God’s first commandment to the human race was to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue (or have dominion over) the earth. We have certainly multiplied! But have we yet ‘filled the earth’? Have we gone too far? Have we multiplied too much? Is the current population level sustainable?The population of the world dramatically increased in the 20th century. Some people believe that this is a major cause of poverty – but the facts do not support this and I don’t believe this to be true.
When the world’s population was small, virtually everybody lived in a state which we would now describe as extreme poverty. As the population of the world has grown so too has the number of people living in poverty. But the percentage terms, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has actually reduced! (From 90+% in 1800, 50% in 1982, to 25% now)
The World Food Programme has calculated that there is enough food currently produced for every single person in the world to be well fed! The amount of food produced has always increased in line with population increases. The amount of land needed to produce the food has in fact decreased as more modern forms of farming are used. Someone has calculated that the continent of Africa has enough cultivable land, which if used efficiently, could feed the whole world!
The main causes of poverty and hunger are:
- War and conflict
- Famine and undernourishment
- Natural disasters
- Oppression and injustice towards the poor
Please note that overpopulation is not one of the reasons for poverty. The dangers of overpopulation have been grossly over-stated and have their root cause in fear and in racism.
The world’s population is now about 7 billion people and has been growing at about 1 billion people every 15 years. The United Nations Population Division estimate that the population growth is slowing down and if current trends persist the growth in world population will level off around about 2045 at around 8 billion people. After 2045 the population of the world should start reducing and by about the year 2085 we should be back to 7 billion people like today.
Why is the population growth slowing down? it all depends on the “Global Total Fertility Rate”, which is the average number of children born to women throughout the world. Sometime back this figure was about 5 children per woman, but the figure has been steadily reducing and is now approaching 2. As it approaches the population growth reduces and if it falls below 2 then population decreases.
It is clear that as a country becomes more prosperous the fertility rate reduces. In the above table this is obviously true for the United States and the UK. It is also true of India and China. For most African countries the fertility rate remains high but is this area of the world which remains mostly affected by extreme poverty.
Why does prosperity bring about a reduction in the fertility rate? In the past, people wanted larger families for 2 reasons. The infant mortality rate was so high that the only way to be sure some children survived was to have more children. Also, parents were dependent on the children, particularly sons, to look after them in old age.
But larger families are at greater financial drain on the family. So, as more children survived childhood diseases it became less necessary to have many children. Smaller families become more prosperous, and as people see that, they will be imitated. Overpopulation does not cause poverty.
Poverty is caused by war, famine and disease not by overpopulation. But a decrease in poverty does result in a smaller population!
Much of the material in this article comes from overpopulationisamyth.com