Overpopulation: Myths, Facts, and Politics

By Abid Ullah Jan
Posted: 9 Jamad-ul-Awwal 1424, 9 July 2003

The UN is all set to observe yet another World Population Day on July 11, 2003. In developing countries, the day is "observed" with great fanfare and the highest-level government officials issue strong statements in favor of depopulation programs. An army of journalists in the press and electronic media further support them without paying any attention to the underlying realities.

To facilitate understanding, one needs to find out whether overpopulation is a reality and whether it is the real reason for poverty and underdevelopment. If we discover that what the media, textbooks and other means of communication tell us is not true, we then need to ponder what, in fact, are the real objectives of the sponsors of depopulation.

Is overpopulation a reality?

Over the years many researchers have authentically proved that the problem is not too many people at all. Contrary to the claims of family planning and population control specialists, world population growth is rapidly declining. United Nations figures show that the 79 countries that comprise 40 percent of the world's population now have fertility rates too low to prevent population decline. The rate in Asia fell from 2.4 in 1965-70 to 1.5 in 1990-95. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate fell from 2.75 in 1960-65 to 1.70 in 1990-95. In Europe, the rate fell to 0.16 - that is, effectively zero - in 1990-95. And the annual rate of change in world population fell from 2 percent in 1965-70 to less than 1.5 percent in 1990-95. Official forecasts of eventual world population size have been steadily falling. In 1992-93, the World Bank predicted world population would exceed 10 billion by the year 2050. In 1996, the U.N. predicted 9 billion for 2050. If the trend continues, the next estimate will be lower still.

Overpopulation is a relative term. Over with respect to what? Food? Resources? Living space? The data show that no case can be made for overpopulation with respect to all three variables. Dr. Osterfeld, Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, concludes that although there are now more people in the world than ever before, "by any meaningful measure the world is actually becoming relatively less populated."

From 1900 to 2000, world population grew from 1.6 billion persons to 6.1 billion. However, while world population increased close to 4 times, world real gross domestic product increased 20 to 40 times.

It is true that the world has been experiencing a population increase that began in the eighteenth century. Population rose six-fold in the next 200 years. But this is an increase not explosion because it has been accompanied, and in large part made possible, by a productivity explosion, a resource explosion, a food explosion, an information explosion, a communications explosion, a science explosion, and a medical explosion. The result is that the six-fold increase in world population is dwarfed by the eighty-fold increase in world output during the same 200 year period.

The current overpopulation hysteria began in the sixties, when a Stanford ''scientist'' named Paul Ehrlich wrote a book called The Population Bomb. Just as Jaws frightened millions of people from swimming in the ocean, this book succeeded in scaring people with its prophesies of starvation, death, and destruction. He predicted massive increases in famine, dwindling and expensive natural resources, piles of garbage and waste, and environmental destruction. The exact opposite has occurred. Fewer than half as many people die from famine each year now than a century ago, even though our population has quadrupled. Many of those deaths today are the result of political action by ruthless dictators and not a lack of food. People in third world countries consume more food calories in their daily diet than at any time in history. And the calorie numbers are increasing every year.

Food: The UN Population Division 2001 report, World Population Monitoring 2001, studied the relationship between population growth and development. Contrary to Malthusian doomsday predictions, this U.N Report stated: "From 1900 to 2000, world population grew from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion persons. However, while world population increased close to 4 times, world real gross domestic product (GDP) [actual output of goods and service] increased 20 to 40 times, allowing the world not only to sustain a fourfold population increase but also to do so at vastly higher standards of living."

In 1990, the UNFAO Report on the State of Food and Agriculture estimated that with present technologies fully employed, the world could feed 30 to 35 billion people. Roger Revelle, Director of the Harvard Centre for Population Studies, estimates that the world's agricultural resources are capable of supporting 40 billion people. Indian economist Raj Krishna estimates that India alone is capable of increasing crop yields to the point of providing the entire world's food supply. India, it is worth noting has four times as much arable land per person as Japan and twice as much as Britain.

Natural Resources: The inflation-adjusted market price of every major natural resource has steadily decreased over the last century, and it continues to decrease. Due to developments in waste management, the projected landfill waste for the United States (a relatively massive producer of waste) over the entire next century could be stored in a landfill area only 18 miles on each side. "World Population Monitoring 2001," emphasizes that many of the most dire predictions about the consequences of population growth have proven unfounded, and remain unlikely to occur even if the world population rises to 8.9 billion by 2050.

Population control advocates argue that growth will strip the world of non-renewable resources like oil and minerals, thereby throwing economies into disarray. But, the Population Division report says, "During recent decades new reserves have been discovered, producing the seeming paradox that even though consumption of many minerals has risen, so has the estimated amount of the resource as yet untapped."

So overpopulation will remain as much a myth in the 21st century as it was in the 20th century and the New York Times rightly listed it as "one of the myths of the 20th century" in its January 1, 2000 Millennium Edition

Is overpopulation the cause for poverty and underdevelopment?

Various studies have proved that poverty and underdevelopment has no direct link to population growth per se. The causes of underdevelopment can be both internal and external. Internal causes may include poor political and economic administration, widespread corruption, excessive military budgets combined with inadequate spending on health and education, fratricidal wars, defective markets, entrepreneurial freedom erroneously understood as the right to the unbridled pursuit of profit, violations of the principle of subsidiarity, cultural-historical factors that define norms of behaviour inimical to the pursuit of integral development. To put it simply, the hungry are hungry because they are excluded from the land or cannot earn enough to survive and not because of a natural limit to the amount of food that can be produced. In Latin America, for example, 11% of the population was landless in 1961, by 1975 it was 40%. Approximately 80% of all Third World agricultural land is owned by 3% of landowners.

Externally, less developed nations can be the victims of an inequitable distribution of the world's resources as well as of international trade and financial arrangements, which work against them. IMF and World Bank, which claim to be working to alleviate poverty and assist poorest of the poor, are actually making their lives miserable. Poor countries are often over-burdened by foreign debt and unable to gain affordable access to the technology they need to further the development process. Problems such as these can only be eradicated through the pursuit of social justice, which will enable integral development to occur.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the United States concluded in its 1986 report that it is misleading to equate poverty with population growth per se.

A leading proponent of this view of the population/development nexus was the economic demographer Professor Colin Clark who is credited with the development of the concept of Gross National Product (GNP). Stressing the positive role of population growth in the development process, Clarke used detailed statistical comparisons within and between developing nations to demonstrate a positive relationship between rate of population growth and rate of product growth per head. When he died in September 1989, the London Times paid tribute to Clark's work by saying: "It was the fruit of an independent mind dedicated to the assembly and presentation of measurable facts... He never accepted the pessimistic view of population growth, and at an international symposium in 1963 with a number of eminent authorities present, Clark's contribution to the subject first attracted most fire; but later, the critics were accepting his estimates as the basis for rational discussion."

Another pioneer of this position was Lord Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics. This year he was awarded the Milton Friedman Prize "for the advancement of liberty" but he died suddenly at the age of 85 before he could receive it. He stated that the so-called "population explosion" of the twentieth century "should be seen as a blessing rather than a disaster, because it stems from a fall in mortality, a prima facie improvement in people's welfare."

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the United States concluded in its 1986 report, titled Population Growth and Economic Development, that it is misleading to equate poverty with population growth per se. It found that the claim that population growth led to resource exhaustion was mistaken and it pointed out that to a great extent environmental problems could be resolved by appropriate government policies designed to correct market failure. This study was later confirmed by the Independent Inquiry Report in to Population and Development (IIRPD) commissioned by the Australian Government in 1994. It acknowledged a positive correlation between population growth and sustainable development.

Bangladesh: Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, has argued convincingly that famines in the Third World are not caused by actual food shortages but by institutional failure. For example, he has demonstrated that the Bangladesh famine of 1974 "occurred in a year of greater food availability per head than in any other year between 1971 and 1976." Advocates of population control blame "overpopulation" for poverty in Bangladesh. But the government dominates the buying and processing of jute, the major cash crop, so that farmers receive less for their efforts than they would in a free market. Impoverished farmers flee to the city, but the government owns 40 percent of industry and regulates the rest with price controls, high taxes and unpublished rules administered by a huge, corrupt, foreign-aid dependent bureaucracy. Jobs are hard to find and poverty is rampant. This crowding leads to problems such as sporadic or inefficient food distribution, but this problem is caused by that country's flawed domestic policies.

The Bangladesh famine of 1974 "occurred in a year of greater food availability per head than in any other year between 1971 and 1976."

Ethiopia: Western journalists blamed the Ethiopian famine on "overpopulation," but that was simply not true. The Ethiopian government caused it by confiscating the food stocks of traders and farmers and exporting them to buy arms. That country's leftist regime, not its population, caused the tragedy.

In fact, Africa, beset with problems often blamed on "overpopulation," has only one-fifth

the population density of Europe, and has an unexploited food-raising potential that could feed twice the present population of the world, according to estimates by Roger Revelle of Harvard and the University of San Diego.

The government of the Philippines relies on foreign aid to control population growth, but protects monopolies that buy farmers' outputs at artificially low prices, and sell them inputs at artificially high prices, causing widespread poverty.

China: It is often claimed that poverty in China is the result of "overpopulation." But Taiwan, with a population density five times as great as mainland China's, produces many times as much per capita. The Republic of Korea, with a population density 3.6 times as great as China's, has a per capita output almost 16 times as great. The Malaysian government abandoned population control in 1984, ushering in remarkable economic growth under free market reforms, while Ecuador, Uruguay, Bulgaria and other countries complained at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo that though they had reduced their population growth, they still had deteriorating economies.

The over population myths are handy for the exploiters, giving them a "scientific" excuse for the misery they cause so they can enjoy their blood-money without remorse. Unless a transformation of values occurs that recognises the importance of living as opposed to consuming, the crisis of inequality and poverty will get worse. As Murray Bookchin argues, "If we live in a 'grow-or-die' capitalistic society in which accumulation is literally a law of economic survival and competition is the motor of 'progress,' anything we have to say about population causing the ecological crisis is basically meaningless. Under such a society the biosphere will eventually be destroyed whether five billion or fifty million people live on the planet"

Real Motives

As we have seen above, over-population is a myth and it has no direct link to poverty, development, food scarcity or environment, the question arises what then is the driving force behind the population control campaign.

For an answer we can turn to a London Times article of August 07, 2002, titled "Britain is losing Britain." The fear is that third world migration is quadrupling the rate of Britain's population growth and creating a new city of immigrants the size of Cambridge every six months. This, The Times says, is transforming Britain into "a foreign land, against the wishes of the majority of the population, damaging quality of life and social cohesion, exacerbating the housing crisis and congestion," and burdening the health service to the breaking point." The Times editor writes, "silence is no longer an option." Britain is literally disappearing. In many British cities "you can wander around for hours without seeing a white face, one monoculture having replaced another."

Paul Craig Roberts echoed the feelings in Washington Times: "Demography is destiny. In 1960 people of European stock comprised one-quarter of the world population. Today white people make up one-sixth of the world population. By 2050 people of European descent will comprise only one-tenth of the world population.

The Malaysian government abandoned population control in 1984, ushering in remarkable economic growth under free market reforms.

Whites are shrinking into a minority even within their own countries. Massive uncontrolled legal and illegal immigration, together with collapsing fertility rates of whites everywhere, foretell a vanishing race."

Patrick J. Buchanan told NPQ in an interview that according to his research, "there is not a single Western nation that has a birth-rate today that will enable it to stay alive in its present form after the middle of this century." He expressed his fears frankly in the following words: "The Islamic peoples of North Africa and the Middle East are moving in the hundreds of thousands into Europe every year."

The July 25, 1994 issues of Executive Intelligence Report (EIR) published an article by Hassan Ahmed and Joseph Brewda, titled "UN Genocidalists target Islam." This article quotes Jean-Claude Chesnais, a director of the National Institute for Demographic Studies in Paris, who writes in his 1990 articles: "Europe faces an Islamisation or Africanization as the demographic and economic gap between the two banks of the Mediterranean Sea widens, and people move south to north. Young powers will emerge, basing their strength in large part on their population size and the stimulus it creates, and old powers will fade as their populations decline.''

The contention that power and population size always go together is debatable. In absolute terms, the West's population when it was at its peak was far smaller than it is today. A few thousand Englishmen ran India for over 100 years. Whites ran South Africa for more than three centuries, and so on. Their organization, focus and wealth helped them dominate despite their numbers. Buchanan himself admits, "the correlation between power and population is not absolute".

Nevertheless, this is not enough to comfort their morbid dread of Islam. Buchanan is not satisfied with the military might of the US and its allies when it comes to confrontation with Muslim numbers. He says: "Some European countries used to have million-man armies when their populations were far smaller than they are today. Now, the European Union is having the devil's time of it fielding a Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 men!" He forgets that these days the US and its Allies do not fight with men as much as they fight with missiles and bombs. Afghanistan and Iraq are the recent examples. It is another matter if Buchanan wants to keep Muslim population under the military boots forever.

Flowing from that flawed analysis is the policy of population planning with the aim of controlling the increasing Muslim population. The evidence is Anisa Abd el Fattah's report from Afghanistan. She says: "As the world's nations line up with the US in its 'war against terrorism', another war has also begun. The 'other' war is against Afghan women and children, and is being waged by the infamous United Nations Family Planning Agency (UNFPA). Led by Olivier Brasseur, and overseen by UNFPA executive director Thoraya Obaid, the UNFPA campaign operates under the guise of 'reproductive healthcare' and targets Afghan women in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan." Its long-term goal is to establish a permanent presence in Afghanistan. UNFPA plans to spend about $20 million on abortion services in Afghanistan.

A directory of international population activities published by the U.N. lists one program to "revise source documents on Islam and family planning for theologians and teachers." The U.N. index reveals that the program, targeting Nigeria, had a mid-1980s budget of $30,000 a year. In 1986, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore received $35 million in AID funds to conduct a mass media campaign designed to increase the use of contraceptives in Africa, targeting especially Muslim populations. Of course, this is but one of the countless such examples. A typical project funded by the university on behalf of that program was that carried out in Gambia, whose population is 90% Muslim.

If we divided 6 billion people into average families of four and gave them each a whole acre of land on which to raise food and their families, you can see that the United States could easily hold all of the people in the world with room to spare (Ralph Epperson in his Book The Unseen Hand)

The research team also concluded that the radio program had to "give convincing evidence that Islamic teaching supports the use of modern family planning." "Messages should counter the belief that children are a gift from God," they wrote, and should suggest instead that "God has given us family planning so we can choose to bear only those children we care for." The message should also be made, the team wrote, that while "the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said to have as many children as possible at a time when the world population was small," that this no longer applies. Because Islam ``forbids pregnancy during lactation,'' the report claims, it should be said that "Islam supports family planning." [Islam does not forbid pregnancy during lactation. Ed.]

Hassan Ahmed and Joseph Brewda reveal that a 1986-87 U.N. index lists another project intended to search Islamic writings for "positive aspects of birth-spacing and family planning." Both projects were carried out by the Pathfinder Fund of Boston, founded by an heir to the Procter and Gamble fortune. A June 27, 1986 internal memorandum of the fund, entitled "Working Group on Islam and Family Planning," describes the projects as intended to "explore the feasibility of working with organizations involved in family planning where Islamic attitude and opinion are important to program development and operations."

Regardless of how you view the demographic changes, most men and women with any sense of morality will find it impossible to justify a war on population based on such fears. But according to Stanley K. Monteith, M.D. there are really those who have publicly advocated the elimination of "human weeds" and "the cleansing of society." He refers to organizations, such as Planned Parenthood founded by Margaret Sanger. During the 1930s Margaret Sanger openly supported the Nazi plan for genetic engineering of the German population, and the propagation of a "super race." In Planned Parenthood's 1985 "Annual Report" leaders of that organization proclaimed that they were, "Proud of our past, and planning for our future."

Welcome to World Population Day!