"Overpopulation is a fairytale"



Daniel Scholaster, IDEA

Crowded shopping street in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Photo ANP, Ramon van Flymen

For more than 200 years, scholars, scientists and politicians have debated whether there are too many people on the Earth. Is overpopulation actually a fact or just a theory? IDEA editor Daniel Scholaster did some research and spoke to experts.

Recently, newspapers reported that the 8 billionth human had been born. However, the discussion about the world's real or supposed "overpopulation" has been going on for a long time. The Anglican pastor and economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) already warned about this. In his "Treatise on the Population Law" from 1798, he recommended drastic, downright inhuman measures. For example, welfare for the poor must be abolished to reduce the number of people.

Although Malthus's theses were widely disseminated, in the 19th century, too, children were mostly seen as a blessing for society. In the 20th century, population growth reached a new high. In 1972, the "Club of Rome" published the report "The Limits to Growth". The influential think tank warned that if the world's population continues to grow unchecked, the resources on planet Earth will soon be exhausted. That is why this growth must be stopped.


Most churches to this day take the opposite stance. Children are seen as a gift from God. Therefore, their conception or even birth should not be prevented. Many churches thus reject artificial methods of contraception. These include condoms, birth control pills, copper IUDs and sterilisation.

Natural anticonception is considered a moral alternative in many churches. Couples pay attention to the woman's fertile days and live abstinently during this time. The advantage is that the woman's hormone balance is not affected by the birth control pill. At the same time, it is ruled out that an already fertilised egg cell cannot implant itself in the uterus. This effect can occur with some artificial contraceptives.


One person who cannot understand the official position of his church is the Catholic theologian and economist Joachim Wiemeyer. He teaches as a professor of Christian social theory at the Ruhr University Bochum. Wiemeyer has been demanding for some time that Pope Francis reconsider his position on artificial contraception. The warnings of the "Club of Rome" are justified, Wiemeyer said. The rapid population growth in some parts of the world also leads to wars and unrest. This has been shown many times in history.

For example, Wiemeyer points to the Japanese Empire, which suffered towards the end of the 19th century from being unable to feed its growing population adequately. That is why it pursued an expansive policy that was partly responsible for the Second World War. After its end, however, the Japanese government radically changed its course and opted for a reduction in the population through easier access to artificial contraceptives. This has contributed to the impressive economic growth recorded in the country since then. "They can look after and educate the smaller number of children better because, for example, smaller classes are formed."

However, other states have resorted to much more brutal measures to slow down their population growth. China, for example, has enforced its extended, rigorously pursued one-child policy by carrying out forced abortions. Wiemeyer also rejects such an approach. On the other hand, he considers the regulation applicable in Germany reasonable.


Christian development aid also considers that the population in the countries where it is deployed is growing. From the point of view of Ingrid Jacobsen, a consultant for food security at the aid organisation "Bread for the World", there is no global resource problem but a "distribution problem". Malthus' theses have long since been refuted by the course of world history. People are always finding new ways to feed themselves.

Problems arising from the economic imbalance between the global North and South can be solved. The work advocates unrestricted access to contraceptives. That is very important, according to Jacobsen, but it does not solve the poverty problem. "In any case, their availability must be improved." The decisive factor is "that women can say no if they are to be married very young or do not want to become pregnant". Unintentionally pregnant women should be given all the support they need.

However, the organisation firmly rejects forced abortions as a means of population control. Instead, it is committed to improving access to education, especially for girls and women. Promoting gender equality, education and health is the most effective measure of an appropriate population policy, Jacobsen says. Her conclusion: "It's not the number of people that matters, but their lifestyle."


The Christian children's aid organisation World Vision also considers the idea of an "overpopulation" of the Earth to be dubious. The health officer at the association, Stefan Sengstmann, emphasises that the world and individual countries still have enough space and resources to care for significantly more people. Already, more than 1.5 times as much food is being produced as is necessary to feed everyone. Nevertheless, it is essential to support small farmers in developing countries to better prepare themselves for the effects of global warming. "The main thing is to choose alternative cultivation methods. Because monocultures are more susceptible to climate change."

