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Seven Billion Creators Enrich The World

The number 7 billion is getting a lot of attention this year, with the world’s population estimated to hit that milestone sometime this week.  Of course, for the makers of Spam 7 billion is old news; the 7 billionth can of Spam was sold back in 2007.

There is the usual hand wringing from the usual suspects, but Via Meadia welcomes the 7 billionth taxpayer to our happy planet.  The Malthusians, who believe population growth means nothing but more mouths to feed, greatly underestimate the potential of humans to adapt.  As The Economist notes:

The earth could certainly not support 10 billion hunter-gatherers, who used much more land per head than modern farm-fed people do. But it does not have to. The earth might well not be able to support 10 billion people if they had exactly the same impact per person as 7 billion do today. But that does not necessarily spell Malthusian doom, because the impact humans have on the earth and on each other can change.

Actually, today’s population would be having mass famines if it were not for Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution—which increased food production—in the 1960s.  I can remember back in those days that overpopulation occupied the political space currently filled by the global warming movement, with foundations and governments all over the world holding conferences and publishing papers on the inevitable population crisis just ahead.

The Green Revolution was just the beginning.  Today, crops can be genetically enhanced to resist diseases and land previously thought barren made arable.  Tomorrow, we might be able to grow Wagyu beef in a vat.  With fertility rates falling almost everywhere in the world, overpopulation is unlikely to do us in.

Underpopulation is something else. Infertility is already increasing drastically and everywhere, but it threatens the future of some places more than others.  Countries like Russia, Italy, Germany and even China could face bleak futures unless they decide to make some more babies.

Let’s hope they do; Baby Seven Billion needs friends.

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  • A Nissen

    You sure need to dig deeper on this one WRM, no pun intended.

  • Toni

    Prof. Mead, do you know the connection between that old Malthusian population panic and today’s global warmists who wish everyone to panic? I quote again from “Aliens Cause Global Warming.”

    “I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, we have already had an example of dire predictions set aside by new technology. I refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” Ten years later, he predicted four billion people would die during the 1980s, including 65 million Americans. The mass starvation that was predicted never occurred, and it now seems it isn’t ever going to happen. Nor is the population explosion going to reach the numbers predicted even ten years ago. In 1990, climate modelers anticipated a world population of 11 billion by 2100. Today, some people think the correct number will be 7 billion and falling. But nobody knows for sure.”

    Indeed. From

  • Jack

    Excellent post.

    The world economic crisis is mostly rooted in demographics. Phillip Longman has done some good work on this.

    Countries that don’t make children face a bleak future, economically, socially, culturally. It’s sad that countries that have contributed so much to the culture of the world, like Italy and Japan, are dying a long, slow demographic death.

  • Luke Lea

    WRM readers might be interested in how a real physicist analyzes the issue of overpopulation — with a few irreverent jokes thrown in along the way just to spice up the argument.

    [Incidentally, if Walt hasn’t discovered this guy already, he’ll find that he writes the most authoritative scientific arguments in clear English prose, to be found anywhere on the web in support his skeptical take on the AGW movement.]

  • David Billington

    You need to study this a bit more. The Green Revolution of the 1960s enabled India to achieve self-sufficiency in food but the rate of agricultural growth leveled off there in the 1980s. It was not really a scientific miracle: what green crops were designed to do was tolerate much higher inputs of inorganic fertilizer and water, and the environmental results have been problematical.

    India is still self-sufficient but much of Asia and Africa now depend on food surpluses produced by the United States and Canada. Since 1950, we have increased production for export mainly through mechanization (ie. internal combustion and gasoline).

    The world picture is not a simple “limits to growth” prospect, because in addition to possible offsetting declines in population there is a great deal of variability in possible diet. Rising meat consumption tightens grain supplies much faster than population growth. If the developed world eats less meat, and if the developing world’s meat consumption rises only to this level, grain supplies will still have to be expanded but not by as much.

    In the long run, water and energy and land are likely to pose a theoretical limit to population growth (until we can replicate food as in Star Trek). But we may face several decades in which other countries need to import more from us if current consumption trends continue. If world population stabilizes or even declines as a result of modernization, then the problem of the population-food balance should be self-correcting, but there could be some real challenges until then.

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