3/08/2006

From Population Bomb to Empty Cradle

Touchstone has run an article in its March issue on The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, the massively influential (and massively wrong) 1960's book predicting that an exploding world population would be causing mass starvation by now. The author seems to have been freaked out by the baby boom, and done his extrapolations based on that. But he also didn't account for advances in agriculture which have dramatically improved yield.

Apparently the book is also really critical of the Catholic Church's stance against contraception. The Population Bomb and Humanae Vitae were released at almost the same time, and Ehrlich accuses John Paul II of contributing to the future mass starvation of billions of people. History seems to have vindicated John Paul II.

This whole issue really interests me because the reversal from Population Bomb to Empty Cradle has happened in the last few years. Emily and I can still remember growing up in a world that looked down on our parents for having large families. It would be a mistake, of course, to make a lot of crazy prophecies of doom. World population is not in trouble now and likely never will be. But Europe, Russia, Japan, and several other countries are in very real danger of losing their cultural identity, because the only thing that appears capable of sustaining their population (and their welfare systems) is massive immigration.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Mankind has never before been in such control of his reproduction, and it makes me wonder: are men so inherently selfish that, given the choice, they will breed themselves out of existence for an extra boat or RV? The only thing so far that seems capable of motivating people who have access to contraception to reproduce above replacement level is religious belief (Mel Gibson has 7 children. How many does Richard Dawkins have?). I have to admit, it brings a smile to my face to think that secularists may actually be removed from the gene pool by natural selection. John Paul II has called this culture the culture of death, and that may prove to be true in the most literal sense, as its rejection of the life-affirming act of procreation chokes it out of existence.

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