What Happened to the Population Bomb?

PopulationBombCoverHaving grown up in the 60s and 70s I was very familiar with that era’s environmentalist hysterics. The hysteria at times seemed plausible because those decades were tumultuous in so many ways. One of the common themes of the environmentalists was overpopulation. We were bombarded with warnings that in just a few short years the world would be overrun with hordes of starving humans because there were just too damn many of them!

This all goes back to the influence of book written in 1798 by a British clergyman named Thomas Malthus. He argued that while population grows geometrically, food production only grows arithmetically, and thus more slowly. So eventually there will not be enough food to feed a growing population. Keep in mind that when Malthus wrote his book the world’s population was less than one billion, and in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich wrote a book called The Population Bomb, the world’s population was over 3.5 billion. Yet somehow to that point food production was able to feed them all. Which told Ehrlich exactly nothing. According to this Wikipedia entry, the early additions of the book began with this statement:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.

I wonder why they took this out of later editions? In fact, every prediction of environmentalists of that time proved wildly false. In fact, in the 21st Century far from overpopulation being a problem, it is now the lack of a growing population that has demographers worried.

Which brings me to a sad piece I came across about what a terrible problem this is for Japan, which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Far from being a drag on resources that environmentalists assert, human beings are in fact the world’s most important resource. This is almost too obvious to mention, but the dominant secular mindset of the Western world is sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly antinatalist; children are not an unqualified blessing, but a qualified burden. Economically in the modern world children certainly cost more than they contribute, which wasn’t the case in agrarian economies of the past. Once the sexual revolution hit and abortion became a constitutional “right,” the jig was up. Children became just another lifestyle choice. I’m afraid way too many Christians have become culturally captive to this mindset.

I used to be pretty much a typical modern Protestant in these regards, but I’ve become downright Catholic now and fully buy into Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, written in the same year The Population Bomb was published, 1968. The encyclical argues against all forms of artificial contraception, which means deciding not to possibly conceive should only be done naturally. But children are to be welcomed as the supreme gift of marriage, and thus gifts should not be lightly turned away, especially when God is the giver. Simply put, Christians should have lots of children, at the very least more than the typical two American families have. And having more children is a profoundly counter cultural statement, one that says God is the author of life, and that life is good, and that our children and families are more important than our own self-centered desires.

Christians having more children than their secular neighbors has the added benefit that in decades to come the Church will grow and believes will occupy more of the positions in the culture that determine the health and vitality of our society. That is, if we can convince the Church at large that engaging the culture is the norm for the faithful follower of Jesus.