As the World Welcomes its Seven Billionth Human: Reflections and Population, Law, and the Environment

Author:Robert Hardaway
Position:Professor of Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law
5WINTER 2014
More recently, the Center for Sustainable Systems has
released even more alarming data showing the carbon footprint
resulting from consumption in the United States alone.21
With few exceptions, the population pressures on the envi-
ronment have been largely ignored in favor of largely ineffec-
tive public and private “environmental” initiatives.22 As former
EPA Director Thomas has noted, most “pollution cleanup” does
not result in any benefit to the environment, because all such
programs do is transfer pollution “among the environmental
media—from air to water, from surface water to groundwater,
from water to soil, and so on. . . . This circle game has to stop. .
. . At best it is misleading—we think we are solving a problem
and we aren’t. At worst, it is perverse—it may increase rather
than reduce pollution risks.”23
This circle game has been played in the form of geographical
context as well. Much of the government funds used to support
“environmentalism” have been used to transfer pollution from
communities with wealth and political power to poor communi-
ties with little political power. When a hazardous-waste incinera-
tion company in the impoverished Arkansas town of El Dorado
was found to be importing garbage and waste from 48 states and
foreign countries, the Environmental Congress of Arkansas was
“successful” in preventing the location of the dump near its com-
munity. As a result of its efforts, the landfill was relocated in the
Ouachita River Basin where, according to one observer, “one
flood will spread garbage and God-knows-what downstream for
60 or 100 miles.”24
When a chemical company near Jacksonville, Arkansas,
attempted to dispose of 28,300 barrels of toxic waste accumulat-
ing over 30 years, several environmental groups took action forc-
ing the company into bankruptcy and to later relocate. 25 Nations
described the groups’ efforts as “an environmental success
story.26 However in 1992, after both sides spent “vast sums”
of money, the EPA granted to the Jacksonville site a license to
incinerate the toxins into the air. Although this complies with the
Clean Air Act, these toxins are nonetheless released into the air
“where they don’t know what it will do.”27 While many lauded
the work of the environmental groups as an “environmental suc-
cess,” the pollutants were transferred from the soil to the air.28
One example of such self-defeating government policy is
the regulations promulgated by California in the 1960s requiring
installation of exhaust control devices. At the cost of billions to
consumers, hydrocarbon levels were reduced by a modest 12%,
but only at the expense of increasing nitrogen oxide emissions
by 28%.29 A major study of federal and state laws regulat-
ing automobile emissions has concluded that such regulations
have resulted only in “one pollution problem [being] traded for
Even more damaging to the environmental movement has
been the quest for “alternative energy sources.” As early as 1978,
the government spent over $100 million in a quest to build a
dam which could harvest carbon-free “clean water power” to
serve the energy needs of the poor, only to have environmental
groups sue to shut down the dam on grounds that it would harm
a sub-species of snail darter. In Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill
(“TVA”), the Supreme Court ordered the halting of the all but
completed dam on grounds that it would violate the Endangered
Species Act.31 The Court noted that “It may seem curious to
some that the survival of . . . [a] three-inch fish among all the
countless millions of species extant would require the permanent
halting of a virtually completed dam for which Congress has
expended more than $100 million,”—and then did exactly that.32
An exasperated minority of the court could only remark that “the
only precondition . . . to thus destroying the usefulness of even
the most important federal project in our country would be a
finding by the Secretary of the Interior that a continuation of the
project would threaten the survival . . . of a newly discovered
species of water spider or amoeba.”33
In 1983, California built 17,000 100-foot wind turbines,
producing an impressive 1% of its energy needs, only to be
confronted with outrage by the state’s environmentalists who
claimed that windmill fields were worse than the ravages of
strip mining, creating a landscape worse than “Salvador Dali’s
worst nightmare.”34 Environmentalist Paul Thayer proclaimed
that “these huge wind turbines are virtual cusinarts for birds.”
Another concerned spokesman for the environmental movement
expressed equal outrage: “wind energy is great, but we can’t go
around killing the environment.”35 The fact that even clean wind
power has incited the wrath of environmentalists raises doubts
as to whether “alternative energy sources” can ever provide a
permanent solution, much less a panacea, to relieve the planet
from the pressures of population expansion.
