Posts tagged with: population

overpopulation1In 1865, W. Stanley Jevons predicted that with coal reserves of 90 billion tons, England would run out within 100 years. Today, the country has between three trillion and 23 trillion ton, enough to last Britain for centuries.

In 1914, the Bureau of Mines fretted that with a total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels, the U.S. only had about a ten-year supply of oil. Today, a hundred years later, we’re estimated to have 36 billion barrels left in the ground.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted that because of an inability to produce enough food, hundreds of millions of people would starve in the 1970s. Instead, the population has doubled—from 3.5 to 7 billion—and the number of famine victims from 1970-2015 combined is less than in the 1960s.

Each time experts predicted a decline in natural resources would be detrimental to population growth. And each time history proved the experts wrong.

Yet despite this history, modern scientists are still more pessimistic about population growth than the general public, according to a pair of 2014 Pew Research Center surveys.

ehrlichIn a new mini-documentary, the New York Times kindly confirms what we already know about Paul Ehrlich. His predictions about overpopulation have been astoundingly wrong, and his views about humanity are no less perverse.

Author of the famous panic manifesto, Population Bomb, Ehrlich made a name for himself by predicting mass starvation and catastrophe due to over-population. If left to our own devices, Ehrlich argued, we unruly beasts will feast and gorge and reproduce ourselves into an oblivion. His solution? Targeted starvation, abortion, and sterilization of the “selfish” and unenlightened. If the Earth is to endure, we must pay the price for humanity’s ultimate transgression: existence.

The documentary summarizes these views quite well, and includes a series of striking interviews with former disciples who have since rejected his theories. As for Ehrlich, he remains steadfast in his doubts about human value and possibility. “My language would be even more apocalyptic today,” he says. (more…)

This is a bit second-hand (a source drawing from another source), but I still think the following tidbit on the modern history of clergy and scientific and technological development and discovery in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile is notable:

Knowledge formation, even when theoretical, takes time, some boredom, and the freedom that comes from having another occupation, therefore allowing one to escape the journalistic-style pressure of modern publish-and-perish [sic, probably intentionally] academia to produce cosmetic knowledge, much like the counterfeit watches one buys in Chinatown in New York City, the type that you know is counterfeit although it looks like the real thing. There were two main sources of technical knowledge and innovation  in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the hobbyist and the English rector….

An extraordinary proportion of work came out of the rector, the English parish priest with no worries, erudition, a large or at least comfortable house, domestic help, a reliable supply of tea and scones with clotted cream, and an abundance of free time. And, of course, optionality [i.e. freedom from intellectual strictures and the ability to change one’s mind based on new discoveries]. The enlightened amateur, that is. The Reverends Thomas Bayes (as in Bayesian probability) and Thomas [Robert] Malthus (Malthusian overpopulation) are the most famous. But there are many more surprises cataloged in Bill Bryson’s Home, in which the author found ten times more vicars and clergymen leaving recorded traces for posterity than scientists, physicists, economists, and even inventors. In addition to the previous two giants, I randomly list contributions by country clergymen: Rev. Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom, contributing to the Industrial Revolution; Rev. Jack Russel bred the terrier; Rev. William Buckland was the first authority on dinosaurs; Rev. William Greenwell the foremost authority on spiders; Rev. George Garrett invented the submarine; Rev. Gilbert White was the most esteemed naturalist of his day; Rev. M. J. Berkeley was the top expert on fungi; Rev. John Michell helped discover Uranus; and many more. Note that … the list of visible contribution by hobbyists and doers is most certainly shorter than the real one, as some academic might have appropriated the innovation by his predecessor.


7figuresEach year the International Bulletin of Missionary Research lays out in summary form an annual update of significant religious statistics. Here are seven sets of figures based on their latest report:

1. Global population by religion: Christians – 2.38 billion; Muslims – 1.7 billion; Hindu – 1 billion; atheists – 136 million; Jews – 14 million.

2. Membership by 6 ecclesiastical megablocs: Catholics – 1.2 billion; Protestants – 441 million; Independents – 407 million; Orthodox – 280 million; Anglicans – 92 million; Unaffiliated Christians – 110 million.

3. Number of Christians by 6 continents, 21 UN regions: Africa (5 regions) – 520 million; Asia (4 regions) – 368 million; Europe (including Russia; 4 regions) – 561 million; Latin America (3 regions) – 562 million; Northern America (1 region) – 229 million; Oceania (4 regions) – 25 million.

4. Christian organizations: Denominations – 45,000; Congregations – 4.7 million; Service agencies – 30,000; Foreign-mission sending agencies – 5,000.

5. Christian finance (in US$, per year): Personal income of church members – $35 trillion; Giving to Christian causes – $626 billion; Churches’ income – $249 billion; Parachurch and institutional income – $377 billion.

6. Scripture distribution (all sources, per year): Bibles – 80 million; Scriptures including gospels, selections – 5 billion; Bible density (copies in place) – 1.8 billion.

7. World evangelization: Unevangelized population – 2.1 billion; Unevangelized as % of world: 29.2 percent.

The Transom links today to a piece about how Proctor & Gamble is ramping up product lines aimed at older adults. “The flip side of the low birthrate is we’re all living longer,” said corporate exec Tom Falk.

In fact, the global trend over the last two hundred years has been toward longer lives and fewer babies. This trend really gathered momentum in just the last half-century or so. Consider this short video I put together for a talk at last month’s Acton University.

The two axes correspond to fertility (horizontal) and life expectancy (vertical). So in the bottom right we are having more children and shorter lives, while in the upper left we are having fewer children and living longer. Each of the countries in the world is represented by a circle, whose size is determined by size of population. Each region is also color coded.

What you’ll see as we move forward through the last two centuries is a gradual shift toward the upper left, which turns into a rush after about 1950. There are a few lagging countries in Africa, which still are moving toward the upper left, just a bit more slowly. Watch it again, and note the brief drops in life expectancy corresponding to each of the twentieth-century world wars.

Where we start in 1800 was just about where humans have been for recorded history: short lives and lots of kids. Now within the last 50 years we’ve seen a monumental shift that really is unprecedented on a global scale. Think for a few minutes about the complex causes of this shift and the massive changes in social, political, and economic dynamics that undergird it and also flow out of it.

We really have never seen its like before.

7figuresLast week the Census Bureau released a report on demographic changes in the United States. The median age declined in seven states between 2012 and 2013, including five in the Great Plains, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. 

“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms,” Census Bureau Director John Thompson said. “The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s.”

Here are seven figures you should know from the latest report:

Since the era of Adam Smith economists have been asking, “What creates wealth?” One key answer is specialization and trade. On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries.

As economist Don Boudreaux explains, without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time—after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?