21:58 25.08.2011 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs

The world's population will reach 7 billion by October 31, 2011. Though the UN and other international institutions will in various ways hail the development, it is an open secret that the population growth constantly bothers members of the global elite. David Rockefeller eloquently summarized their fears when he said: “The negative impact of population growth on all of our planetary ecosystems is becoming appallingly evident”. The grim global picture may not be taken at face value since consequences can be  dire if action proceeds on its basis.

The Irrational Mankind

The notion that there are too many people on Earth is anything but new. In the XVIII century, British cleric and scholar Thomas Malthus voiced a belief that unchecked human reproduction would lead to an increase in population numbers at the geometric rate, outpacing the production of means of subsistence which he assumed to grow in arithmetic progression. Malthus was convinced that soil productivity was bound to decrease and, much to the delight of Charles Darwin, maintained that various cataclysms – wars, famine, social and natural disasters – worked as checks to restore the balance threatened by the population growth. It should be noted that the views did not go unchallenged even in the epoch when they were formulated.

Russian agronomist Basil Williams proved experimentally that  decrease in soil productivity resulted from improper farming practices rather than reflected a universal law of nature. Moreover, it transpired that optimizing a fairly limited number of factors could, in the majority of cases, help to reverse the trend. Russia's chemistry genius and a man of broadest interests D. Mendeleev made a convincing effort to disprove Malthus's theory by example. He used his private funds to buy around 1,000 acres of farmland in the vicinity of Klin, to the west of Moscow – a venture his friends advised him against, warning about the imminent financial risks – and, within a short period of time, achieved a productivity spike on the site that caused students from the Moscow Agricultural Academy to flock to it in search for practical knowledge. Mendeleev conducted an extensive study of natural conditions and farming techniques in various parts of the world, including the approaches to irrigation, selection, and forestry, and concluded that, with the means available at the time being fully used, the Earth was able to sustain a population of at least 10 billion.

In Mendeleev's view, the key mistake in the doctrine formulated by Malthus was to equate farmland to the physical soil, while the correct assessment required that full sets of natural and man-made conditions be taken into account. Russian botanist Kliment Timiryazev had the same point and criticized the concept that the potential for food production worldwide was not big enough for all as patently absurd. Timiryazev projected that the yields would eventually increase by 400-500% thanks to adopting advanced agricultural practices.

The 1970ies surge in agricultural output provided optimists with extremely powerful arguments. Director of the Russian Academy of Science Institute for Socioeconomic Studies of the Population A. Shevyakov says that a relatively small agricultural workforce armed with modern technologies can in virtually all cases maintain food supply at an adequate level. In 2008, China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea bought or rented farmlands in Africa, oftentimes for under $1 per acre, and lifted the productivity on them to unprecedented levels.

Overall, the Earth has sufficient resources for mankind even against the background of climate change, ecological problems, and the proliferation of deserts. On the other hand, neither such critics of Malthus as Mendeleev or Timiryazev  nor even Malthus  could imagine in their respective epochs to what extent irresponsible human activities would cause damage to the environment including the vital agricultural assets. It currently appears that mankind is a lot more rational in dealing with socioeconomic problems that with its natural habitat.

Recipes and Interests

What is the range of possible solutions to the sustainability problem? The first recipe being suggested is restrictive in character. Timiryazev, for example, said that a maximally uniform distribution of food supply was desirable, and sharing would always be better than exclusion. These days, calls for reconsidering consumption standards and practices have become routine. A number of scholars hold that the problem is not the limited food supply but the West's overconsumption in all spheres, combined with the strong tendency among the developing economies to follow the lead. The green policies such as the push for lower COx emissions are in essence restrictive. 

The above measures - reallocating resources, reigning in consumer appetites, and limiting energy use - are not without grounds but turn out to be extremely polarizing in the political sense. The games around the Kyoto protocol and the contentious climate summits highlighted the developing countries' opposition to emission caps. Those who only begin to attain excellent living standards see no reason why they should face restrictions on pars with the nations who have decades of irresponsible use of natural resources on their records.