In short, governmental environmental policy has ignored
the fundamental principle of ecological law that “everything is
connected to everything.” The environment is like a three-legged
table: reduce hydrocarbons, and you increase nitrous oxides or
other contaminants;36 reduce the burning of dirty coal, and you
end up placing greater reliance on nuclear power and dealing
with radioactive waste;37 build windmills and face environmen-
tal lawsuits; build solar panels only to face NIMBY38 lawsuits
amidst realization that panels would need to cover 90% of the
globe to produce energy equal to that created by burning coal.39
An editorial cartoon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal makes
this point humorously by showing an electric car hooked up by a
long cord to a nuclear power plant.40
Private environmental initiatives have proved equally illu-
sory. As environmentalist Tom Wolf has observed, “environ-
mental organizations courted disaster when they ‘succeeded’
American style. When they got too big, too rich and too remote
from the environmental effects of their actions. . . . Like our
competitors in organized religion, especially the televangelists,
we enviros lost our credibility when we bought into the junk
mail business.”41 As a result, the environmental movement has
degenerated and splintered into over “10,000 hopelessly decen-
tralized groups competing for funds,”42 ranging from societies
dedicated to promoting snails and slugs (the Xerces Society) to
groups against Radiation Exposed Food.
Wolf’s disillusionment went to the heart of what environ-
mentalism was supposed to be about: “Our culture of narcis-
sism spread its sickly, sweet smell through environmental board
rooms in the 80[]s, as former radicals changed overnight into
yuppies, as small organizations became huge and unwieldy.
Poverty, chastity and obedience wilted before the prospect of
empire and power, ‘careers’ in the institutionalized environmen-
tal movement.43
Meanwhile, environmental fantasies have come to abound,
many fostered by environmental groups trying to raise money.
Commercial products tout their “biodegradable” characteristics
in order to take advantage of public ignorance. A Professor of
Archeology at the University of Arizona recently dug up a typi-
cal municipal dump to examine its contents, and found the single
greatest part of the landfill’s bulk to be newspapers, many of
which were over a quarter century old.44 Other types of refuse
such as plastic came in a distant third. 45 Although many envi-
ronmentalists have condemned the use of disposable diapers,
they rarely consider that cloth diapers also cause environmental
damage since they require approximately 12,000 gallons of water
a year per child—not to mention the phosphates that leach into
the water supply.46 William Booth has described the activities
of a typical family that “recycles their cans and bans six-pack
plastic rings in their house, but drives itself to a shopping mall
two blocks away, and drenches their lawn with chemical fertil-
izers leaching into the same waterways as the six-pack rings.47
As noted in the previous discussion, public and private
environmental policy has focused almost exclusively on the “T”
component of the equation, much of it too little or no avail but
inevitably at very high cost to society—recall the TVA $100
million clean water power project which was shut down to save
a sub-species of snail darter. But even when environmental pro-
grams result in a modest reduction in
emissions per unit of consumption
(as with the regulations requiring
installation of catalytic converters
in automobiles), the explosion in
the number of units means that for
every step forward taken in the cause
of reducing environmental impact,
three or more are taken backward.
