POPULATION GROWTH AND ITS IMPLICATION FOR RESOURCES CONSUMPTION

Kiril Velev – a Bulgarian liberal

Population bomb is it true?

In the middle of October 1999 mankind reaches a new demographic milestone: 6 billion people living on the Earth. Too bad so many of them are Malthusian population controllers, who regard all these human beings as net destroyers of the planet. A part of scholars alarm about overpopulation long time before Malthus.

Christian theologian Tertullian said in the second century A.D. that "what most frequently meets our view (and occasions our complaint) is our teeming population. Our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly support us." About 200 years later, St. Jerome claimed that "the world is already full, and the population is too large for the soil." In our time, Paul Ehrlich was only one of many who thought the end was near. He declared flamboyantly in 1972 that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over”, and that "in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. And today Paul Kennedy, author of “Preparing for the 21st Century”, contends that "it is inconceivable that the earth can sustain a population of 10 billion people devouring resources at the rate enjoyed by richer societies today-or even half that rate. Well before total world population reaches that level, irreparable damage to forests, water supplies, and animal and plant species will have occurred, and many environmental thresholds may have been breached.

I would not like to blame any population controller and I do believe that they are honest in their worries. But I do not agree with them.

Where is the problem?

From my point of view the problem is related with liner thinking and long term linear extrapolation of the human’s brain. The best example to point out this linearity is the next task: We have just born baby with weight – 4 kilograms. It is well known that the baby’s weight is doubled into eight mounts. The question is. How many will be the man’s weight, when he will be 25-years?

It is obviously that ordinary multiplication does’not work solving this simple task. Our experience, in this case save as from mistakes of the linearity. But whet the discussion is not so ordinary and when it is related with the future it is coming more and more difficult even to explain the dangerous of the linear thinking.

Is it really truth that our planet will start to look as poor and crowded as Calcutta? I do not believe!

The facts!

For overpopulation to be real, there must be conditions that are undesirable and unmistakably caused by the presence of a certain number of people. If such indications cannot be found, we are entitled to dismiss the claim of overpopulation.

Population growth is the result of the plunging death rate and increasing life expectancy worldwide. That is progress. Population growth does not bring problems. Quite the contrary, it also brings problem solvers who apply their intelligence, discover and invent solutions, and--here is the key--leave human society better off than it was before the problems arose.

The total fertility rate (the average number of children born per woman) fell everywhere. Worldwide, the rate fell from 5 to 3.6. (The rate that produces population stability, or replacement, is 2.1.) The developing world's rate dropped from 6.2 to 4.1--more than halfway to the replacement rate. East Asia went from 5.5 to 2.3, South America from 4.9 to 3.6. The laggard, again, is Africa, where the rate fell from 6.5 to only 6.4.

Population growth today is the result of declining mortality rates due to improved health care, sanitation, and changing lifestyles afforded by rises in per capita income. In other words, it is the result of people living longer and healthier lives in the third world.

Famine in the 20th century is a political rather than an ecological phenomenon. In the 20th century there has been no famine that has not been caused by civil war, irrational economic policies, or political retribution. Not one! Moreover, the number of people affected by famine compared to that in the late 19th century has fallen--not just as a percentage of the world's population but in absolute numbers.

Growth of the population and resources consumption

Throughout recorded history, scholars have worried that population growth was unsustainable. Main problem from their point of view is that resources in our planet are not sufficient for too many people.

What the resources are?

Actually, natural resources do not exist at all. All resources are manmade. Something is not a resource until it can accomplish a human purpose. Nature does not provide resources, only materials. A resource is a material that has been stamped with a human purpose.

Today, per capita production and per-acre yields are at all-time highs. Prices of agricultural products have been falling for over 100 years. The average inflation-adjusted price of those products, indexed to wages, fell by more than 74 percent between 1950 and 1990.

The only obstacles to agricultural progress are the impediments created by governments. Imagine what the world would be like today if the fertile farmland of the former Soviet Union or China or India had been in productive private hands operating in free markets for the past several decades. Since permitting market incentives in agriculture, India has been come a net food exporter and agricultural production in China has boomed.

Are the resources finite?

For instance, the quantity of services we obtain from Earth materials should not be considered "economically" finite because there is no way of counting them appropriately. We should also consider the possibilities of using materials more efficiently.

Just as the number of points in a one-inch line can never be counted, the quantity of natural resources that might be available to us, and the quantity of services that they can give us, can never be known.

Now more than ever before, this is easy to see. After centuries of slow progress using the familiar materials of stone, wood and iron, science is attaining an undreamed-of ability to create new resources.

Optimistic scenarios

Happily, terrible scenarios have not materialized. Instead, people around the world have been increasingly better fed, and are living longer and healthier lives. Recent decades have seen an unmistakable increase in world food production per person, as the nearby graph shows. The greatest starvation disasters-the deaths of seven million Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens in the early 1930s and of 30 million Chinese between 1958 and 1961-were caused by deliberate government policies: Stalin purposely murdered his people, and the Chinese communist leaders practiced tragically wrong-headed economics.

Although human civilization has never had any sort of bureaucracy to plan its "sustainability," it has sustained itself over the past 5,000 years. Many generations have somehow managed to inherit more resources than were available to prior generations. The basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing are better met around the world today than ever before.

Human advancement is not automatic and cannot withstand complacency. Liberty--specifically, the individual's right to think, to produce, to trade, and to keep the resulting profits--is a necessary precondition. In institutional terms, liberty means free markets, the rule of law protecting property and contracts, and strict limits on government power. Without those things, the population controllers' predictions may indeed come true, but for far different reasons than those specified.

The liberal thinking prefers freedom. If freedom conflicts with population controllers targets we have to choose FREEDOM.

** The articles of Sheldon Richman, Julian L. Simon and Jerry Tailor have been used in this paper.

Sofia – 8, May, 2001.

Gummersabch – 20, May, 2001.