by James R. Harrigan
and Phillip W. Magness
James R. Harrigan is Managing Director of the Center for
Philosophy of Freedom at the University of Arizona, and
the F.A. Hayek Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation
for Economic Education.
Phil W. Magness is a Senior Research Fellow at the
American Institute for Economic Research. He is the
author of numerous works on economic history, taxation,
economic inequality, the history of slavery, and
education policy in the United States.
On the 40th anniversary of the first world climate
conference in 1979, the journal Bioscience published the
ominously titled "World
Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency."
Warning begins, "have a moral obligation to clearly warn
humanity of any catastrophic threat and to 'tell it like it is.'
On the basis of this
obligation… we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist
signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally
that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency."
emergency, the Warning continued, will require a stunning
"the world population
must be stabilized - and, ideally, gradually reduced."
The Warning itself
might have gone the way of most academic editorializing, but the
11,000 "scientists" who added their names and reputations to the
effort caught the public imagination.
The press picked it up
and everyone was off to the races. Right until people started
looking at the credentials of the more than 11,000 signatories.
The list (Alliance
of World Scientists Signatories) includes shockingly few
It does include people
who describe themselves as,
...though... And those
were drawn just from people with last names beginning with 'A'.
Critics had a field day
with this, but they had more fun with signatories Mickey Mouse
and Albus Dumbledore, who also signed on.
That 11,000 academics of any description would sign off this sort of
thing is what's most telling, and most damning.
What do the 11,000
efficiency and conservation practices"
...among other things,
all with the goal of bringing about,
transformations in the way our global society functions."
Is that all...?
Their set of recommendations follows almost perfectly from a strange
obsession economists have had for over two centuries, which holds
the threat of,
imperils humanity's very existence.
In past variants, this
threat entailed resource depletion that would supposedly condemn
most of the world to misery and starvation. Today's scientists have
adapted identical reasoning to climate change.
In each instance,
scholars claiming the mantle of scientific expertise have
enlisted apocalyptic fears of a coming "population crisis" to
advance sweeping programs of social engineering as a way to alter
But curiously, the
predicted population catastrophe never comes.
We are simply
expected to 'believe' that, for some reason, this time things
are different even if the prescription is the same.
The root of this idea
traces to eighteenth-century economist
Thomas Malthus, who began with
a simple, intuitively plausible observation:
the population of
human beings expands at a faster rate than food production
increases, ensuring that the typical person's quality of life
ultimately decreases to the point of misery as a result.
He was so persuasive on
this count that the process became known as the "Malthusian
While Malthus's religiosity constrained him from taking this
intuition to its full prescriptive end, his followers in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries attempted to mechanize a
"scientific" solution by enlisting the powers of the state to
socially plan and control population rates.
Before his name became synonymous with his macroeconomic diagnosis
of the Great Depression, the British economist
John Maynard Keynes attained
fame as one of the world's most prominent neo-Malthusians.
"There is no more
important object of deliberate state policy," Keynes wrote in
1924, "than to secure a balanced budget of population."
Indeed, Keynes prescribed
population control as a "solution" to the underlying political
causes of World War I, to the Soviet Union's food and political
crises, and even to the economic malaise of interwar Germany.
In a heretofore unpublished speech given before the Malthusian
League in London in 1927, Keynes contended that a proper
population policy must not only achieve population stability but
continue to maintain and cultivate a population of a certain
character after the growth pattern had been reversed.
At first he spoke of
birth control, but almost seamlessly slipped into the
pseudoscience of hereditary social planning known as
"Within our own
lifetime," Keynes predicted, "the population of [Great Britain]
will cease to increase and will probably diminish."
logic to its end, Keynes thought this both good and necessary, even
if the nations of the earth,
"are now faced with a
greater problem, which will take centuries to solve."
"I believe that for
the future the problem of population will emerge in the much
greater problem of heredity and Eugenics."
As a scribbled line on
his notes further acknowledged,
"Quality must become
What we needed to address
the Malthusian catastrophe, according to Keynes, was,
a smaller and
"better" population, cultivated by "the powerful weapon of the
preventive check" and administered through a state-directed
This is the ugly
intellectual heritage - and hubris - behind today's population
planners in the climate activist movement. Because this time, they
tell us, it's 'different'...
But it would have to be,
because when Malthus penned his original prediction more than 95
percent of the world's population of one billion lived in extreme
That population has grown
more than seven fold, but only about one third of it lives in
extreme poverty today.
catastrophe never came.
Instead, we got
growing wealth and comfort on a global scale, a process that
Yet according to the
11,000 signatories, a new Malthusian tipping point is approaching.
This time the cause is
not impoverishing resource depletion itself, but the belief that too
many people are enjoying the fruits of prosperity.
affordable and accessible transportation, and even the
consumption of meat are recast from signs of unprecedented
global prosperity and into "strains" on the climate.
The sky is falling
now, and once again governments must turn to seldom-elaborated forms
of social engineering aimed at reducing the global birth rate.
And here is where the
pedigree of the 11,000 matters...
They urge us to
uproot nearly the entirety of human life using an argument that
has never, in over 200 years, been correct.
And they are
absolutely unqualified as a group to do so.
The ever present danger
is that politicians will take cover behind them and their bad
ideas, which is not at all a far-fetched concern.
'Presidential' candidate Bernie Sanders, in a recent town
hall meeting on climate change, went right back to the same
In response to a question
on global overpopulation he said that women,
"in the United
States… have a right to control their own bodies and make
The Mexico City
agreement, which denies American aid to those organizations
around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get
involved in birth control, to me is totally absurd."
Such measures, he
continued, were needed,
"especially in 'poor'
A candidate for the
presidency of the United States thinks,
it is absurd that the
American people should be cautious in inflicting schemes of
population control on impoverished nations...
What he means but will
not say is that,
he thinks Keynes was
He thinks that we, in
the developed West, need to decide how many and what kind of
people should be born in less developed countries.
Because this time