Thus while catalytic converters in
American cars might reduce hydro-
carbons per automobile unit,48 the
introduction of millions of new
$3,000 automobiles in India (not to
mention China49) means that reduc-
tion in emissions of individual units is overwhelmed by the vast
expansion in the number of units around the world. In the United
States, for each additional human added to the population, two
and a half carbon-spewing, climate-warming, motor vehicles are
added to the environmental impact.50 In South Korea alone, the
number of cars increased from 935,271 in 1990 to 2.2 million in
Nor have environmental policies seriously addressed the
“P” factor in Holdren’s equation. True, when a car company
in India announced production of a cheap $3,000 car for the
masses, the New York Times decried the environmental impact
of making cars available to so many millions of poor people
who theretofore could not afford cars.52 Al Gore in his much-
proclaimed book, Earth in the Balance, suggested that people
around the world cut their consumption as a means of reducing
environmental impact.53 The need to consume, Gore asserted, is
the mark of a “dysfunctional civilization,” and that the environ-
mental crisis is an inner crisis that is, for lack of a better word, “a
spiritual crisis.”54 According to Gore, if the “wealthy” could only
be induced to reduce their consumption, and the poor convinced
to give up the dream of a higher standard of living for themselves
and their children, the world’s environmental problems could be
solved.55 (Apparently this solution does not apply to him; he has
justified his carbon-spewing private jets and extravagant energy-
consuming homes by claiming he has “purchased” his right to
pollute through the carbon market.)56
For those who cannot afford to buy pollution rights on the
carbon markets, however, such solutions have so far fallen on
deaf ears of those seeking to enhance, rather than reduce their
standard of living, particularly those who live in wretched con-
ditions of poverty in undeveloped countries. 57 In the United
States, the consumption-reduction solution was actually tried
during the Great Depression (albeit involuntarily),58 and most
people did not like it.59 While Romanian dictator Ceausescu
could simply mandate that the power and city lights be turned off
to conserve energy,60 such policies have proved to be impractical
in democracies.61
P. Har rison has studied the question of what the consump-
tion-reduction solution to the environmental problem would
require, and noted that the more people there are the lower man-
kind’s per capita pollution “rations”
would have to be.62 For example,
he noted that the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change has set a
ceiling of 2.8 billion tons of carbon
in the atmosphere, beyond which the
atmosphere would not be stabilized.
At such levels, a person would be
allocated .53 tons of carbon per
year,63 or about the same level as
Mozambique, the 12th poorest coun-
try in the world.64
While technological environ-
mental advances might increase these
per capita rations for a time, Harrison
has observed that the planet’s capacity to absorb pollution
emitted by an expanding population is limited, since the waste-
carrying capacity of air and water is “fixed and absolute.”65
Impact is equal to the
population multiplied
by their affluence
multiplied by their
technology outputs.
7WINTER 2014
In light of the ineffectiveness of environmental policies
addressing the “T” component of Holdren’s equation and the
impracticality if not impossibility of addressing the “A” com-
ponent by reducing all of mankind to the consumption level of
Mozambique, there is left only the final and third component of
the equation: the “P” factor.
With the population component left as the only component
of Holdren’s equation that can realistically be addressed by
environmental policy, one would think that the environmental
movement and its advocates would enthusiastically embrace
addressing this component. In fact, however, most environmen-
tal groups tread lightly on the issue of population if they address
it at all. By way of example, Al Gore devoted only 27 of the 407
pages of his book, Earth in the Balance, to population almost as
an afterthought toward the end of the book.66
At the much-acclaimed World Environmental Conference
in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, population issues were never even
addressed.67 Indeed, anti-family planning advocates worked
urgently not only to ensure that population issues were not on
the agenda but also to ensure the exclusion of family planning
In 1972, at a time when Congress was funding the Tellico
Dam,69 it was also cutting off funding to all family planning
groups counseling abortion,70 which meant that many women
were denied the means to plan their families. The result was
hundreds of thousands of unplanned pregnancies, the offspring
of which no doubt would demand power from future Tellico
dams.71 Further, in 1989, the Bush Administration resisted fund-
ing the United Nations Funds for Population on grounds that it
encouraged abortions.72
The reasons for right wing hostility to family planning and
population issues will be addressed in some detail in later sec-
tions of this article. The reason for left wing environmental group
hostility toward, or at least indifference to, population issues is
more difficult to document inasmuch as they rarely express their
views on population issues directly.73 However, the reasons for it
are not difficult to surmise.
A clean environment is like Mom and apple pie—everyone
is in favor of it. As long as voters and financial supporters can
be persuaded that environmental action is being taken (even if
it is only the circle game being played), large public allocations
can be promoted and generous private contributions inspired.
But environmentalists who address issues of birth control,
family planning, abortions, and population control often find
themselves vulnerable to emotional arguments that mire them
in issues they consider not sufficiently related to environment
to justify the expense, time, diversion, and political costs of
addressing them.
