But around 1500, following the voyages of Columbus, Vasco de Gama, and Magellan, European long-distance sailing ships unified the world economy, creating vastly expanded markets for commerce, and making it possible for inventions made anywhere to be rapidly implemented everywhere. Thus the effective inventive population for each civilization was radically expanded virtually overnight to encompass that of the entire world, creating a sixfold increase in the rate of progress per person-year compared to that of prior history. With more people engaged, the world advanced faster. Furthermore, it was precisely those countries with the greatest contact with the largest number of people worldwide, i.e., the European seafaring nations, which advanced the fastest.
Then, around 1800, the industrial revolution begins, and the average rate of progress per person-year of human effort quadruples yet again. This occurs not only because the harnessing of steam allowed human beings to wield vastly greater mechanical power than had ever been possible before, but because particular technologies, most notably steamships, railroads, and telegraphs, radically increased the speed and thus the effective range of transportation, commerce, and communication. By the mid-1800s, news about innovations made by anyone, anywhere, could spread around the world virtually instantly, defining a new global reality of accelerated progress that continues to the present day. The fact that any technological advance can now have immediate global impact makes human creativity today far more powerful, and thus valuable, than ever before.
The critical thing to understand here is that technological advances are cumulative
. We are immeasurably better off today not only because of all the other people who are alive now, but because of all of those who lived and contributed in the past. If the world population had been smaller in the past than it actually was, we’d be much worse off now. Just consider what the world today would be like if the global population had been half as great in the 19th century. Thomas Edison and Louis Pasteur were approximate contemporaries. Edison invented the electric light, central-power generation, recorded sound, and motion pictures. Pasteur pioneered the germ theory of disease that stands at the core of modern medicine. Which of these two would you prefer not to have existed? Go ahead, choose.
Human beings, on average, are creators, not destroyers. Each human life, on average, contributes towards improving the conditions of human life. This must be so, or our species would long since have disappeared. We live as well as we do today because so many people lived in the past and made innumerable contributions, big and small, toward building the global civilization that we enjoy. If there had been fewer of them, we today would be poorer. If we accept the Malthusians’ advice, and act to reduce the world’s population, we will not only commit a crime against the present, but impoverish the future by denying it the contributions those missing people could have made.
The world needs more people. Child seven billion, welcome aboard.
— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, and a member of the Steering Committee of Americans for Energy. His new book, from which this article is adapted, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism will be published by Encounter Books in February.