April 15, 2009
The great British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has become the latest in a long line of illustrious people to say we need to cut population growth sharply or face a grim future. Is he right?
Attenborough, in supporting Britain's Optimum Population Trust -- a group that advocates reducing human numbers -- has put himself on the wrong side of one of the great questions of our time, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).
- Today's world population is about 6.8 billion, give or take a hundred million or so.
- By 2050, most estimates show the population will be about 9 billion -- roughly a 35 percent or so increase.
- That's the equivalent, population-wise, of adding seven new countries the size of the United States to the world population.
When you say it that way, it does sound dramatic and, as Attenborough put it, "frightening." The problem is, numbers lie. Past estimates of population growth have virtually always overestimated world fertility rates, and underestimated social trends that led to fewer babies. This time will be no different, says IBD:
- If fertility rates decline just a little more than predicted (and the decline in fertility rates over the past four decades has been faster than almost any estimate out there), the population actually begins to shrink in 2040.
- By 2050, at the low end of fertility expectations, U.N. forecasts show just 7.96 billion people in 2050.
- And by the end of the century, the population will actually drop below its current levels.
Pushing for population decline is a fool's errand. Our biggest problem in the next 100 years won't be too many people; it will be figuring out how a shrinking base of younger workers will be able to pay for our fast-expanding population of elderly retirees.
To do this, we'll need to have more babies, not fewer. Attenborough is wrong, but then so are all those who want to shrink humanity, says IBD.
Source: Editorial, "Population Alarmists," Investor's Business Daily, April 14, 2009.
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