Although Thomas Malthus is less widely-known as being
the world’s first professional economist, his essay on population
declared, “The power of population is indefinitely greater than
the power in the earth to provide subsistence for man.74
This essay set forth an economic hypothesis of the relation-
ship between population and the earth’s capacity to provide for
that population.75 Carried to its logical conclusion, it predicted
that mankind was doomed to expand until the limits of food
production checked its expansion through either starvation or
starvation-induced man-made calamities.76 Not surprisingly, this
pessimistic thesis induced outrage that continues to this day.77
Critics have called his essay a “libel against the Almighty him-
self,”78 and induced others to label the emerging discipline of
economics as the “dismal science.”79
Had Malthus limited his thesis to the obvious truism that
mankind can not survive if it expands beyond its capacity to
produce food, the criticisms of his essay might have been limited
to the manner of criticism heaped upon him by the likes of Karl
Marx, who described Malthus as a “plagiarist” and “sycophant
of the ruling classes.”80 Unfortunately, however, Malthus went
on to draw unpopular political conclusions, including that
welfare and poor laws were counterproductive because they
fomented the expansion of the poor population and thus accel-
erated mankind’s march toward widespread poverty, starvation,
and economic doom.81
Anti-Malthusians today point to such advancements in food
production as the “Green Revolution” begun in 1944, which
resulted in an exponential increase in food production, permit-
ting a country like Mexico to transform itself from a country that
imported half of its wheat to one that was almost entirely self-
sufficient in wheat.82 Exaggerations of imminent doom by Paul
Ehrlich in his 1968 book The Population Bomb,83 and Donella
Meadows (who among other predictions in her 1972 book The
Limits to Growth declared that oil would run out by 1992 and
gold would run out in 1981),84 have given the anti-Malthusians
the opening to claim that modern day Malthusians are alarmists
and have “cried wolf” once too often.
On a more positive note, anti-Malthusians have made the
case that population expansion is essential to economic growth,
the inspiration for incentives for technological innovation, and
the creation of opportunities for economies of scale.85
Kuznets, the Russian-American economist, has pointed
out that “More populations mean more creators and producers,
both of goods along established production patterns, and of new
knowledge and inventions. Why should not the larger numbers
achieve what the small numbers accomplished in the modern
past—raising total output to provide not only for a current popu-
lation increase but also for a rapidly rising supply per capita?”86
Along these lines, Schumpeter, the Austrian-American
economist and political scientist, has observed: “With rare excep-
tions, [nation-states] were enthusiastic about ‘populousness’
and rapid increases in numbers. . . . A numerous and increasing
population was the most important symptom of wealth; it was
the chief cause of wealth; it was wealth itself—the greatest asset
for a nation to have.”87
In Nazi Germany, Hitler instituted a state policy of encour-
aging German women to have more children, both to man his
armies and to spread the “Aryan” race around the globe.88 In
Stalinist Russia, women were awarded medals for giving birth to
more than eight children. 89
According to this theory, when mankind runs out of some-
thing (like ivory for billiard balls), technological advances in
chemistry and plastics will always find a substitute; 90 they make
their point by citing Ansley Coale, a demographer at Princeton
University, who mused that a Malthusian living in 1890 might
have said “there’s no way the United States can support two hun-
dred and fifty million people. Where are they going to pasture all
their horses?”91
But substitute cars for horses and billions of people for mil-
lions of people; at some point a limit must be acknowledged.
Defending the Pope’s ban on birth control, bishops have
asserted that the earth could theoretically feed 40 billion
people. This assertion could make the seven billion humans
now inhabiting the planet feel quite selfish about not welcom-
ing an additional 33 billion people, until it is revealed upon
closer examination that this assertion is based on the following
assumptions: all available cropland is deforested without soil
erosion, no cash crops (such as cotton or coffee) are grown, and
no livestock is raised, which implies that all humans agree to live
on vegan diets.92
Not mentioned at the gathering was whether mankind should
ever recognize any limits to the expansion, even after the human
race reaches a theoretically supportable 40 billion people.
At some point, even the most ardent promoter of unlimited
expansion of the human race must concede that there are abso-
lute physical limits and that the human race cannot continue to
double as it did from 1960 to 1998.93 (This can be confirmed by
a simple exercise: take an ordinary sheet of paper and double
its thickness by folding it over and repeating the folding 42
times. The thickness would reach from the earth to the moon.)94
Presumably sometime before mankind expands to an equivalent
number, expanding outward from the earth at the speed of light,
the human race will cease expanding.
