Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 18, 2006
In her Thursday column, “Big families equal big trouble,” Liz Coffey makes a number of wrong assumptions concerning the nature of population growth and use of natural resources. They are assumptions that are often made and, because they lead to the deaths of countless children worldwide, must be corrected.
First, while natural resources are finite, our ability to manipulate them with ever-increasing efficiency is not. If we possessed today only the farming technology of 1900, much of the world’s population would indeed be starving. But thanks to tremendous improvements in farming techniques all across the world, the world has never been better fed. This is not to say there are not disparities and a need for further improvement. But there is no reason to expect that the rate of technological improvement will slow in the future, at least while the earth’s population is still rising.
Second, the world will not continue to grow at its current rate. As people across the globe grow wealthier, they will naturally have fewer children. The population of the United States would be declining if it were not for our huge influx of immigrants. And most of Europe and Russia is hemorrhaging population. The challenge by the end of this century will probably be to keep the world’s population from declining. If this happens, we will lose the added brainpower that keeps technological progress going strong.
Predicting the end of the world is a great way to attract attention. It worked for Malthus two hundred years ago, and it works today. But with theories of population mayhem proven wrong again and again, why should we believe them now?