According to an estimate by the United Nations’ population division, Earth’s seven billionth human will be born on or about Halloween 2011, most likely in South Asia.
To put that number in perspective, consider this: It took 250,000 years, from the birth of our species until the beginning of the 19th century, for the human population to reach 1 billion (I guess it’s true what they say; the first billion’s the hardest). After that it took just a little over a century to hit the 2 billion mark in 1927. By 1999 the world’s six billionth person was born (identified as Adnan Nevic from Sarajevo, Bosnia). And now here we are, only 12 years later, and number 7 billion is upon us.
It’s quite a milestone. And on the face of it, would seem to indicate homo sapiens is a stunningly successful species with a deep and healthy breeding population, portending perpetuation of our kind for a long time to come. That’s good news, right?
Well, not if you are a self-loathing homo sapien, a curious creature whose natural habitat is restricted to the jungles of academia, Hollywood, and The View. For these lefties, we are the problem — the more we, the bigger the problem. As Paul Wilson put it for NewsBusters:
For many people, this milestone is a cause for celebration and a human triumph. But for environmentalists on the radical left, the ever-growing legion of consuming humans is a harbinger of impending doom.
The left frets that people are essentially parasites of Mother Gaia, and Wilson quotes an impressive (if revolting) number of examples:
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman titled his July 7 column “The Earth is Full.” The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board titled a May 15 op-ed “Defusing the Population Bomb.” The Los Angeles Times also published a July 21 op-ed coauthored by Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich (wife of Paul Ehrlich), which argued that “Perpetual [human population] growth is the creed of a cancer cell, not a sustainable human society.”
Wilson notes that CNN especially has been on the vanguard of the hyperventilation nation:
In 2009, CNN’s Jack Cafferty warned of an “unsustainable” population of 9 billion and declared that ‘at some point there’s not going to be enough stuff for everybody.” Another 2009 CNN report highlighted two studies claiming that “money spent on contraception is about five times more efficient [in protecting the environment] than money spent on clean-energy technologies.”
But as Wilson notes, predictions from various gurus of doom that humanity will grow beyond available resources have proven wrong again and again and again. Thomas Malthus was worrying about such things as far back as the 18th century. In more recent times Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb “…warned of mass starvation and environmental catastrophe due to overpopulation.” But as William McGurn notes in the Wall Street Journal of Ehrlich’s tome:
The book was wildly popular, and the assertions large. India was so hopeless he advocated a policy of “triage” that would just let them die. In fact, the mass starvation he predicted never materialized, and the Indians whom he thought could never feed themselves are now eating better than ever despite a population more than twice the size it was when “The Population Bomb” appeared.
Nonetheless, leftists have suggested the only solution they know to this alleged problem – government control. Special taxes have been suggested for overly-fertile parents to compensate for their brood’s burgeoning carbon footprint, and so on. Like global warming, fears about overpopulation have been used to gin up support for more state control over our lives, and indeed, in a very real sense, our very existence.
So why haven’t the dire predictions come true? Simple – humans are both consumers and producers, both exploiters and innovators. As McGurn writes, the view of humanity common to environmentalists is:
…one that grossly underestimates the power of an individual to improve life for millions. Perhaps the best example of that power is Norman Borlaug, whose scientific work introduced high-yield varieties of wheat and rice that helped farmers greatly increase their food production. In so doing, the ‘father of the Green Revolution’ helped poor nations feed their people, and give the lie to all those predictions of hopelessness and starvation from Mr. Ehrlich and Co.
So even though it’s Halloween, I’m not afraid of 7 billion (though Virginia Woolf terrifies me). I say, to whoever that lucky number 7 is, welcome to Planet Earth. Maybe one day you will invent something that improves all our lives, and if so, we can all be thankful we ignored the ravings of Ehrlich and his ilk.