Despite anti-Malthusians assertion that the Malthusians are
“crying wolf,” it should be recalled that there were two morals
to the story of the boy who cried wolf. The first was that those
who alarm prematurely or with exaggeration will be ignored; but
the second is that when the crisis does come, it may be too late.
To those who claim that Malthus cried wolf, it should be
noted that in many parts of the world, Malthusian effects are
already upon us. Nine hundred forty million human beings live
in squalor,95 almost 1 billion people are starving,96 and 18,000
children starve to death every day.97 Meanwhile, the world must
produce food for an additional 90 million new people each year
and do so with 26 billion less tons of topsoil and ever decreasing
supplies of fresh water.98 While it may be true that the percent-
age of living humans who starve to death has decreased since the
time of Malthus, it is also true that in absolute terms, the number
of people who starve to death has increased geometrically.99
Even in face of such evidence, however, the anti-Malthu-
sians continue to make their case. An article by Jonathan Last
in the August 4, 2011 issue of the Wall Street Jour nal expressed
horrified alarm at United Nations demographic projections of
a modest reduction in fertility in the developed nations, par-
ticularly in Japan, Italy, and Poland.100 “As populations age and
shrink,” Last notes, “the labor force contracts and the tax base
dwindles while the cost of support for pensioners increases.
Then economic dynamism sputters as the demand for everything
(except health care) decreases. Low fertility is modernity’s g reat
While no one doubts that as a country’s economy and
standard of living rises and women have more access to educa-
tion, they will tend to have fewer children; in underdeveloped
countries children are considered an economic asset who can be
counted on to rummage through garbage dumps to support their
parents in old age—and therefore, the more children the better.
It is also true that the demographics of an aging population in
a developed country can wreak havoc on the balance of con-
tributions and entitlements in pension funds and public safety
nets like social security and Medicare. But, this hardly supports
the conclusion that a globally expanding population is some-
how good for the environment. Indeed, a child in a developed
country will place a far greater ecological footprint than a child
in an undeveloped country.102 Going back to Holdren’s I=PAT
formula, this means that the A (affluence or per capita consump-
tion) and the T (technology or impact per unit of consumption)
would necessarily be larger for the portion of P (the population)
that resides in wealthy countries. It is therefore in the industrial-
ized nation that over-population presents the greatest threat to
the environment.
The premises of environmental Malthusianism are as
First, that an expanding world population, combined with
the quest for higher living standards, currently places unsustain-
able pressure on the global environment.103
Second, that the “P” component of Holdren’s equation offers
mankind its best opportunity for addressing mankind’s pres-
sures on the environment in a manner compatible with human
dignity.104 (Addressing the “A” component by reducing human
living and consumption standards, particularly those of the
desperately poor in developing nations, is neither humane nor
politically feasible;105 addressing the “T” component by playing
the circle game or making marginal reductions in emissions per
unit of consumption is ultimately self-defeating as the number of
units expands exponentially with an expanding global popula-
tion seeking higher living standards).106
Third, policies addressing the “P” component must take into
account politically sensitive areas of public policy not commonly
associated with either population or the environment, including
family planning, women’s rights, abortion law, and immigration
Historically, cultural, socio-economic, and religious factors
have inhibited family planning and continue to do so to this day.
As a result, less than half the women in developing nations “have
9WINTER 2014
access to family planning.”107 Many women worldwide would
limit their family size if given access to contraceptive methods
and devices now denied to them.108 Until relatively recently, the
United States was on the forefront of government policies deny-
ing women the right to plan their families. In 1872, Anthony
Comstock introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress which labeled
any contraceptive device as “obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent,
filthy or vile . . .” and made it a crime to “sell, lend or give away
any article whatever for the prevention of conception.109 The
statute’s description of contraceptive devices as “filthy and vile”
was not deleted until the 1970s.110
As U.S. Postal Inspector, Comstock had spent much of
his energies entrapping doctors who associated with family
planners. For example, “he had two women associates write
to a Midwestern physician, claiming that their husbands were
insane and that they feared that any
children might inherit their insanity.
