Lifestyles Left and Right

The Latest Population Bomb

The brave new world according to Thomas Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, and Jonathon Porritt.

By 4.2.09

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At a recent conference hosted by the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), Jonathon Porritt, a green advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, suggested that the population of the UK must be about 30 million people if the nation is to be sustainable. That's a problem because the 2007 census estimates the current population to be around 60 million.



And Porritt's figure, according to OPT’s website, is an overgenerous estimate. It projects that the UK can sustain only 18 million people, and the whole world can only handle about five billion (current global population is 6.7 billion). In other words, the world’s population is terribly bloated and something needs to be done about it.



This worry about global population is nothing new, of course. In 1798, Thomas Malthus authored An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that human population was growing geometrically (2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), outstripping an arithmetic rise in food production (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). Paul Ehrlich reinvigorated this overpopulation alarmism in his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb.  Ehrlich claimed, “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.”



No big surprise: Ehrlich is involved with OPT. The website lists him as a "Patron" of the organization. His particular brand of alarmism is still found on this side of the pond as well. The most well-known champion of overpopulation panic in the U.S. is the Earth Policy Institute.



Now, there are a number of possible so-called solutions to the so-called population problem. For instance, we could hold a worldwide lottery in which the lucky winners get to live.



We could embrace a Chinese-like model of very restrictive rules governing human reproduction and gradually bring the world’s population down to a sustainable level. Or we could take survival of the fittest to absurd lengths and organize a no-holds-barred, worldwide cage match.



All are workable options if our goal is to reduce population size to a sustainable level. They are also morally abhorrent, but that doesn't mean that overpopulation alarmists have been drummed out of polite society.



Far from it: OPT and the Earth Policy Institute are involved with the usual wealthy, liberal foundations who constantly fund organizations that push big government solutions to all that ails us. Earth Policy Institute receives generous funding from, among others, the Lannan Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

Some of OPT’s partner organizations receive money from sources like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and George Soros.



But despite what a few wealthy liberal foundations might be pushing us to believe, overpopulation is not a huge problem and tyrannical government is not the answer. It's worth repeating: Malthus was wrong and so was Paul Erlich. They badly misjudged both mankind's ability to innovate and just how destructive we are to the environment.



Through market innovations, not planning, we can expand our food stocks and other basic necessities to support a much greater population, rather than shrink the population to an ad hoc level that self-appointed experts -- including those that have the ear of the prime minister -- judge necessary.

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About the Author

Eric Heidenreich is a writer in Alexandria, Virginia.