Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Overpopulation and the Illinois Family Institute

The Illinois Family Institute only occasionally talks about issues that intersect with the things I like to talk about on this blog. Their primary purpose is political, not social, by their own admission, and I don't really want to discuss politics that much in my blog posts. There are better sites for that. However, when they do discuss issues of science, you can rely on them to be wrong. So, when I saw a couple of videos that were filled to the brim with misleading information on overpopulation, I thought it was worth mentioning. I will discuss some of the facts on these videos, and how meaningful they are, below the fold.

Each video has its own justification page, so I’ll start there for The Making of a Myth.

  • Claim: Did Malthus really say to kill off the poor? Yep. Reality: There is a the usual quote mine that does not directly support the contention. Malthus did favor enacting conditions that would increase mortality, but nothing in the quote mine nor the link suggests killing off the poor.
    Claim: Malthus thought doctors shouldn't cure diseases? Reality: Malthus says that if we stop curing diseases, we can marry at puberty and not starve. There was no recommendation offered.
    Did Paul Ehrlich really say that famines would devastate humanity in the 1970s? Reality: while not hundreds of millions, in facts millions did die from famines in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in undeveloped countries. Ehrlich seemed to underestimate the impact of the Green Revolution.
    Claim: The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) was founded in 1969, the year after Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. Reality: Being founded the year after a specific book is published is not evidence the book is a cause. In fact, it’s much more likely the UNFPA’s originators were working independently from the same data.
    Claim: Their complicit work with the infamous "one-child policy" ... led the United States to pull its funding. Reality: The UNPF (name changed in 1987) was funded by Congress in every year of its existence. In some years, Reagan and the Bushes chose to not send the funding of the US to the UNPF.
    Claim: The wealthy of the West, in their terror of poverty, have given copiously to the UNFPA and its population control programs. Reality: There are over 180 nations that fund the UNPF.
    Claim: Every family on this planet could have a house, and a yard, and live together on a land mass the size of Texas Reality: By their own calculations, this living space is slightly less than 33 ft by 33 ft per person. This does not allow for farming, schools, hospitals, work places, streets, sidewalks, places of business, utilities, sewers, parks, etc. The claim is plainly false, we could not live together in such a fashion.
    Claim: The population of the earth will peak in 30 years. Reality: Only under the low-fertility variant option.
    Claim: While they provide Low, Medium, and High Variants, the Low Variant is the one that keeps coming true, so the Low variant numbers are the ones used in this video. Reality: The database being used to assemble the data is from 2008. The Low, Medium, High, and Constant-fertility estimates (which are higher than High) have an identical historical record.

  • Then we can move on to 2.1 Kids: A Stable Population.
    Claim: But even that is assuming that every woman has children, and that there are no effects from famine, war, or disease Reality: No, a rate of 2.1 children per woman who go on to reproduce already incorporates the effects of famine, war, disease, and the choice of some women not to have children.
    Claim: If society does not replace itself every generation, human numbers begin to fall exponentially. Reality: The children of the fecund women will also tend to be fecund, and their numbers will increase while the offspring of other women will decrease, slowing the overall effect of the population decrease. This also leads to cultural change where discouragement of large families is no longer a feature of society.
    Claim: Elderly people retiring begin to outnumber people entering the workplace. Reality: As fewer young people enter the workplace, elderly people tend to keep working for longer periods in their life. While anecdotes are not evidence, my father is 72 and plans to retire in 15 years or so, health permitting. I won’t be retiring before the age of 75, and will probably keep working after that.
    Claim: many societies are facing a danger of extinction. Reality: None of them are.
    Claim: When a population decreases in size, the number of potential mothers also decreases. We say that countries with very low birthrates--like Japan's 1.21 children per woman--are in demographic collapse because each new generation is little more than half the size of the one that preceded it. At this rate, it would take only four generations to reduce the size of population to 10 percent of its initial size. Reality: Based on having one hundred women born from every two hundred and seven live births (a number they use earlier), a replacement rate of 1.21 children per woman give a population of 11.67% of the original, not 10%.
    To offset this decline and restore the population to its initial numbers, each woman would need to have 20 children! Hardly a tenable solution.
    Reality: Offsetting a decline of four generations within one generation would be daunting (although 18 children will be enough to do the trick). However, having 4.25 children per woman replaces the population in only three generations, and 3.55 children will replace it in four.

    While these so-called family groups are harping on the supposed myth of overpopulation, we are seeing fresh water shortages over many parts of the earth, caused by farming in the attempts to feed the burgeoning population. This will not be changed by a couple of cute videos.

    However, some might wonder why these family groups worry so much about what will boil down to the choice of the individuals involved anyhow. Fortunately, you can always count on these groups to explain their motivations. In this case, it’s Muslims. I’m not kidding, they are worried about Muslims taking over Europe. For all their claims that population control advocacy has a racist history, their own real motivation is bigotry. This is not surprising.

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