When the doctor wrote them some
simple advice, Comstock had him
arrested and sent to seven years of
hard labor.”111
In response to such policies,
Margaret Sanger rose to become the
founder of the American birth con-
trol movement. Sanger first came to
prominence in the aftermath of the
“Sadie Sachs Affair.” After Sachs
was informed that a pregnancy would
threaten her life, her doctor scolded
her by saying “you want to have your
cake and eat it too. Well, it can’t be
done,” and cruelly advised her that
her only option was for her husband to “sleep on the roof.112
When Sachs died an agonizing death after her husband appar-
ently declined to sleep on the roof, Sanger adopted the phrase as
the movement’s slogan.113
In 1930, Congress passed the Tariff Act of 1930, which pro-
hibited the import of contraceptive devices along with any writ-
ing urging “treason [or] murder.114 That contraceptive devices
were grouped with treason and murder was suggestive of the
public mood regarding contraceptives.
In 1936, New York passed a law making it a crime to “sell,
give away, or advertise . . . any articles for the prevention of
conception.”115 As recently as 1965, a draconian Connecticut
statute made it a felony punishable by twenty years at hard
labor to use any “medicinal article or instrument for the purpose
of preventing conception.”116 It was only in that year that the
Supreme Court, in a sharply divided opinion, finally held such
laws unconstitutional as violating the right to privacy.117 Finally,
in the 1972 case of Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Supreme Court over-
turned a conviction in the Massachusetts’ courts of a man who
had given away a contraceptive device, a crime that carried a
five-year prison term.118
Even as criminal laws against the use of contraceptives fell
away, cultural and religious factors continued to pressure women
not to use any form of contraception. In 1930, Pope Pius XI, in
Casti Connubii, declared that even married couples could engage
in intercourse only for the specific purpose of generating chil-
dren.119 The Catholic Church declared that having intercourse
for the purpose of pleasure was a sin and that “intercourse is
unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is
Even prominent members of the medical and scientific
community supported denying women the right to plan their
families. Dr. John Billings, an eminent Australian neurologist,
argued vigorously for the prohibition of all forms of “artificial”
birth control and opposed international birth control programs
because they discriminate against the poor.121 In the United
States, Ryan Bomberger has asserted that birth control is a form
of “genocide” against black people.122
Respected academics such as
Jacqueline Kasun, an eminent pro-
fessor of economics, have associated
family planning organizations with
Nazi-type “eugenics.”123 In her book,
The War against Population, she con-
demned Margaret Sanger as the most
“enthusiastic eugenicis[t]” of her
time.124 She also mentions Edward
Pohlman’s “confession” that “some
Indians regard this foreign control of
their population as a form of ‘geno-
cide.’”125 (Interestingly, Kasun does
not note that Nazi Germany had the
most draconian laws against abortion
and gave awards for womanly feats
of reproduction.)126
Kasun condemns the “slick, professional booklets of
the likes of Planned Parenthood and the Gutmacher Institute
[which] are profusely illustrated with pictures of pot-bellied,
dusky women surrounded by hordes of children living in slums
here and abroad. To explore the rationale of the eugenics move-
ment—scientific racism—would fill another volume.127
Kasun joins Simon, Miller, Billings, and other respected
academics in maintaining that “[e]ight times, and perhaps as
much as 22 times, the world’s present population could support
itself at the present standard of living,”128 and notes that “there
would be standing room for the entire population of the world
within one quarter of the area of Jacksonville Florida.”129
Ehrlich has referred to this latter illustration as an example
of the “Netherlands Fallacy: The Netherlands can support 1[,]031
people per square mile only because the rest of the world does
not. In 1984-1986, the Netherlands imported almost 4 million
tons of cereals, 130,000 tons of oils, and 480,000 tons of pulses
(peas, beans, lentils).”130 Not addressed by Kasun was what her
position would be once the world’s population did expand to 22
times its present number. Would she then concede that some
kind of environmental limit had been reached and agree to the
family planning she despises?
“Even prominent
members of the
medical and
scientific community
supported denying
women the right to
plan their families.
