A popular marketing ploy used by many charities as well as for profit companies is to note how many times something bad happens in one second. For example, something like: “In America three children are diagnosed with ‘X’ disease every second” or “there are seven car accidents every second in the U.S.”
The idea, of course, is to make it seem like an epidemic needing immediate attention. “Help us stop this assault on our children; donate immediately to save them” or “make sure you are accident protected; call immediately for car insurance quotes.” So it was interesting to see similar treatment given to the birth of the 7 billionth human on earth. For many, another baby entering the world is truly an epidemic needing immediate attention.
To be sure, given the world’s population and the finite number of seconds in a year, a lot more than one baby is born every tick of the clock. Pinpointing one child as the 7 billionth world citizen is stretching the truth a little, even though the source is the United Nations Population Fund. But it’s not the one new child that gets the sustainability crowd agitated; it’s the 7 billion that really gets their gastric juices flowing. These pessimists and control seekers believe the prospect for humanity is grim and population growth keeps much of the world in poverty. Only government (and academic advisors) can save mankind from itself.
There have been predictions of dire consequences from population growth before, most notably by Thomas Malthus in the 19th century in his book “On Population.” The modern day Malthusian treatise was Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 popular book, “The Population Bomb” in which he forecast millions of deaths from starvation in the 70s. These predictions never materialized; yet the sustainability promoters remain vocal. Truth gets in the way of a central planning agenda.
Here’s some more truth. Worldwide population growth is actually slowing down. The U.N. predicts it will be zero in about 50 years when the population tops off at 10 billion. That’s because many countries have birth rates below the 2.1 per woman required to keep a population static. Almost every country in Western Europe satisfies that criteria. By 2050, Italy, for example, may see its population shrunk by half. India, the world’s second most populated country, has a birth rate of 2.6, down from 3.0 10 years ago. China’s with a mandated one child policy has a rate of 1.5.
A key variable in a country’s birth rate seems to be prosperity; the more economic growth, the lower the rate. Children become less important in non agrarian societies where parents can support themselves by working in other productive endeavors. In other words, capitalism, a 20th century world phenomenon, apparently has a built-in population control mechanism.
What about feeding the hoard? Well, it seems capitalism has taken care of that too by spawning technological innovation which dramatically boosts food production. There’s no reason why this can’t continue unless the sustainability crowd, also worried about global warming, turns all the increased food production into biofuels.
So, how many for dinner? Seven billion sounds about right.
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