“The United Nations recently released population projections based on data until 2012 and a Bayesian probabilistic methodology. Analysis of these data reveals that, contrary to previous literature, world population is unlikely to stop growing this century. There is an 80% probability that world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100.”
In his book The Population Bomb, first published in 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich made a number of predictions about the future of population growth and food supplies. Ehrlich’s projections were not new. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), a British political economist and mathematician, proposed that population growth would outstrip any increase in food supplies in his day.
The Malthus hypothesis seemed irrefutable because it was based on mathematics!These “irrefutable facts” meant to Malthus that mass starvation for Great Britain was imminent and inevitable. More than two centuries have passed since the publication of Malthus’s essay, and Great Britain is more populace and productive than it was when Malthus made his calculations.
The failure of the Malthusian worldview did not deter Ehrlich from making similar predictions. He asserted dogmatically, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
In 1969, Ehrlich continued with his predictions, stating, “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.” The same year, he predicted in an article entitled “Eco-Catastrophe!” that by 1980 the United States would see life expectancy drop to 42 years because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would plummet to 22.6 million. The facts tell a different story.
“All you can see is growing wealth around the world, increased caloric intake, increased life expectancy, increased per-capita wealth,” says Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies for the Cato Institute, a Washington research center that opposes most government intervention.
“We are increasingly conquering death around the world,” Taylor adds. “A century ago, human life expectancy was about 30 years. Now it’s 60 or 70 years. People are not starving to death. They are getting better food and they are living longer.”
And because they are living better, Taylor said, people are having fewer children…
- Thomas R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 2 vols. (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., ), 1958. [↩]
- Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, rev. ed. (Rivercity, MA: Rivercity Press, 1975), xi. Quoted in Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulations as a Basis for Social Policy (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 67. [↩]
- Jeff Nesmith, “6 Billion and Growing Fast,” The Atlanta Journal/Constitution (October 10, 1999), D3. Large families were often necessary because of high infant mortality, long-term family care (true social security), and the need for manual labor. With better medical care, capitalist economies, and advances in technology, families, on average, choose to have fewer children. [↩]