POPULATION: by Steve W. MosherNews Weekly
Seven billion reasons to celebrate
, March 31, 2012
Not everyone is happy that the planet is now home, for the first time, to seven billion human beings. But what is there not to celebrate, asks Steven Mosher, president of the US-based Population Research Institute?
During his recent speaking tour of Australia, he demonstrated that, by nearly every measure of well-being, from infant mortality and life expectancy to educational levels and caloric intake, life on Planet Earth has been getting dramatically better.
I visited China a long time ago, in the year 1979, and found myself in the middle of the most brutal, horrific population-control program the world has ever seen.
You know it as the “one-child policy”. I know it as the policy under which women are arrested for the crime of being pregnant without permission — a program in which women are taken away from their other children (if they have any) and their families, their husbands; are locked up in government-run detention centres; and are subjected to morning-to-night propaganda sessions in which they are told they will have no choice but to undergo abortions.
I saw women subjected to these things. I also saw women taken by force, and by the threat of force, to abortion clinics where they were given lethal injections into the womb, which resulted in the killing of their unborn children.
I saw women then subjected to abortions where the now dead babies were removed from their bodies by Caesarean section. I saw, for the first time, what an abortion really was.
You see, I had gone to China as someone who was “pro-choice”. I, after all, had been at Stanford University, and was teaching at the University of California, at Berkeley — two of the high temples to secular humanism in the United States. And I had never really thought about the abortion issue; but, to the extent that I had thought about it, I considered it to be a woman’s issue and not any concern of mine.
Well, being in that room when a woman was being forcibly aborted at eight months’ gestation, and seeing the result of that abortion — a dead baby and a wounded mother — changed my mind.
Now, my colleagues at Stanford University, including the original “population bombster” himself, Paul Ehrlich, were not happy at the reports coming out of China, coming specifically from me. In fact, they were so unhappy that they went out of their way to force me out of academia altogether.
But what seemed at the time to be the tragic end to my academic career actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. What does it profit a man to gain his PhD and lose his immortal soul? What does it profit a man to gain tenure at the University of California at Berkeley and go to Hell in consequence?
Melbourne’s Bishop Peter Elliott earlier mentioned that we should perhaps call the silence of the radical feminists on the life issues — and on many other issues — “the Silence of the Ewes”.
Let me give you another example of the Silence of the Ewes. When I came back from China, my first thought was to go to the feminist groups to report to them what was being done to their sisters in China. You see, I took their rhetoric of being in favour of a woman’s right to choose, and being in favour of women’s rights in general, at face value.
I thought they would be horrified at the forced abortions of their sisters in China — the killing, by government-sanctioned infanticide, of their unborn sisters in China. And I thought they would join me in speaking out against these abuses.
Well, I was wrong! I went to see the head of the National Organisation of Women (NOW), which was at the time one of the leading radical feminist groups in the United States, and I described to her everything I had seen. I showed her pictures of third-trimester abortions. I told her of the cries for help being uttered by these women that were still ringing in my ears.
Do you know what she said to me? She said, “Well, I’m personally opposed to forced abortion, but after all China does have a population problem.” The Silence of the Ewes, indeed.
So that was China then. And China now — the government of China — brags that, by means of its one-child policy, it has eliminated 400 million people from its population.
In fact, the former Minister of Health told a friend of mine, Congressman Tim Huelskamp from Kansas, that they had eliminated by means of the one-child policy a number of people greater than the entire population of the United States.
He said to my friend: “You only have 312 million people in the United States. We have eliminated 400 million people from our population.”
You have to have to ask yourself: by eliminating 400 million of the most productive, enterprising, hard-working people the planet has ever seen, has the Chinese Communist Party made China materially better off or has it made it materially worse off?
Clearly, we can’t neglect the moral dimension of the elimination of so many tens of millions of unborn children and the grievous wounding of their mothers. But let us not neglect other arguments we can make with those, and to those, who don’t understand the moral dimension of these issues.
Let us tell them that by eliminating 400 million people from the Chinese population, China — the Chinese Communist Party — has made China poor and eliminated the ultimate resource, the one resource you cannot do without.
I rarely quote the late Chairman Mao Zedong, one of the great butchers of human history. But he did get one thing right when he said, “Every stomach comes with two hands attached.”
I would add to that: every mouth is backed by a creative intelligence, and every generation of humanity has tried very hard to leave the world a better place than it found it, for the sake of its families and for the sake of its own children.
A few months ago, the United Nations told us that we had reached, for the first time, a milestone in human history. On October 31, 2011, the UN said that the population of the world for the first time had reached seven billion people.
Now, the usual suspects, led by Paul Ehrlich and the over-population crowd, used this occasion to don sackcloth and ashes and bemoan the fact that there were so many people on the planet.
I think a proper response, a human response, is to celebrate the fact that the planet is now home, for the first time, to seven billion people.
What is there not to celebrate? At the Population Research Institute, we look at the various indices by which you measure human well-being. We look at infant mortality, life expectancy, average caloric intake and education levels. By nearly every measure of human well-being, life on Planet Earth has been getting dramatically better.
Take life-spans, for example. In 1800, a little over 200 years ago, there were only one billion of us. Life-spans were about 24 years of age, which is to say most of us in this room wouldn’t be here. By 1927, when the population is estimated to have reached two billion, people could be expected to live into their forties.
Today, as we pass the seven billion mark, average life-spans around the planet are now closing in on 70 years of age and are still climbing. With every month that goes by, we add another week to the human life-span.
