Fr. Arthur McCormack, who for some months has been making special studies in this question, is here answering our request for a short, scientific answer to a problem that worries so many people. He himself was impelled to study the matter for himself as a result of the problems he encountered in his own pastoral work. Fr. McCormack, a Mill Hill Father, working in Liverpool, was for many years a missionary in Africa.
tween 1946 and 1954, food production had gone up by 26 per cent.
Yet, it does seem, at first sight, that the problem of overpopulation is more menacing in this century. In 1900, the population was estimated at 900 millions. By 1950. it was roughly 2.500 millions.
According to the very latest estimates, it will be at least 5,000 millions by A.D. 2000. And it seems that the increase will be the greatest in the underveloped countries. The population of Asian countries alone, by the beginning of the next century, will probably equal the present total population of the world.
HOWEVER, Professor Colin Clark has told us that the available land of the world, cultivated only according to present knowledge, could support ten times its present population.
The U.N. Population Committee summed qp as follows in 1953: " The danger of the world popu lation reaching the maximum that could be supported by the earth's resources seems remote in view of
the findings of this chapter . . it would be technically posaible to feed a very much larger population than thc world now holds."
In 1958, the same Committee reported that, in view of current scientific progress. conditional estimates. of the world population carrying capacity (5,000 millions to 16,000 millions) "would now have to be revised upwards".
The pessimists make the mistake of thinking of the Earth as if it were a coal mine which. once worked out, is finished.
But the Earth is not like that. Land is renewable. Erosion can be checked and its effects reversed by irrigation and scientific methods. Existing land can be made much more fruitful and even barren land can be reclaimed.
The very deserts can be made to blossom. There is. for example, a vast underground lake beneath the Sahara, which could be tapped to make the Sahara fertile again, as it was in 4000 a.c.
NEW methods of tillage can multiply agricultural yields. The use of fertilisers and the adoption of modem techniques of plant breeding can revolutionise farming in the underdeveloped countries, just as these very methods defeated the population scares in Western Europe in the 19th century.
Mechanical farming can not only increase food production on existing acres but can bring into use marginal land which otherwise could not be utilised.
And this is only a fraction of the possibilities of increased efficiency, greater use of available food and the use of new foods and new methods of food production, including the raising of crops without soil, which is already in commercial operation in the United States and other countries.
The Brains Trust. therefore, conflicts with the real experts. The food resoures of the world ran support any foreseeable growth in the world's population. The same is true of fuel and raw materials. As regards space. Bishop Dwyer pointed out. on a recent Brains Trust, that the population of the world would fit on the Isle of Wight!
A double fallacy
VVOULD birth control be a better and more immediate answer? It is verv of progress depends, as Lord BoydOrr, a former Director General of F.A.O., has declared " on the amount of labour and capital that society is prepared to devote to it".
As for birth control being an immediate and effective remedy: where even the most elementary medical services are lacking, contraception is not likely to be successful or practical. A pioneer of birth control in backward countries, Dr. Chandrasekhar, makes this frank admission:
" But taking the message of birth control to the rural millions is more easily said than done. As it is, the villages of India are starved for medical and health facilities. In millions of homes. there is no running water, bathrooms or privacy; they are far removed from dispensaries and clinics . . ."
So far, no satisfactory pill has been devised instead of birth control appliances. Some estimates (see "Fortune" April 1958) reckon from five to ten years before a pill could be safely put into general use.
Freedom and sandwiches
THE teeming, poverty stricken millions, which so distressed Sir Julian Huxley on a recent tour. are, therefore, about the worst possible material for large scale birth control. The intelligent and the welloff, as in other countries, will take to birth control long before the masses.
Another point seems to be overlooked. Well over half the population of the world is estimated to be at subsistence levels. At least 100 million women must, then, fall into the class of those "needing" contraceptives.
Keeping them supplied regularly with contraceptives, even in the form of a cheap pill. would raise extreme financial and administrative difficulties.
Moreover, it is estimated that, in spite of all birth control measures 1,000 million will be added to the population in the next 10 years. Many of them will go to swell the number already at subsistence levels.
Apparently nothing can be done about them. They will ask for bread and they will be offered birth control. Are we supposed to write off a whole generation and let them eke out a. pitiful existence until a miserable but merciful death? This is the immediate hope that a policy of birth control offers to the hungry millions. If it is adopted. we cannot complain, as Lord BoydOrr has warned, if they go over to Communism.
If you offer an Asian a choice between Roosevelt's Four Freedoms and four sandwiches, he will choose the sandwiches.
And from a financial angle alone, we cannot have both birth control and adequate economic progress. The positive endeavour to make the best use of the world's resources and to distribute them properly and moll offers the only sane and
of the world's poverty and want could be wiped out, without recourse to birth control. If this is not achieved. the blame will rest, not on Providence, not on science and scientists, not on religious bodies opposing birth control, but squarely on the shoulders of mankind itself. For. as the World Conference on Population solemnly stated: "We cannot justifiably plead poverty of our natural or scientific resources".