Much of the anti-family planning literature has been
directed towards the coercive policies of such countries as China.
Such coercive measures are neither desirable nor as effective as
voluntary measures based on providing access to the one half
of the world’s women who are currently denied access to fam-
ily planning services. But much of the anti-family planning
literature is directed against the whole idea of family planning.
As a result, the cultural, socio-economic, and religious coali-
tion against family planning, while weaker than 100 years ago,
remains largely successful in denying women around the world
the right to plan their families and leaving the “P” component of
Holdren’s equation deliberately unaddressed.
That abortion may be an important factor in formulating
environmental policy was recognized by the Supreme Court as
early as 1973 in Roe v. Wade when the Court announced in dicta
that “population growth . . . [and] pollution . . . tend to compli-
cate the [abortion] problem.”131
Unfortunately, abortion issues are so charged both politi-
cally and religiously in many countries that most environmental
groups assiduously avoid the issue. This is unfortunate, as it
means that an important component of environmental policy is
ignored by policy-makers and even unrecognized by many.
In countries where family planning services are either not
available or denied to women, abortion is often used as birth
control.132 In countries where women have no legal right to abor-
tion, this means that hundreds of thousands of women around
the world die from illegal abortions. The number of women
dying from illegal abortions is documented by the World Health
Organization as exceeding over 68,000 a year.133
In Kenya (which bans abortion), 35% of maternal deaths
are caused by unsafe abortions; more than 2,500 women die and
21,000 women are hospitalized every year due to improper abor-
tions.134 One abortion scholar has noted that “The tale of death
that illegal abortions caused is well known; the personal trag-
edies that tale recounts [are] widespread, and evident in every
social stratum. Paradoxically, the tale has been so often told that
many listeners have become anesthetized to the human pain it
Unfortunately, in many countries the callous response to
such tragic deaths has been to impose or call for even greater
legal restrictions on abortions, apparently on the theory that strict
enforcement can reduce the number of abortions.136 Tragically,
however, this theor y has proved to be spurious.137 There are far
more abortions in countries with rigid enforcement of abortion
laws than in countries in which abortion is legal.138
For example, no countries were more oppressive in enforce-
ment of abortion laws than Nazi Germany, which imposed the
death penalty for abortion, and Romania under the dictator
Ceausescu.139 According to a report in Newsweek, in Romania
“women under the age of 45 were rounded up at their work-
places every one to three months and taken to clinics, where they
were examined for signs of pregnancy, often in the presence of a
government agent dubbed the ‘menstrual police.’ . . . A woman
who failed to produce a baby at the proper time would expect to
be summoned for questioning.”140
Not surprisingly as a result of such brutal policies, combined
with laws against use of contraceptive devices, 60% of pregnan-
cies ended in illegal abortion.141 By contrast, in the Netherlands,
where contraceptive services are freely available and abortion is
legal, the abortion rate is much lower.142
Religious restrictions and inhibitions regarding abortion
also turn out to be based on a misunderstanding of religious
doctrine and history. As early as medieval times, the eminent
Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas had adopted the doctrine
that life began only when a fetus was “ensouled,” and ensoul-
ment took place only after “quickening.”143 As Aquinas stated
in his Politicorum, “seed and what is not seed is determined by
sensation and movement.144
Historian Noonan has noted that Martin Azplicueta, the
leading Catholic canonist of the 16th Century and consultant to
the Sacred Penitentiary held that “the rule of the Penitentiary was
to treat a fetus over forty days as ensouled. Hence therapeutic
abortion was accepted in the case of a fetus under this age.”145
It was not until October 29, 1588, that Pope Sixtus V decided
to reverse a millennium of church doctrine by issuing the bull
Effraentam declaring abortion to be a homicide regardless of
the age of the fetus—apparently part of a campaign to punish
prostitutes by forcing them to have unwanted children. 146
Fortunately this bull, issued in the heat of the anti-prostitute
campaign, did not last long. Only two years after its issuance, the
new Pope Gregory XVI, noting that the “hoped for fruit had not
resulted,” repealed “all the penalties except those applying to a
fetus which has been ensouled.”147
Ironically, the theological notion of quickening as being the
point at which a fetus is ensouled is remarkably close to Roe v.
