The myth of overpopulation is about as old as civilization itself. In the second century AD, Tertullian stated that “What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint) is our teeming population.”
Tertullian went on to assert that “In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”
Malthus attached his name to this complaint in the 18th century, when he predicted that humanity would meet its “utter destruction” because of unchecked human breeding. (1)
An equally famous bombster of the last century, Paul Ehrlich, wrote that “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now . . . We must have population control at home, hopefully through changes in our value system, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.” (2)
To this giant tradition of mythmaking, Population Reference Bureau's (PRB)name should now be added. The numbers contained in its 2003 World Population Data Sheet make clear that fertility is declining worldwide, but that doesn't stop PRB from plumping for population control.
Dwindling support for the myth of overpopulation is a problem, complains PRB editor Carl Haub: “During the 1960s and 1970s, many feared that this new rise in population might lead to serious food shortages and social and political unrest. The perception is now changing, however, and fear of population growth has subsided.” (3)
The perception changed, of course, because the predictions of “serious food shortages and social and political unrest” failed to materialize.
“[D]eclining fertility in developing countries,” Haub writes, “has created the impression that the crisis [of overpopulation] has gone away.” (4)
What else is one to conclude from the stunning fall in fertility rates that have dropped birth rates in more than half the countries of the world below replacement?
If you're Population Reference Bureau, however, you conclude that overpopulation is still a threat to the globe. How does it justify its fervor? First, it relies upon the UN Population Division's “medium variant” projection for world population growth. According to this projection, there will be approximately 9 billion people on earth by 2050.
This 50 percent increase over the present number of 6 billion-which hardly constitutes breeding ourselves off the planet-PRB holds out as a “threat.”
Moreover, history shows that the UNPD's medium variant projection has consistently overshot the mark. In 1992, for example, the UNPD's medium variant projection turned out to overestimate world population in 2000 by over 200 million. Even the “low variant” projection was about 100 million too high, so fast and far have fertility rates fallen. (5)
UNPD's low variant projection, of a population of around 8 billion by mid-century, seems more likely. A one-third increase in the current world population scarcely seems ground for hysteria.
PRB also claims that the projected fertility decline is “contingent on ensuring that couples have access to family planning.” (6) In fact, PRB claims to merely be repeating the position of the United Nations in this regard. But the United Nations Population Division has never asserted that fertility decline is contingent on access to family planning. Fertility rates are affected by many factors, most notably by economic development.
PRB's call for increased access to family planning to “fulfill these projections” is little more than a fundraising ploy for the population control movement.
Finally, in its population projections, PRB assumes a continuation of high infant mortality rates (IMR). Infant mortality rates in Eastern and Middle Africa are predicted to be in excess of 100 deaths per 1,000 births, or more than twenty times as high as in Western Europe. Why does PRB assume such a high IMR in the future? In part because it apparently believes that high infant mortality drives high fertility, as parents seek to provide for the future through high fertility. And high fertility is necessary for its mythmaking (and fundraising).
There is no reason why we can't break this cycle by providing, instead of population control programs, infant and maternal health care. Yet in its
2003 report, PRB prescribes no basic aid to Africa to save the lives of babies and infants.
But then population controllers have never been too particular about their methods. Why else would the UNFPA have described China's one-child policy as a “remarkable achievement.” These modern-day Tertullians will do just about anything to continue their man-made calamity of population control.
1. An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M.
Condorcet, and Other Writers,” LONDON, PRINTED FOR J. JOHNSON, IN ST.
PAUL'S CHURCH-YARD, 1798; http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/malthus/malthus.0.html.
2. Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, 1968.
3. Population Reference Bureau, 2003 World Population Data Sheet, Highlights, by Carl Haub; http://www.prb.org/pdf/WorldPopulationDS03_Eng.pdf.
5. UNPD, World Population Prospects, 1992 Revision.
6. Ibid., Haub.
Steve Mosher is the president of Population Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is overpopulated.