“The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population, or if he is not, how he knows he is not.”
G. K. Chesterton, Introduction to A Christmas Carol
Our world’s population is now at 7 billion people and counting according to the World Population Clock.
But this has many of us asking, “How many people are too many and how do we know?”
This is a very important question for Christians because we don’t see people as accidents or problems. Each person’s conception, birth and life is a new fleshly manifestation of the very image of God in the world. Each one is to be celebrated, welcomed and cared for as something beautiful from God.
So how should we feel about our world population at 7 billion?
First, we should not be fearful.
The fear mongering over so-called over-population has been well documented. Here is the opening line from Paul Ehrlich’s infamous and fearful The Population Bomb (1969) which helped ignite the scare:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…” (emphasis added)
Ehrlich also said that same year…
“If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
Our good man could not have gotten it more wrong; however people still continue to proclaim and worry over his “Chicken Little” hysteria. The earth’s population has doubled since Ehrlich’s dramatic predictions and England and quite few other places are still around. And while all is not well, to be sure, it is far from catastrophic.
Second, we produce more food than we use.
Ehrlich has been one of the latest and loudest disciples of Thomas Malthus, an Anglican clergyman and demographer, who explained in his 1798 work, An Essay on the Principles of Population, that the “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.”
Human population would continue to grow while the production of food would hit its limit. And when this happened, much of the world would die away of mass starvation. Ehrlich warned that the 1970s would be the terminal decade for so many because of this Malthusian rule.
But as Time magazine reported, a billion people tragically go hungry in the world today, “but that is not because the world is not capable of producing enough food for them.” We already grow enough grain globally today to feed 10 billion people on a full vegetarian diet.
Worldwide, humans currently throw out or waste half of the food we produce. Hence, hunger is not a production problem as Malthus predicted, but a distribution and stewardship problem.
Third, there is enough room
As both Time and the Guardian report, today all 7 billion of us could live in the state of Texas with no more population density than we currently find in New York City.
To make it even more interesting, 7 billion of us could move to Rhode Island and each have 6.4 square feet to wave our arms around in and not disturb our neighbor.
The rest of the world could be used for land preservation and production, a situation nowhere close to what Malthus, Erhlich and their misguided disciples claim.
Fourth, most of the world is not reproducing anyway.
According to a brand new report conducted cooperatively among 6 different universities, the average woman in the developed world only produces 1.66 children in her lifetime, well short of the 2.1 children needed for human replacement.
In fact, in more than 75 countries around the world (42% of the world’s population), fertility is below the 2.1 replacement level needed to maintain current work levels as well as the support and care needed for aging populations. As a result, many European governments are encouraging increased fertility by offering couples substantial tax breaks or other incentives to create and bring more citizens into the world. This is not because these governments think more babies might be fun to have around. The reasons are purely economic.
Countries like Japan are now experiencing economic stagnation due to below-replacement fertility levels that started in the 1970s. If sustained, all below-replacement-fertility countries can expect the same stagnation. China realized they are starting to face this fact and have changed their three decade long one-child policy.
Over the last decade, the United States has been just at or below replacement level.
If a nation wants to maintain its economic vitality, it must produce enough people to become the next generation of workers, teachers, creators, investors, healthcare workers and consumers, not to mention tax-payers. There must be enough of a new generation to provide the needed support and care for the aging ones. Each generation must do this.
Most nations are not producing enough of either, to their own detriment. This is the real social problem regarding population.
The evidence is clear: People are not problems. Not even 7 billion of them.