reproduction and exalts the role of parenthood,” Carroll wrote. “Pronatalism promotes the denial of the realities of population growth today.”

The “realities of population growth today” are presumably like the realities of population growth in the 1960s, when Paul Ehrlich was making some of his most alarming predictions in “The Population Bomb.”

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” he declared in 1968. “In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”

Last year, the (London) Telegraph examined some of his claims in the light of actual events.

“Since Ehrlich wrote, the population has more than doubled to seven billion — but the amount of food per head has gone up by more than 25 per cent,” that newspaper said. “Of course there are famines, but the death rate has gone down.”

Ehrlich predicted a terrible fate for the United Kingdom.

“By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people,” he wrote. “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

The Telegraph merely noted that England does, in fact, still exist.

Another of Ehrlich’s claims is also falsifiable with no comment necessary: “If our current rape of the watersheds, our population growth, and our water use trends continue, in 1984 the United States will quite literally be dying of thirst.”

Yet Ehrlich is still taken seriously, as are writers such as Laura Carroll, who is now calling for a substantial decrease in birth rates (though she doesn’t say how this should be achieved).

“We have an obligation to leave future generations as healthy a planet as possible,” she wrote. “And the most powerful thing we can do to this end is reduce our reproduction.”

That’s fine for those who choose it. But the rest of us needn’t worry.