Advancing a Free Society

Halloween fright, population fear are both fantasy

Friday, October 28, 2011

Prepare for a frightening Halloween - not from ghosts, ghouls and goblins at your doorstep - but because on Oct. 31, the world’s population is expected to reach 7 billion people. For many, the new milestone is a haunting premonition of what lies ahead for the human race. Witness a few alarming headlines warning of doom and gloom: “The World’s Biggest Problem? Too Many People,” and “As Earth’s population hits 7 billion, the consequences for humanity could be grim.”

Such scary predictions are nothing new. Aristotle cautioned that populations could strip their resources and that poverty would follow. Nineteenth-century theorist Thomas Malthus argued - at a time when the world’s population was fewer than 1 billion - that birthrates had to be lowered or famine and violence would ensue.

Even in the past century, it was fashionable to emphasize the negative consequences of growth. In 1945, demographer Kingsley Davis wrote, “The earth’s population has been like a long, thin powder fuse that burns slowly and haltingly until it finally reaches the charge and explodes.” Paul Ehrlich picked up on this theme with his 1968 best-seller, “The Population Bomb.”

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