According to Nina Fedoroff, the United States’ Science and Technology Adviser, we should all be very, very afraid.
Interviewed on the BBC’s One Planet radio program, Fedoroff came across as a population alarmist in the mold of Thomas Malthus or Paul Ehrlich. Already, she claimed “humans had exceeded the Earth’s ‘limits of sustainability’.” She insisted that “we need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population,” and stressed that “the planet can’t support many more people.”
What about the 6.8 billion the world already supports? the BBC asked her. “There are probably already too many people on the planet,” Fedoroff replied.
We at PRI must admit that Fedoroff’s comments make us nervous, though not because we buy into her claim that the world is overpopulated. The most widely-accepted statistics on human numbers and growth — those compiled by the U.N. Population Division — show that fertility is everywhere falling, and that the world’s population should begin declining around 2050 or so.
Rather, she makes us nervous because of who she is, and who she advises. If Fedoroff is telling the President what she is telling us (as she presumably is), then Obama’s chief scientist is whispering in his ear that his economic and environmental problems are compounded by the fact that there are too many of us. Never mind that what she demands we accomplish through government intervention in the family — reducing the number of children born — is already happening all around us.
Fedoroff is also a firm believer in anthropogenic climate change, which is to say that we humans are collectively responsible for heating up the planet. Indeed, she apparently believes that we are the sole cause of climate change, a position eschewed by all but the most radical of global warming types, most of whom acknowledge that other factors — such as variations in solar radiation (think sunspots) — are a factor. Here, too, she may be predisposing her boss to see people as the enemy.
By way of comparison, Fedoroff seems almost reasonable when discussing the extraordinary increases in food production that we have seen since the beginning of the Green Revolution. She decries those who want to turn back the clock on these scientific advances and “go back to the 19th Century,” saying “We wouldn’t think of going to our doctor and saying ‘Treat me the way doctors treated people in the 19th Century’, and yet that’s what we’re demanding in food production.”
Here she is spot on. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports “remarkable progress” in the cause of feeding the world, leading to an actual world food surplus. While there are still those who, because of war, famine, or oppressive government, may go to bed hungry every night, this number is shrinking.
If Fedoroff believes that we are well on our way to conquering hunger, how can she at one and the same time hold the view that there are too many of us? After all, we are producing more food on less land than ever before.
The squeamishness of Obama’s science advisor where people are concerned arises from outdated ideas which emphasize mankind as a consumer, rather than as a producer. Instead of attempting to control population growth — a path that leads to massive human rights abuses — she should instead be encouraging further scientific advances, the free flow of information, and the protection of intellectual property rights, among other things.
Fedoroff may or may not understand that nothing drives the birth rate down like rising living standards. But here is her problem, which is also Obama’s. Rising living standards generally mean more energy consumption, which they are opposed to because of their belief in “global warming,” and their close ties to the radical environmental movement.
But how does one go about driving down the birth rate down without economic development? By taking a page from China’s one-child playbook, that’s how. Fedoroff’s comments suggest that the Obama administration is leaning in the direction of directly intervening in the childbearing decisions of Americans, in order to defuse a mythical “population bomb” and combat an unproven “global warming.”
Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.