There's No Such Thing as Overpopulation

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I grew up on stories of overpopulation. Unfortunately, Paul Ehrlich (the world’s most reliable prophet, if you take into account everything he ever said happened the opposite) was translated into Portuguese.

I remember both the frisson of fear and the mild bewilderment while reading his book in my mom’s kitchen and coming across the prophecy that we would run out of potable water by the eighties.

But then I hit all his predictions of overpopulation, and how crowded we were all going to be, and I realized he had no idea how much space there was, even in Portugal.

And frankly, all of us who grew up in Europe had absolutely no idea how much open space there was in the U.S.

I mean, we’d see the movies, with all the high-rises and car chases and highways crossing over and under each other, and that was our idea of America. This is why, I think, Europeans are far more concerned about the environment than Americans, and a little more insane about the whole “global warming” thing. They think we are way more crowded than they are. (This probably also has to do with the fact that they really have no concept of how vast our territory is, and they get our population measures bandied around constantly.)

I was fairly well informed, often reading books set in America. I had had an American pen pal from when I was 11 or so, and yet when I came over as an exchange student, driving past the seemingly unending forests in – or all places – Pennsylvania, it was a complete shock. Heaven only knows what I’d have thought if I’d driven across Texas and Kansas at that time, when you hit the miles and miles of miles and miles and nothing but the occasional billboard to distract from the endless road.

The miles and miles of miles and miles are still there, as are forests in non-arid states. Oh, and we also have enough potable water for the foreseeable future.

What miracle is this?

Well, even if you believe the UN population numbers, it’s plainly obvious that that old scold, Maltus, was full of it.

Why shouldn’t you believe the UN population numbers, you say? The question is, rather, why would you believe them? This is a weird form of Gell-Mann amnesia, where you read something in the paper that is patently false and you know it to be false because it’s in your field, and then turn the page to find something you know nothing about and believe it implicitly. Tell me, would you believe the UN about anything else? Let’s not forget that of all the countries in the world, the UN has issues with the treatment of women in the U.S.; they think our medical care is atrocious and they don’t think much of our… well, anything.

Yep, that’s right. They look at all the hell holes in the world, measure everything, and decide that the U.S. is worse off than most of them.

And yet you believe their measurements of population? Why?

Note that the census is cooked in the U.S. and that the U.S. is probably the most transparent place in the world for censuses.

Note also that the only places in the world where population is supposedly still rising are net recipients of international aid — aid that is often given per capita.

But even if you really believe the UN population figures – hey, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you if you do – the point is that we’re not starving or fighting over the last drop of potable water.

Yeah, I know, you see appeals for starving children on TV and there are some truly, spectacularly desperate foci of poverty in the world. Those are, however, usually the result of incredibly bad governments. In a kleptocracy, everyone starves. Look at Venezuela, which all my relatives lauded as “You can have three crops a year” and which is managing to starve its people. The problem is not overpopulation, it’s socialism.

Heck, India, once the byword – by-poster – for the evils of overpopulation, having relaxed its commitment to collectivism – has become one of the poster children for “emerging” and “fast-growing” economies.  You don’t see nearly as much harping on overpopulation over there, either. Because, you know, if people can live in apartments rather than on the sidewalks, it looks like there’s way more room.

And yet, despite this, and despite all the undeniable facts collected here, my children at their public school were pressured to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t reproduce.

Part of this is, of course, that the left hates humans – no, seriously, they really, really hate humans – possibly because we refuse to fit neatly into their utopic vision. If you don’t believe me, just watch any science fiction documentary dealing with things like future extinctions. The one I watched I was able to predict accurately that not even mammals would stay alive – since they’re related to us – and in the end, only squid survived, swinging from the trees (no, I’m not actually joking).

But part of it is that we grew up with the perception that more people are a bad thing. This is not only not borne out, it’s entirely possible that too few people will be a bad thing. For instance, no studies have been made on the minimum population necessary to sustain a technological civilization, given that only a portion of the population will have the aptitude for the necessary learning and tasks required.

Thing is, unlike finding out how much population is too much, we’re likely to find out how little population is too little sooner rather than later.

Humans appear to be scavengers, by nature and evolutionary aptitude. And the thing with scavengers is that they have bell-curve type population figures. When life becomes comfortable, they reproduce less. This makes sense considering that a scavenger who overwhelms natural resources is a scavenger that goes extinct.

In every country where daily life becomes “comfortable” (and you’d be amazed what “comfortable” is), women have fewer children. There are leaked reports that the birth rates are already falling in Arab countries.

In the developed countries of the West, we’re testing how much and how fast a birth rate – if not a population, yet, due to longevity increases – can fall before civilization tumbles with it.

Make room… in your life for a kid or two. Those scary tales they told you in school were not true. That old depressive Maltus failed to take into account human ingenuity.

Human ingenuity is, in fact, the most precious of all resources. And the one that allows us to escape depleting all others, while improving life for most humans on the planet.

Ignore the doomsayers, laugh in the face of Maltus, thumb your nose at the “environmentalist” scolds, tell people who offer you “zero population growth” agreements to go fly a kite.

Have a kid. Have two. Have a dozen. Teach them to be productive citizens, and rather than a burden on the face of the Earth, they’ll be an asset.

And hope for all of us, world without end.