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The persistent (and dangerous) myth of overpopulation

The persistent (and dangerous) myth of overpopulation

Unsplash/mauro mora

In 1968, Stanford entomologist Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, warning that the earth was overpopulated and that millions of people would starve to death. His doomsday warning did not come true. Starvation has occurred on much smaller scales, due largely to government mismanagement and corruption, not overpopulation.

Yet the myth of overpopulation persists. Ecologist Emma Olliff of the UK based group Population Matters recently said, “More of us is only going to make (the environment) worse.”[1] This kind of reasoning was famously cited by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are choosing to have only two children because of global overpopulation.

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, famed primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall said that human population growth is responsible for most environmental problems.[2] Goodall stated, “All these (environmental) things we talk about wouldn’t be a problem if there was the size of the population that there was 500 years ago.” Apparently, Goodall pines for the good ol’ days when the average life expectancy was around 40 years of age and infant mortality was around 20%.

Human life is not the problem, and human death is not the solution. Since the publication of The Population Bomb, several books have debunked the myth of overpopulation, including The Myth of Over-Population (1969) R.J. Rushdoony, Fewer (2004) by Ben Wattenberg, and Population Control (2008) by Steven Mosher. Governments in Japan, Finland, Italy, and Australia (to name a few) are now paying people to have babies.[3]

Currently, no European country has a population replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman.[4] Globally, many countries are below the replacement rate, including  China (1.7), Brazil (1.7), Canada (1.5), Puerto Rico (1.1), Thailand (1.5), and Chile (1.7).[5]

In 1968, the fear was global starvation. In 2020, humans waste 1.6 billion tons of food at a cost of $1.2 trillion dollars annually.[6] In 1968 the fear was overpopulation. In 2020, under-populated towns and cities are paying people to move there.[7]

Overpopulation is an old myth. Catastrophic predictions about human population and food shortage go back (at least) to nineteenth-century Anglican pastor and economist Thomas Robert Malthus. In his book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus argued that human population would outpace food production. Malthus advocates preventative measures such as family planning, late marriages, and celibacy.

Global overpopulation is not only a myth; it is a dangerous myth. Bernie Sanders recently said that abortion is an important way of addressing global overpopulation.[8]

National Public Radio (NPR) has even reported on the research of journalist Mei Fong, who in her book One Child (2016), estimated that China’s one-child policy led to 30 million forced abortions.[9]

In popular culture, Thanos (of the Marvel Universe) channels his inner Malthus in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, saying, "The universe is finite, its resources finite, if life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist." This is the same faulty logic (and bad theology) peddled by Malthus, Ehrlich, Goodall, and Sanders. Unlike in the Marvel Universe, the “bad guys” aren’t always so easy to spot. 

God created marriage between a man and a woman, commanded human procreation, and placed the family as the primary building block of human flourishing in a world that He equipped to accommodate human growth. He did this, in part by, by creating humans with a capacity to solve problems using science and technology. As global population has grown, standards of living and life expectancy has increased while infant and extreme poverty has decreased.

Ideas have consequences. The idea of overpopulation has resulted in global mass murder. It is a myth that continues to be used to justify both abortion and suicide.[10] Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life should expose the myth of overpopulation for what it often is: A pretext for murder and justification for opposing a biblical view of family and procreation.   










[10] Stuart Youngner and Gerrit Kimsma, Physician-Assisted Death in Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 9.

Adam Groza (Ph.D.) is a Vice President and Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, California. He is the contributing author in Idealism and Christian Philosophy and Marriage in the New Ministry Culture. He also serves on staff at Del Cerro Baptist Church in San Diego, California.