Population Doomsayers Are More Than Merely Wrong
Exactly How Do Scaremongering Scientists Intend for the Earth to Lose 4 Billion People?
December 3, 1999
by Dennis T. Avery
THE BridgeNews FORUM: Viewpoints on farming, farm policy and related agricultural issues.
She was doing a story on the latest gloomy predictions of Cornell entomologist David Pimentel. He's warning of global food shortages, rapidly disappearing topsoil and overpopulation destroying the world's wildlife.
Pimentel recommends getting the world's human population down from the current 6 billion to 2 billion.
I told the reporter that the world has two choices for saving both its wildlands and its quality of life. Either we eradicate billions of people or use farm chemicals and biotechnology to triple the yields on the world's existing farmland.
"Wait!" she cried. "Who's talking about killing people? Pimentel is talking about family planning!"
The reality, however, is that family planning cannot hope to cut the world's population quickly and deeply enough to save the planet's wildlife.
Affluence, urbanization and contraceptives have helped to radically and rapidly cut birth rates, from six births for every Third World woman in 1960 to about 2.9 today. The "replacement" level is 2.1 births per woman.
Demographers say that current birth trends project a peak human population of 8 billion to 8.5 billion, a level reached around 2030.
That would be about 40 percent more people than today's 6 billion, but far less than the 12 billion Pimentel expects.
We can actually expect the earth's human population to decline slightly during the second half of the 21st century, as more countries reach the First World average of 1.7 children per woman.
However, the population decline produced by lower birth rates will come very slowly. It won't be nearly quick enough to save the topsoil or the wildlife from the pressures of feeding a large human population.
That's especially true since the experience of recent decades tells us the affluent people of the 21st century will demand lots of meat, milk, fruit and cotton.
And that's why we must be able to produce 2.5 to 3 times the farm output that we harvest today. We're already farming half the world's land area not under ice.
Without higher yields, getting 2.5 to 3 times as much farm output by 2050 would force us to plow the other half of the global land area.
Jacques Cousteau, the seemingly genial French marine biologist whose "Undersea World" television program took us to the far reaches of the world's oceans, wrote in 1991 of the necessity of eliminating 350,000 people a day to stabilize the world population. He said it was horrifying to speak of such things, but just as bad not to.
Cousteau was at least being honest with us. Scaremongers like Pimentel are pretending we can radically cut the world's population with condoms and contraceptive pills.
Cousteau had something of an excuse for his population pessimism: He wasn't an agriculturist. He didn't realize that the world was capable of sharply increasing yields per acre. Pimentel the entomologist has no excuse.
His colleagues in past years helped create the Green Revolution. Today, his neighbors are helping to pursue the safe and sustainable yield gains available through biotechnology.
Pimentel has told me in private that he admires conservation tillage, which cuts soil erosion up to 95 percent by using herbicides instead of plowshares to control weeds. Conservation tillage makes modern high-yield farming fully sustainable.
He knows this, but instead of publicly praising conservation tillage, he claims the world is losing 10 times as much topsoil as it is actually losing.
There's no way to resolve topsoil losses except by cutting the world's population. Pimentel claims that the food shortages are already critical in the world, with 40,000 children dying each day from "malnutrition and other diseases."
Most of the world's dying children are actually succumbing to diarrheic diseases because they lack clean water and sanitary facilities, and to malaria because they lack window screens and pesticides.
Pimentel warns that increasing pollution of our food, water, air and soil by pathogenic organisms and chemicals will cause a rapid increase in diseases and human deaths.
Yet the First World's food, water, air and soil are cleaner and more healthful for humans than they've ever been. Asia and Latin America are rapidly moving in the same direction.
Pimentel says having too many people is the primary cause of reduced biodiversity. He is flat wrong. The primary cause of reduced biodiversity is the clearing of too much forest and wild meadow for low-yield farming.
It doesn't matter much to the wildlife how many humans live stacked up in urban apartments, so long as those humans don't require more land to grow their food on.
The media and politicians have had great fun riding the world's recent wave of environmental pessimism.
This pessimism can even be a good thing if it pushes us to invest in energy efficiency and better sewage treatment. Unfortunately, it's also led people like Costeau and Pimentel to start "preparing" the world for massive depopulation.
Essentially, Pimentel is saying that mass death is preferable to using nitrogen fertilizer, conservation tillage or genetically modified seeds. For a trained agriculturist like Pimentel, that's unconscionable.
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Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.