New UN Report Challenges Overpopulation Myth

New York -- A new UN report studying the effects of population growth on the environment provides information that challenges some of the most fundamental assumptions of population control, assumptions used to justify sterilization, abortion and contraception. "World Population Monitoring 2001," prepared by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 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.

The most common argument against population growth is that the earth has a "carrying capacity," a threshold number of humans beyond which civilization will descend into chronic famine, disease, poverty and civil strife. According to the report, however, "Over the period 1961-1998, world per capita food available for direct human consumption increased by 24 per cent, and there is enough being produced for everyone on the planet to be adequately nourished." Also, general advances in technology and industry have resulted in a dramatic growth in average material well-being - "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, allowing the world to not only sustain a four-fold population increase, but also to do so at vastly higher standards of living." The report shows guarded optimism that these trends will continue, and that food production will continue to grow along with the population.

Population control advocates also argue that growth will strip the world of nonrenewable 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."

The latest argument concerns the environmental effects of population growth, including pollution, habitat destruction and the extinction of species. The report contends that population growth may contribute to some of these problems, especially fisheries depletion and water contamination, but "In general, population growth appears to be much less important as a driving force of such problems than is economic growth and technology." Even global warming will be ".mainly due to modes of production, not to the size, growth and distribution of population." Consumption patterns among developed countries with declining populations also have a detrimental impact on the environment.

The report advances no specific policy initiatives, but it emphasizes that population is only one of a number of complex, interrelated issues affecting the environment and human development. When famine occurs, for instance, it can be because "People have inadequate physical and/or economic access to food as a result of poverty, political instability, economic inefficiency and social inequity," not simply because there are too many people.

The report brings into question the ever-constant UN goal of decreasing birth rates worldwide. The Population Division, which makes all UN predictions about population growth, is seen as mostly non-ideological.

Source: Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute; September 7, 2001

Return to the Abortion Information Page.