Happy World Population Day: Some Environmentalists Halfway Get It


The environmentalist news website Grist (former tagline: "Gloom and Doom with a Sense of Humor,' now replaced with "A Beacon in the Smog") is running an article by Fred Pearce that forthrightly (and finally) admits that the population bomb is a dud:

A green myth is on the march. It wants to blame the world's overbreeding poor people for the planet's peril. It stinks. And on World Population Day, I encourage fellow environmentalists not to be seduced.

Some greens think all efforts to save the world are doomed unless we "do something" about continuing population growth. But this is nonsense. Worse, it is dangerous nonsense. 

For a start, the population bomb that I remember being scared by 40 years ago as a schoolkid is being defused fast. Back then, most women round the world had five or six children. Today's women have just half as many as their mothers—an average of 2.6. Not just in the rich world, but almost everywhere. 

This is getting close to the long-term replacement level, which, allowing for girls who don't make it to adulthood, is around 2.3. Women are cutting their family sizes not because governments tell them to, but for their own good and the good of their families—and if it helps the planet too, then so much the better. 

This is a stunning change in just one generation. Why don't we hear more about it? Because it doesn't fit the doomsday agenda (emphasis added).

Half the world now has fewer than the "replacement level" of children. That includes Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, most of the Far East from Japan to Thailand, and much of the Middle East from Algeria to Iran….

It is also true that population growth has not ceased yet. We have 6.8 billion people today, and may end up with another 2 billion before the population bomb is finally defused. But this is mainly because of a time lag while the huge numbers of young women born during the baby boom years of the 20th century remain fertile. 

With half the world already at below-replacement birthrates, and with those rates still falling fast, the world's population will probably be shrinking within a generation.

There are various causes behind falling fertility, but one that environmentalists and most other folks miss is that lower fertility rates correlate very nicely with rising economic freedom.

But always fear—there is another looming catastrophe, the consumption bomb. Of course, economic freedom and the technological progress that it makes possible will defuse the alleged consumption bomb too. Nevertheless, getting it halfway right is certainly an improvement over being totally wrong.

Kudos to Laura Huggins for the link.