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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

The Overpopulation “Crisis” Peters Out



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Anti-humanists–ranging from deep ecology misanthropes, to some global warming alarmists, The Population Bomb true believers, and “nature rights” advocates, among others–claim repeatedly that teeming humanity will soon overwhelm all other life on the planet, requiring immediate steps to dramatically depopulate.  In this view, we are a scourge, the AIDS afflicting Gaia. Indeed, the plot of a recent A-List Hollywood movie–The Day the Earth Stood Still–had Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu, travel here to commit total genocide to “save the earth.”

But now, according to an article in Slate–no right wing Big Oil tool–claims that not only is overpopulation alarmism overblown, but we need to start having more children. 

What’s up? Apparently it took longer to get from 6 billion people to 7 billion than it did for our population to grow from 5 billion to 6 billion, meaning the rate of growth is slowing. That means, some experts now say, that we probably won’t smother all other life on earth after all, much less starve ourselves into extinction. From, “About That Overpopulation Problem,” by Jeff Wise:

In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today. And then it will fall.

Fall?  How is that possible?  

Scientists who study population dynamics point to a phenomenon called ‘demographic transition.’ “For hundreds of thousands of years,” explains Warren Sanderson, a professor of economics at Stony Brook University, “in order for humanity to survive things like epidemics and wars and famine, birthrates had to be very high.” Eventually, thanks to technology, death rates started to fall in Europe and in North America, and the population size soared. In time, though, birthrates fell as well, and the population leveled out. The same pattern has repeated in countries around the world. Demographic transition, Sanderson says, “is a shift between two very different long-run states: from high death rates and high birthrates to low death rates and low birthrates.” Not only is the pattern well-documented, it’s well under way: Already, more than half the world’s population is reproducing at below the replacement rate.

That’s good news, right? Wrong! 

And in the long term—on the order of centuries—we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity.

That might sound like an outrageous claim, but it comes down to simple math. According to a 2008 IIASA report, if the world stabilizes at a total fertility rate of 1.5—where Europe is today—then by 2200 the global population will fall to half of what it is today. By 2300, it’ll barely scratch 1 billion. (The authors of the report tell me that in the years since the initial publication, some details have changed—Europe’s population is falling faster than was previously anticipated, while Africa’s birthrate is declining more slowly—but the overall outlook is the same.) Extend the trend line, and within a few dozen generations you’re talking about a global population small enough to fit in a nursing home.

Apparently no matter what happens, we are doomed. And they make fun of the “Armageddon is coming!” crowd. At least the Voluntary Human Extinction groupies will be happy. Good grief.



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