People Are the Enemy
There really is nothing new under the sun.

Steven Mosher
by Colin Mason
PRI Weekly Briefing
2009 Aug 17, Vol. 12 / No. 25
Reproduced with Permission

In a recent Yahoo News article, straightforwardly entitled "Save the Planet: Have Fewer Kids," human beings are told - again, that we are the cause of all the earth's woes. Everything would be better, the article declares, if we would just have fewer children.

Two hundred years ago, a British vicar named Thomas Malthus said something remarkably similar.

In 1798, Rev. Malthus did some unsophisticated math, and surmised with horror that, if growth remained unchecked, the human race would be out of food by the year 1890. He was so certain of this that he decided that it was of the utmost importance to reduce human population, even by killing or allowing people to die to make room for the rest of us.

Needless to say, 1890 has come and gone, and we didn't become extinct. In fact, at that time, mankind was busy producing more food than ever before, as well as industrializing the world.

Since then, a legion of credible scientists have definitively laid Malthus' leaky arguments to rest. Science (and history) show that human beings do not simply reproduce toward some sort of exponential infinity. Rather, in nearly all practical circumstances, human fertility rates drop naturally when mortality rates fall. In addition, food production has always risen to meet the needs of a growing world population, made possible by consistent technological advances in farming and production.

But alas, overpopulation alarmists cannot be bothered with these facts and figures. Left-leaning scientists are still dressing up this tired old bogeyman and parading it about as the latest and greatest scientific research.

Now, in 2009, Yahoo News is still busily outlining how human beings spell doom for the planet. Children, it says, add "about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent," and in general, "larger populations also generate more waste and tax water supplies." The articles blames greenhouse emissions on anyone and anything it can think of, including reproducing married couples, divorced couples, and obese people.

First of all, the idea that each and every human person leaves a "carbon footprint" on the earth, which can be numerically quantified and catalogued, is subjective at best. It is a theory that relies on the assumption that a) global warming is happening, b) it is the result of carbon emissions produced by human beings, and c) we produce these emissions by burning fuel, producing food, and breathing.

To call these assertions unproven is an understatement. Scientists are still debating whether or not global warming is happening at all, and if it is, whether our activities affect it. As Dr. Willie Soon, a physicist at the Solar and Stellar Physics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, clarifies, "the evidence about manmade CO2 causing global warming is nowhere close to the neat, but incorrect, conceptual picture of warming as in a greenhouse."

But this is not really the heart of the issue. The more overarching problem with this article's "radical" take on human fertility is that it isn't really radical or new at all. It is, in short, a rehash of Malthus' fuzzy math and even fuzzier grasp of history. We shouldn't need to disprove it. It has already been disproven.

For instance, the reason the article says that each child leaves a footprint of "about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide" is because of 'exponential human reproduction,' the same specter that haunted Malthus' fevered imagination in 1798.

"Reproductive choices haven't gained as much attention in the consideration of human impact to the Earth," says Yahoo, quoting Oregon State University scientist Paul Murtaugh. "When an individual produces a child - and that child potentially produces more descendants in the future - the effect on the environment can be many times the impact produced by a person during their lifetime."

In other words, every child represents yet another number in this exponentially-multiplying human stew. Thus, by producing a child, parents are not simply responsible for his/her carbon footprint, but the footprints of all that child's future generations until doomsday.

The piece goes on to further quote Murtaugh, who says that "many people are unaware of the power of exponential population growth . . . future growth amplifies the consequences of people's reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance."

The similarity between Murtaugh's fears and Rev. Malthus' simplistic predictions is evident.

Under these circumstances, the strongest defense is simply a look at history. Malthus' 1890 doomsday prediction was patently false, as were all of the subsequent doom-dates put forward by overpopulation alarmists in the 1970's and 80's. Not one of these terrifying predictions has ever come true. We haven't starved, the ice caps haven't melted, and we haven't overrun the earth like roaches. Pessimistic scientists constantly warn us that we really are approaching the end, and every time, the human race survives. The evidence is on our side.

The overpopulation theory is simply another instance in a long line of faux-scientific ideas that deliberately fit the facts to preconceived notions. While this means that the arguments themselves are easily defeated, it also means that those who ideologically committed to promoting them are not so easily swayed by such trifles as verifiable facts and figures. If they were, this theory would have been buried with Malthus centuries ago.