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Part 1. The White Pestilence

Note: The following is excerpted from Steven Mosher’s
Population Control—Real
Costs, Illusory Benefits

Most of us grew up on a poisonous diet of overpopulation
propaganda. Remember the lifeboat scenarios in high school biology,
where we had to decide who we were going to push overboard, lest we
all die. Recall the college class in which we were assigned to read
Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb,
which begins with the author mournfully intoning “The battle to
feed all of humanity is over,” and ends by advocating the
abandonment of entire continents to famine and death in order to “cut
… out the cancer [of population growth].1
Look up the speeches of former Vice President Al Gore, who warned of
an “environmental holocaust without precedent”–a “black
hole” in his words–that will engulf us if we do not stop
having babies.2
In this and a myriad of ways we have been force-fed–and most of us
swallowed whole–the nasty theory that there were too
many people
, along with its even more
terrible corollary that it is necessary to practice inhumanity
in order to save humanity–or some worthy fraction thereof.

But what if overpopulation is, as economist Jacqueline
Kasun has remarked, a false
dogma? What if the assorted population controllers, radical
environmentalists, self-serving politicians, and others are wrong
about our breeding ourselves off the face of the planet? From
Ehrlich on, they have been peddling a worst-case scenario–times ten.
Everyone has read passages similar to the following, taken from
James Coleman and Donald Cressey’s Social
, one of the standard social science
textbooks from the nineties:

The world’s population is exploding. The number
of men, women and children is now over 5 billion. … If the
current rate of growth continues, the world’s population will
double again in the next 40 years…the dangers of runaway
population growth can be seen in historical perspective… It
took all of human history until 1800 for the world’s population
to reach 1 billon people. But the next … 1 billion was added
in only 130 years (1800-1930), [the next billion] after that in 30
years (1930-1960), and the next in 15 years (1960-1975). The last
billion people were added in only 12 years (1975-1987). If
this trend (of runaway population growth) continues the world will be
soon be adding a billion people a year, and eventually every month
[Italics added]

Since even the most frantic of population alarmists now
agree that the world’s population in the early nineties was
only increasing by some 90 million per year (an increment which has
since fallen to 76 million) there was zero chance that the world
would “soon be adding a billion people a year,” much less
“ every month.” But literally millions of college
students learned otherwise and, like me, began to obsess about the

Over six billion of anything is a mind-boggling number,
and not just for the numerically challenged. Few people have the
independence of mind to grasp what this number truly represents: A
great victory over early death won by advances in health, nutrition
and longevity. Even fewer are aware that the world’s
population will never double again. In fact, as we will see, it is
already close to its apogee.

Like other Baby Boomers, I lived through the
unprecedented doubling of the global population in the second half of
the 20th century.
Never before in human history had our numbers increased so far, so
fast: from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion in 2000. But Ehrlich and
Company, I came to see, glossed over the underlying reason: Our
numbers didn’t double because we suddenly started breeding like
rabbits. They doubled because we stopped
dying like flies
. Fertility was falling
throughout this period, from an average of 6 children per woman in
1960 to only 2.6 by 2002.4

Life expectancy at birth, on the
other hand, was steadily rising, climbing from 46 years in 1950-1955
to over 65 years from 2000-2005. The less developed countries saw
the most dramatic increases: life spans there lengthened from 41 to
63 1/2 years.5
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that,
with everyone living half again as long, there will be more of us
around at any given time. Longer life spans in fact account for
about half of all population growth over the last half century. The
happy fact that billions of us were cheating death for decades at a
time would seem cause to celebrate, not to mourn.

Population control enthusiasts refused to celebrate.
They were too fixated upon the numbers. Those riding the population
train to fame, fortune and government funding scarcely deigned to
notice improved life-spans. Moreover, they seemed completely
oblivious to what demographer Joel Cohen calls “the most
important demographic event in history.” This occurred around
1965—our census numbers aren’t accurate enough to be more
precise—when the population growth rate
peaked and then began to fall. From adding 2.1 percent to the
world’s population each year world population growth dropped to
increments of only 1.2 percent by 2002. To put the matter plainly,
the population train began to brake in 1965. It has been losing
momentum ever since.6

On the fantasy island of overpopulation human numbers
are always exploding, but a close look at the real world reveals a
different reality. The unprecedented fall in fertility rates that
began in post-war Europe has, in the decades since, spread to every
corner of the globe, affecting China, India, the Middle East, Africa,
and Latin America. The latest forecasts by the United Nations show
the number of people in the world shrinking by mid-century, that is,
before today’s young adults reach retirement age. Many
nations, especially in Europe, are already in a death spiral, losing
a significant number of people each year. Listen closely, and you
will hear the muffled sound of populations crashing.

The old “demographic transition” charts
showed birthrates leveling off precisely at the replacement rate.
But many of today’s young adults in Europe and elsewhere are
too enamored of sex, the city, and the single life to think about
marriage, much less about replacing themselves. A single Swedish
woman may eventually bear one child as her biological clock
approaches midnight, of course, but she is unlikely to bear a second.
What was supposed to be the perfect family—a boy for you and a
girl for me and heaven help us if we have three—has been
scorned by moderns on their way to extinction. The declining number
of traditional families has been unable to fill the fertility gap
thus created.

