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There's No Such Thing as Overpopulation

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.