World Vision is also committed to family planning. Families should decide for themselves how many children they want to have. "We know family planning is crucial for women's health since pregnancies that are too close together are very risky." That's why the organisation also supports the use of modern contraceptives. "Abortions, which we only consider justifiable in exceptional cases such as rape or danger to the mother's life, are expressly not part of family planning for us."


Christoph-Samuel Rottmann has experienced the effects of strong population growth on site. He has worked for the Christian development service Co-workers in Burundi for three months and previously lived in Uganda for six years. There he saw how the land plots became smaller due to the division of inheritance. At some point, they no longer sufficed to provide for a family. More and more forest areas are being cleared to make room for growing crops. As a result, large parts of the country became desertified. In Uganda and Burundi, more and more people are suffering from hunger.

However, the problem is not the growing population but the use of the available resources in these countries. Those who own the land often exploit the poorer classes. This injustice also impacts a global level: "We Europeans often point the finger at Africans who allegedly have too many children. But at the same time, our way of doing business ensures that the local producers hardly have enough to live on." Anyone in Europe who wants to do something about poverty in Africa should therefore buy fairtrade products. This can help to improve the situation. Rottmann advises local smallholders to use their available land more efficiently to get more yield.


The long-time former General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, Hartmut Steeb, rejects the thesis that the Earth is "overpopulated". There should be enough space for everyone; the existing resources would also be sufficient. They just need to be distributed more fairly, he says.

The fact that the western world wants to dictate to poor countries that their inhabitants should have fewer children is "pure colonialism", according to Steeb. The United Nations and the European Union promoted the distribution of contraceptives and prenatal infanticide under the name of "reproductive rights".

At the same time, Western countries are poaching skilled workers from the Global South, although they are much more needed there. However, poorer countries should not have to pay for the fact that too few children are born in the West.

Steeb emphasises that it cannot be proven empirically that more children lead to less prosperity. It is probably the other way around: more prosperity apparently leads to fewer children. In any case, countries like Germany urgently need higher birth rates. Many people only decide to have children if they do not have to accept any moral or financial disadvantages as a result.

To this day, family work is labelled as "not working". That is why Steeb has long been calling for noticeable financial relief for families. In addition, the father of ten supports the demand for family voting rights: "Parents bear the financial burden for their children and otherwise represent them. It is incomprehensible why this is only excluded for the right to vote."


The chairwoman of the federal association for the right to live, Alexandra Maria Linder, refers the thesis of an unsupportable "overpopulation" to the realm of "fairy tales". She states that it is more about the wrong distribution and setting of priorities. For example, funds from the United Nations Population Fund would be used to reduce births in certain states. Among other things, it supported China's brutal one-child policy and awarded the "Population Award" for it in 1983.

Linder points out that there is "a conglomerate of states, corporations and foundations" that is concerned with being able to continue exploiting the resources in these regions instead of leaving the profits to the states themselves. "It would have to be clarified to what extent governments are corrupted so that the situation and the population remain under control." Linder says that with the promoted personal initiative, infrastructure and supply, the population numbers would decline by themselves, as they have in Europe for 150 years.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation and MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes International) are among those tasked with accelerating artificial population reduction through contraceptive programs and abortion. Their programs are financed by foundations such as the "Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation" or the German Foundation for World Population. "People need and want access to clean drinking water, sanitation, health care and education as a priority", Linder says. "Furthermore, on the issue of equality, women do not call for abortion, which brings no improvement anywhere and has no physical or psychological benefit for women, but a say."

Fortunately, countries like Nigeria and Guatemala are beginning to oppose an agenda at the UN that often forces specific measures on them in return for paying development aid. "They don't want to be blackmailed and forced, for example, to promote artificial contraceptives or abortions. These countries have the same right as we do to manage their own resources, develop and act differently from the donors within the framework of human dignity."

So, there are neither too many people nor too few resources on Earth. Instead, there is a problem with distribution. This could be solved if individual states were left with enough raw materials to support themselves.

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by IDEA on November 29, 2022



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