The experts are always wrong: A declining population leads to economic stagnation, upending 50 years of environmental wisdom and invalidating global warming models all at once

Two new studies show how the infamous population bomb goes bust, negative growth makes the world more likely to end in a long, slow, pathetic whimper, and almost every single climate model should be retracted, but I’m not holding my breath…

In 1968, Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich kicked off the modern era of Malthusian overpopulation fears by publishing the best-selling The Population Bomb.  Professor Ehrlich predicted that increasing population would lead to worldwide famine as soon as the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The answer was immediate steps to limit population growth.

Professor Ehrlich described a nightmare scenario.  “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”

“What needs to be done?” Ehrlich speculated, “We must rapidly bring the world population under control, reducing the growth rate to zero or making it negative. Conscious regulation of human numbers must be achieved.”

He continued to describe several nightmarish, fascist, tyrannical scenarios to achieve those ends, considering everything from “temporary sterilants” in the water to incentives for men to permanently sterilize.  The US would, of course, have to take the lead and reduce its population first and fastest (sound familiar to the plans for global warming?).

To do so, Ehrlich recommended a Department of Population and Environment, “set up with the power to take whatever steps are necessary to establish a reasonable population size in the United States and to put an end to the steady deterioration of our environment.”

There was a whiff of misogyny along with the tyranny:  He wanted to improve our ability to identify the sex of a fetus in the womb to better permanently sterilize people after the first born male child.

Professor Ehrlich wasn’t alone in his beliefs.

The book was a best seller and other scientists got on board like John Holdren, a professor at both Harvard and University of California, Berkeley, who would ultimately go on to become President Barack Obama’s “science czar.”

The Obama White House website described the role, “Dr. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).”

Back in 1969, however, Professor Holdren co-wrote an article with Professor Ehrlich urging, “if the population control measures are not initiated immediately, and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come.”  By 1973, Holdren was advocating for population shrinkage in the US because “210 million now is too many and 280 million in 2040 is likely to be much too many.”

For the record, the population in the US is now almost 330 million, and average life expectancy, living standards, etc. are all near record highs.

Despite being repeatedly, spectacularly wrong in every conceivable fashion and recommending tyrannical solutions to problems that don’t exist, Holdren has been showered with awards.

These include the MacArthur Fellow (1981), Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1983), Fellow of the American Physical Society (1988), Member of the National Academy of Sciences (1991), Volvo Environment Prize (1993 with Paul Ehrlich), Kaul Foundation Award in Science and Environmental Policy (1999), Member of the National Academy of Engineering (2000), Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2000), 7th Annual Heinz Award in Public Policy (2001), and the Lawrence S. Huntington Environmental Prize (2017).

The question becomes: How could educated, credentialed, and awarded experts like Holdren, Ehrlich, and their ilk be so spectacularly wrong each and every time?

The answer is actually pretty simple:  They refuse to understand and accept the near endless innovation supported by a free, growing, robust society.  They view people as the problem, not the solution.

This lack of understanding is nicely illustrated by a famous bet Holdren and Ehrlich made with an economics professor, Julian Simon.  In 1980, Ehrlich claimed that “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”  Simon responded by challenging his assumptions.  He offered to stake $10,000 on his belief that “the cost of non-government-controlled raw materials (including grain and oil) will not rise in the long run.”

Ultimately, Simon agreed to let Ehrlich choose any raw material plus a date at least a year in the future, and he would wager that the price would decrease in inflation adjusted dollars. Ehrlich selected the metals copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten. The end date was set ten years later on September 29, 1990.

Ehrlich lost big time, all five of the metals declined in price despite the population increasing by more than 800 million people.  The price of tin in particular was cut in half.

Two recent works reveal Holdren and Ehrlich were even more wrong than it seemed at the time.

First, a study released in July by The Lancet projected that the global population was in danger of declining, not spiralling out of control. The study was conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, predicting that the global population will start shrinking in 2065.

The authors believe that the total fertility rate in 2050 would be below replacement level in 151 countries, another 183 would start declining by 2100.  “23 countries in the reference scenario, including Japan, Thailand, and Spain, were forecasted to have population declines greater than 50% from 2017 to 2100; China’s population was forecasted to decline by 48%.”

The study concludes, “Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth. A sustained TFR lower than the replacement level in many countries, including China and India, would have economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences. Policy options to adapt to continued low fertility, while sustaining and enhancing female reproductive health, will be crucial in the years to come.”

Second, a paper published in October by Professor Charles Jones of Stanford University’s King Center on Global Development warns of the end of economic growth as a result of a declining population:

“In many models, economic growth is driven by people discovering new ideas.  These models typically assume either a constant or growing population. However, in high income countries today, fertility is already below its replacement rate:  women are having fewer than two children on average. It is a distinct possibility…that global population will decline rather than stabilize in the long run. In standard models, this turns out to have profound implications: rather than continued exponential growth, living standards stagnate for a population that vanishes.”

Professor Jones notes, “Other things equal, a larger population means more researchers which in turns leads to more new ideas and to higher living standards.”  

Put simply:  More people produce more innovative ideas that ultimately benefit everyone.  The population bomb is generally a good thing:  Human ingenuity and invention will offset the problems of an increasing population, but if either slows, the entire population will suffer.

Professor Jones concludes, “When population growth is negative, both endogenous and semiendogenous growth models produce what we call an Empty Planet result: knowledge and living standards stagnate for a population that gradually vanishes.”

This line of thinking runs completely counter to Holdren and Ehrlich.  They believe, implicitly, that people are the problem.  The Global Warming alarmists also think this way.

The Center for Biological Diversity reports, “People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.”

Likewise, PopulationsMatters.org warns that, “If we are to succeed in preventing the worst effects of climate change, we must take action to address population size.”

Unfortunately, most climate models predicting massive rises in temperature aren’t using the latest data on population growth.

Dennis Trewin, a statistical consultant in Australia, analyzed the data and concluded:  “The population growth rate assumptions used in the climate change models reflect the growth rates of 20 years ago not those of today. During this time, global population growth has decreased from 2.5% per annum to 1.2% per annum.”

For example, the UN predicts the world population could swell to 10.9 billion by 2100, up from approximately 7.8 billion today.  PopulationMatters.org uses estimates of around 11.3 billion.  Either way, The Lancet study referenced above put the figure at 6.29 to 6.88 billion, meaning the global warming models are baking in somewhere over 3 billion more people emitting carbon.

The differential is huge.  The average carbon footprint per person is around 4 tons.  That’s at least 12 billion more tons of carbon used in the models than the latest studies indicate.

Translation:  They are intentionally cooking the books.  To get anywhere close to the nightmare scenarios of out of control warming, you need two things that simply aren’t happening.  First, a continued increase in carbon usage in the developed world.  Total emissions are actually declining.  Second, a continued increase in the population. Growth is slowing and expected to start declining.

These two factors completely invalidate the current climate models and predictions, but don’t expect them to retract their studies and demands anytime soon.  As we have seen, a belief that people are in fact the problem has been an implicit part of the environmentalist worldview for at least 50 years.

They were wrong then.  They are wrong now.  The result of continuing to trust them will be catastrophic.  We should instead place our trust in human ingenuity, innovation, and growth.

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