This is the real
population crisis. This population implosion, by reducing the amount
of human capital available, will have a dramatic impact on every
aspect of life. Peter Drucker, the late management guru, wrote back
in 1997 that “The dominant factor for business in the next two
decades—absent war, pestilence, or collision with a comet—is
not going to be economics or technology. It will be demographics.”7
Drucker was particularly concerned with the “increasing
underpopulation of the
developed countries,” but a decade later this reproductive
malaise has spread even to the less developed world, and is a truly
global phenomenon.8

By 2004, the U.N. Population Division (UNDP) found that
65 countries, including 22 in the less developed world, had fertility
rates that were below the level needed to ensure the long-term
survival of the population.9
Most of the rest, the agency warned, were likely to enter this
danger zone over the next few decades. According to the agency’s
“low-variant” projection, historically the most accurate,
by 2050 three out of every four countries in the less developed
regions will be experiencing the same kind of below-replacement
fertility that is hollowing out the populations of developed
countries today.10
Such stark drops in fertility, cautioned the UNPD, will result in a
rapid aging of the populations of developed and developing countries
alike. With the number of people over 65 slated to explode from 475
million in 2000 to 1.46 billion in 2050, existing social security
systems will be threatened with collapse.11
It will prove difficult, if not impossible, to establish new ones.

These sobering projections show that the population of
the world will continue to creep up until about the year 2040,
peaking at around 7.6 billion people.12
This is only a fraction more—one-sixth or so–than the 6.5
billion that the planet supports at present. Then the global
population implosion,
slow at first, but accelerating over time, begins. We fall back to
current levels by 2082, and then shrink to under 5 billion by the
turn of the next century. That population will be much older than we
are today.

You can read more in Steve’s book, Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, available here.


Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (Ballantine Books, 1968; a
Sierra Club edition followed in 1969, to which the following page
citations refer.) The “battle … is over” phrase
is from the Prologue. For the denial of food aid, pp. 143, 148.

Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992) is filled with such
bombast, pp. 177, 40, 78.

, 4th ed., (Addison Wesley Educational
Publishers, 1990), Chapter 17, “Population,” p. 487.

U.S. Census Bureau, Global Population Profile 2002, p. 22.

Table IV.1. “Life Expectancy at Birth by Development Group and
Major Area, Estimate and Medium Variant, 1950-1955, 2000-2005, and
2045-2050”, United Nations Secretariat, Department of Economic
and Social Affairs, Population Division. World
Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision
Volume III, Analytical Report, p. 55. The increase in life
expectancy in the less developed world would have been even more
dramatic without the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the
resurgence of malaria, in Africa. In Chapter 6 we will explore the
extent to which population control programs are responsible for
rising mortality in Africa.

Joel Cohen, “Human Population: The Next Half Century“,
Science (2003) 302:1172-1175. The U.S. Census Bureau puts
the percentage at 2.2 percent and the years at 1963-1964. See the
U.S. Census Bureau’s Global Population Profile 2002 (2004,
U.S. Government Printing Office), p. 3.

Peter Drucker, “The Future that Has Already Happened,”
Harvard Business Review, September-October 1997, 20, 22, 24.

Some researchers have attempted to make the case, counterintuitive
at best, that an aging and shrinking population will not create
serious economic and social problems. I have not been generally
impressed by these efforts. Economist Phil Mullan, for example, has
written The Imaginary Time Bomb (I. B. Tauris, New York:
2002), a self-described effort to debunk unfounded anxiety about the
consequences of societal aging. Mullan’s conclusion, that "The
economic importance of population changes is often grossly
exaggerated," (p. 212) seems remarkably modest in view of his
thesis. It is also one that, given the incessant scaremongering
over the population bomb, I have no trouble assenting to.

Very low fertility is not limited to the more developed regions. Of
the 148 countries and territories defined by the U.N. Population
Division as “less developed regions,” 22 have below
replacement fertility. The U.N. has issued two recent reports on
this surprising development (2000, 2003), and a number of articles
have been dedicated to this topic (Morgan, 2003; Goldstein, Lutz and
Testa, 2003; Billari and Kohler, 2004).

The UN Population Division labels its three principal population
projections the “high variant,” the “medium
variant,” and the “low variant.” Each is
calculated using different assumptions about future fertility. The
medium variant unrealistically assumes that all countries will
approach a “fertility floor” of 1.85 over the next half
century. It does not explain how this “fertility floor”
was determined, nor does it explain how countries such as Italy will
regain the “fertility floor” after spending the last two
decades in the “fertility basement.” The high variant
is even more unrealistic. It assumes that the fertility rates of
all countries will converge on 2.35, a fertility rate that has been
achieved by no developed country, even those with strong
pro-natal policies. I favor the low variant, which has fertility
falling to 1.35. World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision,
Volume III, Analytical Report
, p. 33.

United Nations Secretariat, Department of Economic and Social
Affairs, Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2004
Revision [working paper]. Volume I, "Comprehensive Tables."

The UN Population Division’s medium variant projection, which
assumes that the TFR in low fertility countries will rise to 1.85,
is 9.1 billion. Only the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), in its Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, is
still discussing a total population of 15.1 billion by 2100, a
number that is supported by no demographic projections that I know

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