Now, this in part explains why there are seven billion of us, because, as people live longer, naturally there are more of us around at any given time. In 1960, there were only three billion of us. We’ve more than doubled that number.
But a large part in the increase came about not because people started suddenly breeding like rabbits — birth rates were declining over this entire period. This increase in numbers came about because we stopped dying like flies.
As late as the 19th century, four out of every 10 children died before reaching the age of five. Today, worldwide under-five mortality is under six per cent and falling.
Food is one of the primary objections raised to our increasing numbers. Yet if you look at the numbers, if you look at the statistics, crop yields per hectare and food consumption per capita continue to increase.
World food and resource production has never been higher. Enough food is produced for every person on earth to consume 3,500 calories a day. (You wouldn’t want to consume 3,500 calories a day. You wouldn’t like what you’d look like at the end of the year.)
There’s no need for anyone to starve in the midst of this plenty.
Now, we do have problems with the distribution of food. But we don’t have a problem producing enough food for everyone on the planet to be well fed.
Let’s talk about incomes briefly. Population has increased seven times over the last two centuries and, in 1800 again, there were one billion. Now we have seven billion. But per capita income, which was only $US100 in 1800, is now close to $US9,000. That’s an average worldwide. The human race has never been so well off.
So what is there not to like about this picture? Economies continue to expand, productivity is up, poverty is down. Pollution is declining, political freedom is growing. What is there not to like about this picture?
Well, apparently what some people don’t like about this picture is the human beings themselves. Many of the more extreme environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club in the United States, see man and nature locked in a kind of mortal combat in which the birth of a baby means the death of a tree or the death of a whale.
It is not radicals or extremists who say these things. We have a former Vice-President of the United States, Al Gore, who went to Kyoto some years ago, and was negotiating on behalf of the Clinton Administration a treaty on the issue of climate change. He said, quite bluntly, that “the birth of a baby contributes to global warming”.
So again he was a captive of this view that the more people you have the fewer resources, the less environment — you fill in the blanks.
I debated someone from the UK’s Optimum Population Trust a few months ago, who said on the air to an audience of millions, that if we did not control population growth, the oceans would be emptied of fish.
Now, I had heard this fish tale before, of course. It goes like this: “We are over-fishing the ocean commons. Mass extinctions of commercially valuable fish are just around the corner. We will all starve.”
In fact, one of the scenarios in Paul Ehrlich’s first book, The Population Bomb (1968), has a hypothetical Environmental Advisory Board telling the American President in 1979 that “the decline in fisheries in both the Atlantic and Pacific is now irreversible due to pollution”, and recommending “the immediate compulsory restriction of births to one per couple, and compulsory sterilisation of all persons with IQ scores under 90”.
Anyone who thought that the Nazi experiments in eugenics meant that we would never again be visited with these thoughts, ideas and attitudes is grossly mistaken.
There are many people who believe in the compulsory sterilisation of all people that are not like them. You know, one can summarise the view of the population-controllers in the following way. Their view is that there are just enough people like us, but there are way too many of you. You see, we have to do something about the fact there are way too many of you.
So Paul Ehrlich had this scary scenario in his book. Of course, it is not at all obvious to me what the imposition of a one-child policy in the United States, combined with the forced sterilisation of the supposedly unfit, would do to help restore declining fish stocks or avoid mass famine. But then I don’t share Paul Ehrlich’s “blame humanity first” attitude, which leads him to presuppose that the solution to all problems, environmental or otherwise, lies in reducing human numbers and forcing down the birth rate.
I have had an interest in oceanography for a long time. One of the other PhDs that I didn’t get was in biological oceanography. I went through a program in biological oceanography in the 1970s, courtesy of the US Navy. But when I asked them for another six months to write my dissertation, they told me to go out to sea and get my sea-legs. So I never went back.
However, I do have an interest in, and some understanding of, what happens in the oceans.
A lot of people talk about saving the whales. Again, they make the simple argument — the simple-minded argument — that if you want to save the whales, you have to reduce the number of human babies born.
But if you really wanted to save the whales, the best place to start would be by enforcing the current international covenants regarding whaling, which forbid fishing industries of various nations from taking juveniles, or from harvesting breeding stock, or from fishing during breeding times.
Principally, if you wanted to save the whales, you should start by reining in the corrupt Japanese commercial fishing industry, which is the primary violator of these international covenants.
Now, no one would argue that the way to save the whale population would be to force down the Japanese birth rate. Even though the Japanese consume all of the whales that they take, they don’t export them to other countries.
How much less sense does it make to argue that population-control programs in Africa are justified because we’re going to thereby save the whales or save the trees or save the environment.
The big enemy of the environment is not people. The big enemy of the environment is poverty.
It’s poverty that leads people to cut down the last tree for fuel to cook their food or to build shelter for themselves. It’s poverty that leads them to plant the last square foot of land to feed their families. It’s poverty that leads them to pollute the very water they need to drink because they can’t afford to dig a well on the one hand or build a sewage treatment plant on the other.
We know how to cure poverty. We know the road to economic development.
It leads through property rights, through the rule of law, through the limiting of government corruption, and through to helping people with the infrastructure, the roads that they need, to get their goods to market so they can participate in a cash economy.
And I believe, with the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, that the best way to protect the environment is to recognise that Man is an integral part of nature, and to protect him first.
Steven W. Mosher is president of the US-based Population Research Institute www.pop.org. The above article is the address he gave as the keynote speaker at a meeting of Endeavour Forum Inc., held at Mannix College, Monash University (Clayton campus), Melbourne, on February 3, 2012.