January 1993 (vol. 9, #2)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1993 Physicians
for Civil Defense
Today, concerns about population almost always mean panic about overpopulation. The prophets predict that we will soon reach the ``ecological ceiling'' and exceed the ``carrying capacity'' of the planet.
``People are the cause of all the problems. We have too many of them, we need to get rid of some of them,'' stated Dr. Charles Worster, founder of the Environmental Defense Fund.
How Many Are Too Many?
Addressing this question in the February issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Charles Mann never came up with an answer. He observed that the country with one of the highest population densities in the world (Japan, with 860 persons/sq mi) would not be considered overpopulated by most economists. He suggested that the cure for Rwanda's having too many children to feed might be to have more children. (Rwanda needs a critical mass of people to develop its rich natural resources.)
It is often assumed that underdeveloped
nations remain impoverished because of an exploding population.
In reality, annual GNP growth per capita is slightly higher
in nations with a higher population density. The factor that
is most strongly correlated with economic development is not demographic:
it is the human freedom indicator (Projections Autumn/Winter 1992).
When Will There Be Too Many?
Malthusian alarmists extrapolate an exponential growth curve to a vision of a globe packed solid with human flesh. (All actual growth curves become S-shaped.) At the present time, humanity occupies less than 1% of the world's land area, and less than 50% of the arable land is under cultivation (HLI Reports, January, 1993) as you might have suspected if you have ever made a cross-country trip and looked out the window of the car or airplane.
Some say there are already far too
many people and that the situation will be twice as bad by around
2030, when the world's population will be more than 9 billion
(Donald Louria, PSR Quarterly, June 1992). Others say that the
world population is stabilizing and will not double even during
the next century (Projections).
What Factors Will Limit Population Growth?
Malthus thought that the food supply would set the limits for human population. But food supplies have actually outstripped population growth; per capita food production rose by 27% in 1986-88 compared with 1979-91 (PRI Review Mar/Apr 1992). The number of chronically malnourished people fell by more than 16% between 1968 and 1990 (Mann). Starvation is caused by political factors, not by a shortage of food.
``There has never been a famine in any country that's been a democracy with a relatively free press,'' according to Amartya Sen of Harvard, author of Poverty and Famines (NY Times 1/17/93). The famine in Somalia was created by clan warfare, not crop shortages. In eastern and sub-Saharan Africa, there has been, on the average, twice as much food available per person as in other flood- or drought-prone countries that managed to avoid mass deaths.
The Ehrlichs assert in their latest book The Population Bomb that ``40,000 children die daily from hunger-related diseases.'' However, UNICEF, the source of their information, states that more than 80% of the 40,000 die of tetanus, measles, whooping cough, diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, or malaria, often in association with some degree of malnutrition, which may be secondary to the disease rather than causative (PRI Review Mar/Apr 1991).
The impact of AIDS has not yet been fully manifested. The doubling time for HIV infection in South Africa is now 8 months; the doubling time of the population has been 30 years. The two exponential curves will eventually intersect. Some say the AIDS threat is exaggerated. Others say that the population of South Africa will be reduced to 25% of its present size by 2010 (PRI Review Nov/Dec 1991).
In many developed nations, population increases continue only because of lengthened life expectancy and immigration. Increased prosperity has been associated with a drastic decrease in fertility. In 1985, the total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.3 in West Germany and Denmark; 1.5 in the Netherlands and Italy; 1.7 in Japan; and 1.8 in France, the United Kingdom, and the USA. (A TFR of 2.1 is needed to maintain the population.) This situation is unprecedented:
``Never before in the long history
of demographic change have multiple populations stopped growing
in normal times because of deficient fertility,'' stated Alan
C. Carlson (Family Questions, Transaction Books, 1990.) Carlson
cites numerous causes: antinatalist economic incentives, the divorce
of fertility from marriage, and the legalization of abortion.
Ways to ``Get Rid of Them''
Though the TFR has also dropped in poor nations (from 6.9 to 4.2 in about 15 years), some nations are not waiting for a natural or voluntary stabilization of the population.
Chinese women are pressured into having abortions, often just before coming to term (Steven Mosher, Broken Earth, Free Press, 1983). One village employed ``special measures'' against resistors: beating their husbands until they agreed to the abortion (PRI Review July/Aug 1991). Female infanticide is common in China and India; these countries have 60 million fewer women than expected (94 women per 100 men, cf. 105 in the US and Europe and about 100 in Africa and Latin America). In one Indian hospital, which offers amniocentesis, 7999 out of 8000 aborted fetuses were female.
To those who fear the population
bomb, millions of human deaths due to hampered economic development
or outright bans on life-saving technology (such as DDT) may be
an intended consequence, not an unfortunate side effect.
A Depopulation Crisis?
In 1950, 30% of the world's population lived in Western democracies. If current fertility remains stable, the percentage will decrease to 7% by 2025. By 2050, one in five Americans will be older than 65, and the ratio of older people to workers will be three times as high as in 1950 (Mann).
The bomb has exploded. Will Western civilization die?