In 1865, W. Stanley Jevons predicted that with coal reserves of 90 billion tons, England would run out within 100 years. Today, the country has between three trillion and 23 trillion ton, enough to last Britain for centuries.
In 1914, the Bureau of Mines fretted that with a total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels, the U.S. only had about a ten-year supply of oil. Today, a hundred years later, we’re estimated to have 36 billion barrels left in the ground.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted that because of an inability to produce enough food, hundreds of millions of people would starve in the 1970s. Instead, the population has doubled—from 3.5 to 7 billion—and the number of famine victims from 1970-2015 combined is less than in the 1960s.
Each time experts predicted a decline in natural resources would be detrimental to population growth. And each time history proved the experts wrong.
Yet despite this history, modern scientists are still more pessimistic about population growth than the general public, according to a pair of 2014 Pew Research Center surveys.
Asked whether or not the growing world population will be a major problem, 59% of Americans agreed it will strain the planet’s natural resources, while 82% of U.S.-based members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said the same. Just 17% of AAAS scientists and 38% of Americans said population growth won’t be a problem because we will find a way to stretch natural resources.
Why are scientists so pessimistic? What do they think we’ll run out of? Surely, they can’t believe we’ll run out of food. As Heinz-Wilhelm Strubenhoff at Brookings notes, we could easily—by increasing the efficiency of current farmland and reducing food waste—feed 10 billion people, the projected population in 2100.
Population is expected to grow for the next 25 years, but because of declining fertility, is expected to begin declining. So in 2015 the population is 7 billion and by 2015 it will likely be . . . 7 billion. Again.
Perhaps what we should be worried about is a future in which there is an abundance of natural resources and too few people around to appreciate God’s Creation.