We don't have to go too far to find the miserablists who insist that we're all doomed, doomed I tell 'ee, because the human population is growing uncontrollably. Half the environmental publications on the planet harp on about this. And near every piece anyone at all writes on the subject of growth, or environmental limits, will have someone pop up in the comments insisting that we just must stop the peasantry having so many damn children.
What this misses is that we've already solved this problem. And yes, it has indeed been solved by that heady mixture of free markets and capitalism, that thing we call neoliberal globalisation. This little snippet proves it:
Three men who have fathered nearly 100 children among them are doing their bit for Pakistan’s skyrocketing population, which is being counted for the first time in 19 years.
But in a country where experts warn the surging populace is gouging into hard-won economic gains and social services, the three patriarchs are unconcerned. Allah, they say, will provide.
Pakistan has the highest birth rate in South Asia at around three children per woman, according to the World Bank and government figures, and the census is expected to show that growth remains high.
That really is patriarchy of course. But what drives population size is not how many wives a man might have but how many children per woman, it is that 9 months in the womb which is the bottleneck. Two children per woman and the population falls over time - after the demographic effect of increasing lifespans - and 3.8 means a doubling every generation. Assuming that all children survive of course.
Historic fertility rates have been up at 7 and including pregnancies, still births and so on higher again. That is what led to Malthusian growth of course, the productive capacity of society was the limiting factor in how many did survive. When that capacity expanded then more survived and growth became an expansion of the population living at the same old standard rather than an increase in the level of living.
Shifting a society over to where most to all children survive, in itself a measure of increased wealth, means that people entirely voluntarily have fewer children. There are other things to do in this life after one has ensured the existence of grandchildren, after all. And this has happened where those free markets, that capitalism, have taken root. And so an increase in the productive ability of society starts to lead to an increase in living standards instead of an increase in population.
That is, Garrett Hardin was wrong to apply the Tragedy of the Commons to population, even as his analysis of the basic problem itself was correct. Neoliberal globalisation reduces population growth.
Sure, a fertility rate of 3 does mean that population is still growing. But note that's the highest in South Asia. It's also fallen considerably in only a generation and the only way any of us see it going is further downwards.
There is no rich country anywhere near that replacement rate of 2.1, absent immigration. Poor countries are all approaching it from the upside. To the extent that human population growth is a problem it's one that we've already largely solved.
So, what's the next thing this neoliberal globalisation is going to solve? Even the UN is saying that it will solve absolute poverty within the next couple of decades. So, what then after that?