Some history lessons have to be constantly relearned

October 03, 2013 | By JONATHAN WOOD

Last night, I spoke at an Americans for Prosperity event on the delisting of the gray wolf and announcing the upcoming release of a documentary on the human impacts of gray wolf expansion. Here’s the trailer for the film:


At the same hotel, opponents of the proposal to delist the wolf were also meeting. I got a chance to visit their meeting and was struck by one of the methods the group was using to convey its message:

It was distributing condoms.

The point of distributing condoms was that humanity is a threat to species like the wolf and the planet. The belief that human population growth threatens catastrophe is nothing new. In 1798, the Reverend Thomas Malthus predicted that human population growth would outstrip the planet’s capacity to grow food, resulting in widespread starvation. His proscription was birth control and the elimination of “defective” persons. More than 200 years later, we have a burgeoning population, an abundance of food, and recently witnessed one of the greatest economic miracles in human history—the lifting of 600 million people out of poverty.

Environmental economist Julian Simon explained why Malthusian predictions consistently fail—as the human population grows, resource use becomes more efficient rather than remaining constant. We develop ways to recycle resources that otherwise would have been discarded. We make more with less; e.g., producing more crops on a fraction of the farmland previously required, allowing land to be converted back into forest. All of this means that we can have both more people and a cleaner environment.

It’s one thing to say that some particular market or government failure is causing a resource to be wasted. That calls for a modest fix. It’s quite another to say that people are a per se problem. Not only has hundreds of years of history disproved that notion, but the measures that would be required if it were true are horrific.