Another recipe emphasizes the benefits of modernization. The camp which pops it believes in genetic modification as a way of boosting agricultural productivity. The more ecologically-minded, however, are concerned that the genetically modified cultures might prove carcinogenic in the long run or warn that the spread of GMOs may actually trigger famine as the genetically modified seeds produce no further crops. Farmers who bought a mix of usual and genetically modified seeds in India discovered that the crops dwindled in two years, the result being over 200,000 people dying of starvation. There is evidence that unaltered crops neighboring the GMO lose fertility due to cross-pollination and that livestock can also be affected.  

Scientists in Russia are generally skeptical about GMOs. Nobody says complete withdrawal from genetic engineering is a good idea, but additional studies and refinements aimed at greater safety would clearly be welcome. Dr. Irina Ermakova from the Russian Academy of Science stresses the absurdity of the arrangement currently in effect in Russia, where planting GMOs is prohibited but importing them is perfectly legal. She says her impression is that some of Russian officials worry more about the environment than about the health of the population.

The Tragedy is that They're Dead”

Finally, there is the recipe centered around toning down population growth, and the proponents of the approach are evidently prepared to weed out humans if necessary. An aspect of the situation came under the spotlight thanks to Dutch journalist Mara Hvistendahl who painted a frightening picture of gender-selective infanticide which relied on modern birth control technologies and took the lives of 160 million girls. Not long ago, the US Congress committed $648m – the biggest sum since the last Democrat presidency – to overseas family planning programs. "We need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet can't support many more people," says Dr. Nina Fedoroff, science and technology advisor to the US Secretary of State.

Surely, advocates of population reduction keep Russia within sight. Serving as the British premier, Margaret Thatcher once briefly aired a plan that "Russians should be reduced to 15 million, the persons serving chinks and mines". The interpreter thought he had misheard and translated the above as 50 million to be immediately corrected. Madeleine Albright echoed the statement in the mid-1990ies, leaving no room for illusions that the phrase dropped by the Iron Lady with a talent to charm Russian statesmen was not random talk. 

A book by Hvistendahl contains multiple references to the International Planned Parenthood Federation which promptly grew out of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in the wake of World War II. These days, the Federation's affiliates are hyperactive in Russia. Founder of the Federation Margaret Sanger, it must be noted, had good things to say about the measures taken by Hitler's regime to suppress the birth rates on the Nazi-occupied territories. Hitler said to Hermann Rauschning in  1934: "We are obliged to depopulate, as part of our mission of preserving the German population. We shall have to develop a technique of depopulation. If you ask me what I mean by depopulation, I mean the removal of entire racial units", and added that suppressing the nations' fertility would be the key to the program. The defense at the Nuremberg Trials attempted to object to the related charges by claiming that abortions on the occupied territories were not enforced. The prosecution then cited the Nazi document which read: “It is known that racially inferior offspring of Eastern workers and Poles is to be avoided if at all possible. Although pregnancy interruptions ought to be carried out on a voluntary basis only, pressure is to be applied in each of these cases”. Some of the Nazi officers found guilty in the case were sentenced to life in prison. The allegations of “voluntary basis” could deceive nobody, and, largely with the recent tragedy in mind, the UN adopted in 1948 the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which stated that “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” was to be counted as a crime.

The question that arises inevitably is: Can we seriously buy into the story of mothers deciding to terminate the lives of 160 millions girls on a “voluntary basis”? The regional focus and selectivity indicate undoubtedly that intent and an elaborate plan had to exist behind the activity. 

<!--[if gte mso 9]> <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false RU JA X-NONE <!--[if gte mso 9]> <!--[if gte mso 10]> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Обычная таблица"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} <!--StartFragment--> US journalist Ross Douthat wrote in a review of Hvistendahl's Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men: “Hvistendahl insists that she hasn’t written “a book about death and killing.” But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she’s uncovered. It’s society at large, she argues, citing evidence that gender-imbalanced countries tend to be violent and unstable. It’s the women in those countries, she adds, pointing out that skewed sex ratios are associated with increased prostitution and sex trafficking. These are important points. But the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence. This places many Western liberals, Hvistendahl included, in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Their own premises insist that the unborn aren’t human beings yet, and that the right to an abortion is nearly absolute”. Douthat describes the stance as being “a self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins”, which must be impossible to accept given the widely known studies of the behavior of human embryos at the earliest stages or the vivid pictures presented in Bernard N. Nathanson's movie “The Silent Scream”. “The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re “missing.” The tragedy is that they’re dead”, argues Douthat.<!--EndFragment-->


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