October 17, 2006


Big scares bring about scarier ‘solutions’ (John Tierney, 10/17/06, Kansas City Star)

In 1968, the year after the U.S. population reached 200 million, Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk and other scientific luminaries signed a full-page newspaper ad. It pictured a beatific baby in diapers who was labeled, in large letters, “Threat to Peace.”

“It is only being realistic,” the scientists warned, “to say that skyrocketing population growth may doom the world we live in.”

They shared the concerns of Paul Ehrlich, who was on the best-seller lists warning of unprecedented famines overseas in the 1970s and food riots on the streets of America in the 1980s.

Today, when the 300 millionth American is born, the parents will not be worrying about a national shortage of food. If anything, they’ll worry about their child becoming obese.

“Overpopulation” is history’s oldest environmental crisis, and it’s the most instructive for making sense of today’s debates about energy and climate change.

Four decades ago, scientists were so determined to prevent famines that they analyzed the feasibility of putting “fertility control agents” in public drinking water. Physicist William Shockley suggested using sterilization to impose a national limit on the number of births.

Those intellectuals didn’t persuade Americans to adopt their policies, but they had more effect overseas. [...]

In the long debate about overpopulation and famine, none of the gloomy projections by intellectuals proved to be as prescient as an old proverb in farming societies: “Each extra mouth comes attached to two extra hands.”

Fortunately, the Anglosphere is too hostile to intellectuals for them to do much damage here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2006 5:31 PM

Human capital is an asset, not a liability.

Posted by: Gideon at October 17, 2006 8:22 PM

Only if you see them as equals......

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at October 17, 2006 8:36 PM

C.S.Lewis dealt with this allegorically in That Hideous Strength. The pseudo-Malthusians were doing the Devil's work, striving against life itself.

The whole thing was a sham, and it tis as well as it did because it gathered together all kinds of enemies of humanity in one demonic cause. Gaia-worshippers, witches, valuing trees and rocks over humans; peace-creeps, counselling extinction as the alternative to having to defend oneself; perverts, striving to sunder sexuality from reproduction, and socialists, trying to muster all of them into a so-called, self-proclaimed "progressive" coalition.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 17, 2006 8:51 PM

“Overpopulation” is history’s oldest environmental crisis

Er, what now? Ice ages, rising sea levels at the end of ice ages, and desertification of the Middle East and North Africa all happened in prehistoric (or ancient) times, long before anyone worried about overpopulation. And overpopulation isn't even the oldest topic in the 20th century environmental movement.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 18, 2006 12:50 AM

Maybe it should have said, “Overpopulation is history’s oldest *made-up* environmental crisis."

Posted by: Bryan at October 18, 2006 7:54 AM

The hysteria during the 60's about overpopulation and famine is probably the single biggest cause of the drop in the birthrate.

I remember for quite a long time, a baby wasn't to be seen anywhere on the landscape. Then suddenly, there they were again. Strollers and toddlers and the welcome sound of kids playing.

Posted by: erp at October 18, 2006 6:40 PM

It was just the secular absorption with self, which is why it persists in Europe.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2006 7:02 PM