This is a follow-up to my post on overpopulation. There I noted that credible scientists have been issuing warning of impending starvation and other forms of doom from overpopulation for many decades, and that all of these predictions have turned out to be completely wrong. The wrong predictions were based on a fallacy, namely the fallacious belief that one can accurately predict the future of very complex systems. A prediction about how much food the world will have a decade hence must include predictions about human beings and what they will do along with predictions about economics, technology, politics, and even the weather. Such predictions are always erroneous because those things just can’t be predicted with any accuracy.
There is another fallacy that also contributed to the failure of the overpopulation prophets. To demonstrate, allow me to quote from this post:
By 2050 or so, the human population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today.
The post I linked to is dated 2010, when earth’s population was about seven billion. If the projection for 2050 is nine billion, that’s an increase of two billion persons, which is closer to one China than to two Chinas. (The population of China is about 1.39 billion.) But the fallacy that I want to focus on is not merely that these prophets can’t do basic math. Let’s go on.
One of the most common comments that I hear about population is the following: As the poor countries become richer, women in them will have fewer children. This thinking is based on the demographic transition model, which in turn was based on the experience of a number of western nations during earlier phases of the Industrial Revolution.
Wrong again. The evidence that birth rates will decline simply comes from the fact that birth rates have declined in every single country on earth, western or otherwise, over the past generation. So in addition to not knowing arithmetic, this prophet is unfamiliar with the most basic and widely-known facts about world population. Onward!
Though nine billion is only a projected figure, based on assumptions about birth and death rates that may or may not be accurate between now and 2050, it is most often accepted as a fait accompli. That leads us, then, not to ask questions about whether we should intervene in that growth somehow, stop it, or even reverse it, but rather to focus on questions about how we are going to provide for it. Rather than ask why we want or need another 2.1 billion humans on the planet, researchers focus almost exclusively on how we are going to provide those additional people with safe drinking water, food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other needs, even though billions already do without some or all of those things.
Two things here. first, the author assumes that since “billions already do without”, any increase in the number of human beings leads to more human beings doing without. But this is the precise reverse of the truth. Most folks are familiar with a graph of human population:
After being close to stable for a long time, population started shooting up around 1800 and has continued doing so until today. What’s happened to properity as the population has shot up? Needless to say, the human race on average has gotten vastly more prosperous. To put specific numbers on this, let’s consider a graph from the paper that I mentioned in my previous post:
Comparing these two graphs, we see no evidence that increasing the population leads to more poverty. Instead it looks as if poverty has plummeted while population has soared, both in percentages and in absolute numbers. Hence it’s a fallacy to assume that adding more human beings will also increase the number of human beings living in poverty. To explain the reason for this, I turn to my old friend YouTube: