Recently, the United Nations estimated that the population of Planet Earth had reached eight billion souls. Despite the chatter of the highly subsidized climate doomster complex this is quite an achievement – it certainly indicates that the carrying capacity of our world is much higher than previously thought. Of course, the usual anti-human anti-industrialization crusaders predictably decry this milestone and, implicitly, wish that there were far fewer of us.
Leaving aside whom they would eliminate to meet some sort of ‘ideal’ numerical target that would suit the extreme environmental movement, it bears some consideration what this new, record level does and does not mean. Firstly, it does not mean dire poverty and misery for us all; quite the contrary.
The global economy has grown considerably faster than the population for over a century, now, with some interruptions for wars and recessions. Economies have grown fastest in the poorest nations. This means that the standard of living has improved massively, and nearly everywhere. For example, Bangladesh, a crowded nation which was once synonymous with abject poverty and squalor, has a per capita Gross Domestic Product exceeding that of its neighbours India and Myanmar, and even over its erstwhile oppressor, the former West Pakistan. Even that latter nation is richer than it was fifty years ago. India, previously importing huge quantities of grain to feed itself, now exports rice and wheat to the world while tripling its population over the same period.
The nations that have improved the most are the ones that have allowed the private sector to thrive and grow. Foremost among them is China, which began market liberalization in 1978. It would be nice to say ‘it never looked back’, but there has been some backsliding since 2012, and growth there has slowed down. Also, nearly all China’s neighbours (which it sometimes likes to threaten) have grown much richer, with Vietnam and Singapore as standouts. Chaotic, violent and corrupt nations usually fail.
An illustration of the pessimistic view of extreme environmentalism was a 1980 wager between Julian Simon, a noted economist, and Paul Ehrlich (a famous demographer and ecologist, and author of the book The Population Bomb). Mr. Simon bet Dr. Ehrlich that five commodities would be lower in price in ten years’ time. Simon won. Gloomsters, including today’s, underestimate human ingenuity and the ability to make substitutes or otherwise change products or processes to deal with scarcity or high prices.
In general, the world’s higher living standards arose from the adoption and deployment of technology: computers, data analysis, better agricultural practices and strains of crops, telecommunications (including the Internet), better transport, value-enhancing use of energy (including fossil fuels), improved education, medical advances, and expanded reliable electrical generation grids. All of these advances have one thing in common: all were generated and adopted by people.
Higher population levels have produced more people who solve more problems, making new discoveries that improve technology further while boosting global living standards. Life expectancy on Earth has more than doubled over the past century – this partly from improved infant mortality and from other medical and public health advances extending life.
If it were not for our much longer lives the world’s population would be a lot lower, which would only please the inhumane among us.
Ian Madsen is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy