That is why gossip is usually malicious and why,
on a grander scale, prophets of doom are always guaranteed a credulous
audience. Conversely, good news - however well attested - is generally
squeezed in the margins of newspapers.
But at least The Independent found some space to
cover the publication of a report last week by the Institution of Mechanical
Population: One Planet, Too Many People?
- I could find nothing about it in other newspapers.
As the report's lead author, Dr Tim Fox, pointed out, its verdict is not based on speculative guesses about the development of new agricultural processes as yet unknown:
For example, Dr Fox pointed out, in Africa, no less than half the food produced is destroyed before it reaches its local marketplace:
Interestingly, another detailed report on "sustainability" published last week by the French national agricultural and development research agencies came up with the same answer.
The French scientists set themselves the goal of discovering whether a global population of 9 billion, the likely peak according to the UN, could readily have access to 3,000 calories a day, even as farms take measures to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and refrain from cutting down more forests:
Some people will not be so thrilled.
There is an increasingly noisy claque of Malthusians who insist that an "exploding" global population (as they put it) is going to lead to disaster - from Boris Johnson to Joanna Lumley, not to mention Jeremy Irons and prince Charles.
For example, last weekend The Independent published a lengthy interview with the Bermuda-based philanthropist James Martin, who has given Oxford University $125m to set up a forecasting institute in his name.
Mr Martin's own forecast is that,
Martin sounds uncannily like Paul Ehrlich, the secular saint of the neo-Malthusian movement.
Back in the 1970s, Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb became a global best-seller on the back of his forecast that by the end of the century even the United States would be enduring mass famine and that there was no better than a 50 per chance of anyone remaining alive in Great Britain by the year 2000.
You might have thought that events would have discredited Ehrlich as a forecaster, but he is still constantly cited as an authority by the population control freaks, and is himself remarkably unbothered by the fact that agricultural techniques had rapidly developed in a way which he was unable to envisage.
Asked in 2000 about his prediction of a wipe-out of the UK by famine, he replied:
If his original forecast had merely been that,
One reason why the population doomsters have come out in force in recent weeks is that, according to the UN Population Division, this year will see the number of living inhabitants hit the figure of 7 billion.
Or according to an imaginative piece of global palm-reading by The Guardian:
Or it might not; but we get the drift: lacking only the prognosticated presence of three wise men from the East, this is a Big Moment.
It's also not a bad moment, either for the
parents (they'll probably be delighted it's a boy) or for the planet. While
the misanthropic Malthusians will gloomily see his arrival as just "another
mouth to feed", he might more charitably be seen as another human whose
ingenuity, creativity and intellect can be of benefit to the world.
This year National Geographic magazine is making population its theme; but its lengthy opening essay was notable for its lack of alarmism.
It quoted Hania Zlotnik, the director of the UN's Population Division, saying:
The most fashionable of all arguments for some sort of global anti-natalist legislation comes in the form of professed concern for the atmosphere - too many people produce too much CO2, thus damaging the planet via climate change. The Malthusians have seized on this as grist to their mill, having been refuted on every other argument.
Yet Joel Cohen, the professor of populations at Columbia University's Earth Institute, told National Geographic:
Apart from anything else, the developed world, which uses vastly more energy per capita than sub-Saharan Africa (the only part of the globe with high fertility rates), is going through a period of rapid demographic decline.
As Matt Ridley, the author of
The Rational Optimist, pointed out last
week, the world's population is not "exploding" but growing at 1 per cent a
year, and the actual number of people added to the figure each year has been
dropping for more than 20 years.
In A.D. 200, Tertullian wrote:
Of course, the resources of the planet are not,
in the purely mathematical sense, infinite; but neither is the population.
They've been wrong for so long.
Why stop now?