Earth Day and overpopulation


Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Environmentalist groups frequently fault human beings for any perceived ecological crisis. Human overpopulation is the usual culprit advanced to explain the extinction of many of the earth’s species. For that reason, some 200 scientists and activists groups, including such limelight-winning litigation groups as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), have signed on to the Global Population Speak Out, a program expressly designed to remove the taboo that human overpopulation has received among mainstream scientists and policymakers.  Moreover, CBD has even initiated a nationwide Endangered Species Condoms program encouraging people to use prophylactics so as to limit the human population. 

CBD’s position is typical of those who believe that there are too many of us around. CBD’s website audaciously asserts that "[e]xplosive, unsustainable human population growth is an essential cause of the extinction crisis," and urges the "reduc[tion of the human]population to an ecologically sustainable level." Not only is this poppycock, it creates the serious risk that the rights of millions of people throughout the world to raise a family may be sacrificed on an unholy altar of environmental extremism.

For most of us who live in urban environments, the temptation to accept the overpopulation myth is strong, especially whenever we are cut off on the freeway, or are forced to endure the thumping of our neighbor’s stereo, or have to wait in line to attend the latest blockbuster movie. But a moment’s thought and analysis should make clear that there is no impending doom. Assume for the sake of argument that all the world’s people (about 7 billion) were required to live in the state of Texas, which covers about 270,000 square miles. That would leave a little more of 1000 square feet for every person on the planet, with the rest of the world empty.

Notoriously, Paul Ehrlich, in his 1968 book The Population Bomb, argued that, owing to overpopulation, human beings would starve en masse by the 1980s. Of course, that never happened. But the rhetoric of the overpopulationists continues. And it has taken a new tenor from the environmental community, which argues that every species is worthy of protection and that the human population should be reduced to accommodate these other species.

This ethic manifests itself on a near daily basis in the nation’s courts as litigious environmental groups bring suit after suit forcing protection for all species, regardless of costs, irrespective of the economic or social impact of stringent environmental regulation. Devotion to species is frequently not born of a desire to protect the human species from self-destructive behavior, but rather is the fruit of an anti-human animus that sees man as a cancer on the natural world.

Although some species have no doubt gone extinct because of man, untold numbers of species perished from the earth before man, and continue to do so without any interference from man. At least five mass extinctions occurred on earth before the appearance of man. And it has been estimated that over 99.9% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. Surely, then, it is irrational to argue that the loss of any species is necessarily catastrophic.

Not only is extinction largely a natural phenomenon, it is something that human beings on occasion should positively strive for. No reasonable person should lament the passage of the smallpox or polio microbe. Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College London, has convincingly argued that we should through genetic engineering eradicate Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries dengue fever and other lethal diseases. Successfully to cause the extinction of the Aedes aegypti would bring considerable economic and social benefit to humankind, especially in many developing countries. But if CBD and its Global Population Speak Out are to be taken seriously, the problem is not with the mosquito’s bite but with our abundance. This is not only foolish; it is immoral.

Whether or not the human population may ever reach a level beyond the point of sustainability, we should not adopt policies that place the creeping things of the earth ahead of people.