October 29, 2011
Something will soon happen on planet earth which has never occurred before. The number of people on the planet as of Monday will become 7 billion, at least according to the UN. In two day’s time some person on earth, newly born, will be able to claim that unique honour.
Of course this can be either good news or bad news, depending on where a person is coming from. Indeed, for some, it is terrifying news, and the cause of great panic. They think any new person is only a case of bad news. Consider this very simple chart of human population milestones:
1805: 1 billion people
1927: 2 billion people
1960: 3 billion people
1974: 4 billion people
1987: 5 billion people
1999: 6 billion people
2011: 7 billion people
In what appears to be wildly exponential growth, it seems that the world is surely doomed: we will soon – if not already - have far too many people and disaster will occur. The gloom and doom brigade will look at such a chart in sheer horror.
But a few things need to be said about this chart. As frightening as it may look, it of course only tells us part of the story. We need to look at how the chart is likely to continue. What will these numbers be in the future? Admittedly, such forecasts are always difficult and imprecise.
Indeed, for decades now I have been following the various forecasts made by the UN Population Division and other bodies as they seek to predict where world population levels will be heading to. The interesting thing is how the predictions have had to constantly change over time.
Back in 1968 one noted gloom and doomer, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb. In it he assured us that because of our “population explosion” the battle to feed the world’s population was over, and we could soon expect catastrophe big time. Of course things did not quite pan out the way he promised, but he still, even today, keeps on with this dark message.
In fact, he said as late as 2009 that “perhaps the most serious flaw in The Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future”! So he is a true believer, and no amount of evidence will persuade him to abandon his Chicken Little worldview.
But as I said, the experts have been revising downwards their estimate of peak global population for decades now. I clearly recall being told some years ago by the experts that the world would reach a peak of 25 billion people in the near future. Then they said 22 billion. Then 20.
On and on went the downward revisions: 18; 16; 15; 13; 12; 11; 10; and now the 9 billion people peak, predicted to arrive around mid-century. Then things level off and even head back downwards. And some are now arguing that we will not even reach the 9 billion figure. So population forecasting is a tricky game, and many wrong predictions have been made over the years.
And as also already mentioned, the numbers are open to widely differing interpretations. Are the figures good news, bad news, or should we simply be indifferent about them? Should we be panicking or celebrating this newest arrival on Monday?
One expert who thinks we should be popping the champagne cork is demographic expert Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute. He believes this is good news, and not something we should be wringing our hands about. As one news item recently put it:
“The United Nations Population Division has projected October 31st 2011 as the day on which the world will be home to seven billion people. ‘This is a happy occasion,’ says Mosher, a leading population expert and best-selling author. ‘The world's population has more than doubled since 1960, and humanity has never been so prosperous.’
“Family-planning groups, Mosher contends, supported by many feminists and environmental groups, and no-growth types, are abusing this milestone to promote the myth of overpopulation and to raise more money for anti-people projects. ‘The attitude of the anti-people types is arrogant and elitist,’ says Mosher. ‘They say, in effect, to Africans, Asians and Latin Americans: “there are just enough of us, but there are way too many of you”.’
“According to Mosher, ‘contrary to what you might hear, the most pressing problem in country after country today is not overpopulation, but underpopulation. In a time of fiscal austerity, the last thing that we need to be doing is spending more tax dollars to drive down the birth rate, reducing the amount of human capital available, and making us all poorer in the long run.’
“‘We are grateful that Baby Seven Billion will come into this world,’ Mosher says. ‘Baby Seven Billion, boy or girl, red or yellow, black or white, is not a liability, but an asset; not a curse, but a blessing for us all. Humanity's long-term problem is not going to be too many children, but too few children.’
“Mosher's analysis of world population trends stands in contradiction to the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) report on The State of World Population 2010, which Mosher contends is misleading. Further U.S. funding of the UNFPA is presently in jeopardy because of UN population control agency's continued involvement in China's coercive one-child policy. PRI investigations have repeatedly shown that the UNFPA is complicit in a policy that is carried out by means of forced abortions and forced sterilizations, and which has eliminated some 400 million Chinese.”
The PRI website is well worth visiting at in this regard. The videos which appear on its home page are especially invaluable, and everyone should give them a look, including this one. Also very much worth reading is this article, and the graphs which accompany it.
The truth is, human population growth rates are slowing big time. Fertility rates all over the world are in steep decline, and our big problem now is a birth dearth. A population implosion, not a population explosion, is our main problem. We will soon reach our peak population, and a steady decline afterwards will take place.
People are a blessing and a boon, not a curse. But I argue elsewhere about the dangers of our declining population rates. See the 31 other articles in my population section of this website for more details. So I for one will look forward to this newest arrival on planet earth. I hope you will as well.
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray