Scientific Alliance Newsletter - February 22, 2008
Readers of the Telegraph will have seen this week a report that the United Kingdom is actually only capable of supporting 17 million people rather than the nearly 61 million currently living here. This rather worrying conclusion comes from a report published by the Optimum Population Trust, a think tank which, in its own words, “ campaigns for stabilisation and gradual population decrease globally and in the UK.” The majority of people will probably simply ignore this, but it is worth digging a bit deeper to see what lays behind this. The feeling that the Earth is overpopulated (with human beings, at least) is widespread, particularly in the mainstream environmentalist movement. In their view, reducing the number of people would be beneficial for the planet. At the extreme, there are those who would prefer to see the extinction of human life.
Such views are not new. Perhaps their best known exponent was Mathus, who put forward his influential arguments at the turn of the 19th Century, when the world’s population was still less than one billion. His thesis was essentially that populations increase geometrically, while food production can only increase arithmetically. The result would be inevitable mass famine and an automatic cap on population, similar to that for other species.
Paul Ehrlich wrote “The Population Bomb” in 1968, when the population was 3.5 billion. This expanded on an article published a year earlier, from which this often-used quote is taken “the battle to feed all of humanity is over ... In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” More recently, Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” argued that a number of civilizations had failed because they had simply used up all their natural resources.
Malthus was wrong, Ehrlich was wrong, and there is considerable evidence that Diamond was wrong, but their views remain influential. What the Optimum Population Trust and other neo-Malthusians forget or ignore is that nothing is static. They make the mistake of assuming that because food production (or any other variable you care to mention) was X at a certain point and Y in the present, it will continue to evolve smoothly along the same path (or meet an upper limit because of a known constraint). This view takes no account of innovation and progress. Ehrich also wrote “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.” When he wrote that, India’s population was about 0.5 billion. Now it is over 1.1 billion. By most measures, food security has increased markedly over that period. Average energy intake per capita continues to increase, and the proportion of undernourished (though still unacceptably high) is falling slowly. Read more here.
By Ernest Istook, WorldNet Daily
Drought. War. Poverty. These are leading causes of hunger, according to the United Nations. Soon we may add another. Ethanol.
Across the globe, people are discovering it’s a new contributor to world hunger. Led by the United States, governments are paying companies billions to make ethanol from corn and other crops. The result: these crops are diverted from the food supply, creating artificial shortages and higher prices. Even record harvests haven’t suppressed food prices. Instead, prices are soaring to all-time highs. Corn that traded around $2 a bushel just two years ago is now well over $5 a bushel. The impact ripples through the food chain of milk, butter, eggs, flour, pasta and everything else, because dairy cattle, beef cattle, poultry and swine depend on the corn for their feed. When chicken feed doesn’t cost chicken feed anymore, then neither does anything else. Other grains, like wheat, are also at record highs because farmers are planting less wheat and more corn, thanks to the ethanol incentives. Less supply, plus more world demand, means higher prices for wheat products, too, from flour to bread to pasta.
Full-scale food riots may arise in some parts of the world, as more and more grain is diverted into fuel production. The Earth Policy Institute reports that ethanol-related food protests occurred last year in Mexico, Italy, Pakistan and Indonesia. A price-driven stampede killed three and injured 31 at a supermarket in China. “We are witnessing the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history,” the EPI proclaimed in January. “The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before.” EPI’s president, Lester R. Brown, says, “We’re putting the supermarket in competition with the corner filling station for the output of the farm. The result is that more people will go hungry.” Read more here.
Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress, and is now a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.