Bemoaning human fecundity has been in vogue at least since 1798, when Thomas Malthus wrote his famous essay arguing that since people multiply faster than the food supply, more babies eventually mean more starvation and misery.
Malthus was wrong (as he later acknowledged), but two centuries later neo-Malthusian misanthropy is as fashionable as ever. A report published this week by the Optimum Population Trust, a British think tank, recommends population reduction as the "most effective" strategy to prevent climate change. "The greatest thing anyone . . . could do to help the future of the planet," suggests OPT co-chairman John Guillebaud, "would be to have one less child."...Since 1950, the world's population has soared by more than 150 percent. Yet food has become so abundant that global food prices (in real terms) have plunged 75 percent. Over the past generation, chronic undernourishment in poor countries has been slashed from 37 percent to 17 percent, while in the United States, staples such as potatoes and flour have dropped in price (relative to income) by more than 80 percent.
Or take infant mortality. Before industrialization, children died before reaching their first birthday at a rate exceeding 200 per 1,000 live births, or more than one in five. "In the United States as late as 1900," Goklany writes, "infant mortality was about 160; but by 2004 it had declined to 6.6." In developing countries, the fall in mortality rates began later, but is occurring more quickly. In China, infant mortality has plunged from 195 to below 30 in the past 50 years.
Life expectancy? From 31 years in 1900, it was up to 66.8 worldwide in 2003.
Health? We are more likely to be disease-free today than our forebears were a century ago. And the onset of chronic illness has been significantly delayed -- by nearly eight years for cancer, nine years for heart diseases, and 11 years for respiratory diseases.