Using Our Heads: Solving Human Overpopulation

The solution to human overpopulation and increased strain on nonrenewable resources may lie in human ingenuity, as it has in the past.


| November 2015



Axe

People have been using intellect to solve environmental problems since prehistory, and we still have the ability to adapt to changing conditions today.

Photo by Fotolia/polygraphus

Ronald Bailey takes another look at environmental doom in The End of Doom (St. Martin’s Press, 2015). Without denying that ecological problems exist, he argues that human ingenuity has found solutions to every previous problem we faced — and steadfastly believes that we will find solutions to contemporary challenges. From man-made global warming to human overpopulation and overuse of nonrenewable resources, Bailey proposes that the solutions we need lie in innovation. The following excerpt is from the introduction.

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A little over two decades ago, I wrote a book, Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse, in which I looked closely at prevalent and generally accepted predictions of imminent planetary-scale environmental dooms. I analyzed the psychological appeal of doom, how predictions of disaster function as a political technique aimed at frightening people into handing over power to self-selected elites who want to enact drastic transformations in social and economic institutions. As I explained in my introduction twenty-two years ago, I was initially fascinated by these prophecies of global catastrophe because I had believed them.

Why? Because I had read and absorbed the messages of the classics of ideological environmentalism — Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, and The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind — and believed that I and all of my fellow human beings were headed straightaway into a hopelessly bleak and hellish future. Synthetic chemicals were poisoning the natural world and human bodies. Overpopulation would soon outstrip the ability of farmers to grow enough food, and hundreds of millions would die in massive famines in the 1970s. And the world would shortly run out of oil and other nonrenewable resources, thus crashing modern civilization well before the year 2000.


More on global warming and population issues

Enough is Enough
Bill McKibben: The Climate Change Crisis Needs a Movement
Preparing for a Beautiful End


Two decades after these and other dire predictions had been made, I noticed that we were still here and that civilization had not collapsed. Not only that, but people were actually living longer and healthier lives, famine had been held at bay, and the world was becoming more prosperous, not less. Naturally I was pleased that I was alive and that the dire environmentalist predictions had evidently not come true. At the time, I was a staff writer at Forbes magazine, where I conceived of a project in which I would go back and reread the classic prophecies of doom. I would write a series of articles after I interviewed their authors to see what they had to say about their prognostications. Obviously I couldn’t talk with Rachel Carson, since she had died in 1964, but Ehrlich and the folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who had devised the computer program at the heart of the resource projections in The Limits to Growth were still around.