Six Billion Too Many?
On October 12th the world population is expected to hit 6 billion. This population "problem" has become an issue of local as well as global concern. Everyone from environmentalists to the world's billionaires is worried. In fact, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, David Packard, and George Soros have all put their considerable financial resources at the disposal of those working to contain this "problem." Even the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations have put aside funds for population control.
Are we really in trouble? Well, you would think so if you believe the alarmist calls of population control advocates like Dr. Paul Erhlich and his like. Unfortunately, his views are promoted as the gospel even though he has been disproved many times. But like those who predict the end of the world, he simply moves the date of calamity further into the future when his predictions don't come to fruition. In fact, rather than being dismissed, Dr. Erhlich and his supporters have attracted more funding and their views have gained more disciples. Brace yourself to be bombarded with documentaries and coverage of the impending population explosion during the week of October 12th. In fact, it has already started.
Dr. Erhlich, a Stanford University professor, wrote in 1968 that the battle to feed humanity was lost. He predicted in the Population Bomb, that the world would undergo major famines and millions of people would starve to death in the 1970's. Needless to say, this doom and gloom prediction by the guru of the movement never came to light. But, Dr. Erhlich still insists on disaster. In fact, he wrote another book in 1989 called The Population Explosion where he warned that "there may be time to limit the scope of the impending catastrophe, but not much time." Thank God for Dr. Erhlich. Where would we be without his warnings?
Proponents of aggressive population control have hijacked the United Nations agenda by promoting certain myths that could easily be destroyed by analyzing the facts. There are too many to of these myths to canvass in this column but some of the more popular ones are as follows:
- The world is too small for any more people
- The world food supply is diminishing
- Overpopulation is the chief cause of poverty
- The world's resources are disappearing due to increasing mouths to feed.
Unfortunately, the constant propaganda has lulled many of us into accepting these claims at face value.
A number of scholars and institutions, including the Population Research Institute (PRI), have shot these facts right out of the water. In fact, Dr. Jacqueline R. Kasun, an economist, does a wonderful job of debunking most of the myths in her book The War Against Population: The Economics and Ideology of World Population Control (Ignatius, 1998).
The fact of the matter is that the rate of total fertility (number of children per woman) has dropped from 5 in 1950--55 to less than 3 in 1990-95 and continues to drop. According to the U.N., the replacement rate -- the rate at which a population stabilizes -- is 2.1. Interestingly, in the developed world the rates have dropped from 2.8 to 1.8 in thirty years. In fact, the rates are down below 1.5 in Japan, Spain and Italy. The rate in the developing world dropped from 6 to 3.3 in the same period.
Even if the rate were not decreasing, there is space for a lot more people. According to the PRI all the people on earth could be comfortably housed in the area equivalent to the State of Texas. Imagine, this would leave the rest of the earth for agriculture and other economic activity. The density of such accommodation would be more than San Francisco but less than the Bronx. Of course nobody is advocating this, but it gives an idea of the situation.
With respect to the food fear, a Scientific American series titled "Managing Planet Earth," concluded that even if food production was to grow at a slower rate than it is today, there would still be enough food for about 10 billion mouths by the time they were born. Indeed, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), world food supplies stand at a surplus. In 1990, for instance, the surplus stood at 50% in the developed world and 17% in the developing world. Moreover, thanks to improved farming techniques, food production has been steadily increasing. In support of his theories, Dr. Erhlich had marshaled facts showing that food production in India had reached its maximum in 1968. Yet the grain production rose 26% in seven years and by 1992 had grown by 112%.
Even the fear of depleting resources is wildly exaggerated. The world's forested area, according to the FAO stood at 30% in the 1950's and still stands at the same level. According, to Professor Julian Simon of the University of Maryland who is the author of the best seller The Ultimate Resource, the amount of forest cover in Europe has increased in the last 50 years. In fact the prices of five non-renewable metals dropped, as the known reserves for these metals increased between 1980 and 1990.
Thanks to the promulgation of population control myths, the focus is now on abortion, sterilization and contraception - both voluntary and coercive. Deplorably, China with its draconian one child policy and harsh so-called family planning program was given an award from the U.N. Fund for Population Activities in early 1990's. Other countries are coming down hard on couples and pushing for abortions.
The real reason for poverty is not the growing population but the unfair distribution and poor management of resources. Indeed, population control advocates appear to be afraid of any change in the status quo. The following passage written by Ehrlich in 1968 clearly reveals the real agenda behind calls for curbing the population growth:
At the moment the United States uses well over half of all the raw materials consumed each year. Think of it. Less than 1/15th of the population of the world requires more than all the rest to maintain its inflated position ... Can we guess what effect this growing disparity will have on our `shipmates' in the underdeveloped countries? Will they starve gracefully, without rocking the boat? Or will they attempt to overwhelm us in order to get what they consider to be their fair share?
Instead of funding aggressive population control initiatives blindly, our efforts should be directed toward improving the lot of those with whom we share this planet by advocating for a more equitable distribution of our abundant God-given resources.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto lawyer and writer and is also a columnist for the Washington Report On Middle East Affairs
Topics: Human Rights