Wades recognition of the constitutional right to abortion prior to
the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.148
It was not until almost 300 years after Pope Gregory’s re-
establishment of quickening as the point of ensoulment, when
God revealed to Pope Pius XI in 1869 that all the Catholic theo-
logians over the past millennium had been all wrong, and that
abortion of a fetus, regardless of quickening, was a sin worthy of
the punishment of ex-communication.149
U.S. laws prohibiting abortion were also promulgated
relatively late in the nation’s history. Prior to 1800, there was
not a single jurisdiction in the United States that banned abor-
tion before quickening.150 Indeed, the common law as set forth
in Coke’s legal commentaries in the first part of the seventeenth
century was quite clear that abortion before quickening was
not a crime. As Cyril Means’ study of the common law states,
“[a]n abortion before quickening, with the woman’s consent . . .
was not, at common law, an indictable offense, either in her or in
her abortionist. It was not a crime at all.”151
It was only around the year 1860, when resistance to abor-
tions began to appear—not from religious groups but from the
medical profession which soon began a campaign to “protect
their turn” from midwives by lobbying for the criminalization
of abortion even before quickening. By the year 1880, this
11WINTER 2014
campaign by the doctors was largely effective in persuading
legislatures in over 40 states to pass laws criminalizing abortion
even before quickening.152 By 1900, the campaign was com-
plete: Abortion, without regard to quickening, was forbidden in
every state.153
It was not until 70 years later that states began to revert
to the traditional canon and common law by legalizing early
stage abortion and not until 1973 that the Supreme Court of the
United States upheld a woman’s right to an abortion in the first
Few women would ever choose abortion as the prefer red
method of family planning, but policy makers who oppose abor-
tion also opposed contraception.
Sixtus VI’s notion that bringing an unwanted child into the
world is just punishment for the mother has little place in today’s
world where 45,000 children die each day from neglect and
Although the connection between abortion policies, popu-
lation, and the environment did not become apparent until the
Supreme Court recognized the connection in Roe v. Wade, it now
behooves environmental groups to follow up on that connection
and lobby for policies that ensure that the rights of women to
plan their families are important, not only in forestalling the
cruel Malthusian consequences of 45,000 daily deaths of starv-
ing children, but in protecting the environment as well.
Another contributor to the “P” component of Holdren’s
equation, the critical relationship between immigration policies
and the environment, has not often been recognized by environ-
mental groups. It is sometimes asserted that since immigration
involves only the movement of people from Point A to Point B,
but does not itself increase total global population, immigration
does not increase global population pressures on the environ-
ment. However, this view fails to take into account the politi-
cal and cultural pressures in a country faced with a population
expanding at a rate that exceeds the ability of that country to care
for their people’s basic human needs.
Such a country has several options in addressing a popula-
tion expanding beyond its ability to care for them. If religious
and cultural factors inhibit family planning, birth control, and
a woman’s right to choose, that country can instead take the
course of least resistance—that is, instead of taking on domestic
political, religious, or cultural resistance to the promulgation
of women’s rights, it can simply export their excess humans to
neighboring countries and thereby relieve both the economic and
environmental pressures that the expanding population exerts on
their society.
Were such a course not available to that country, it would be
forced to address such resistance directly by promulgating laws
that give every woman access to family planning and the right
to choose.
On the other hand, if a more developed neighboring country
becomes complicit in a less developed neighboring country’s
policy of exporting its excess humans—either through greed,
incompetence, or a desire to exploit the cheap labor of those
humans being exported from the less developed country—it
undermines the entire global environmental movement and pro-
vides incentives for unsustainable population expansion.
Perhaps the most cynical example of such complicity arose
in 1980, when Cuba, taking advantage of a hypocritical U.S.
refugee policy begging to be exploited,155 decided to rid itself
of its 125,000 prisoners and inmates of mental institutions, by
putting them into boats and sending them to the United States
in what has since been called the “Mariel Boatlift.” The Mariel
Entrant Tracking System later estimated that up to 80,000 of
these people were convicted criminals.156 Psychological profiles
of the first wave of Mariels revealed that “only fifty were con-
sidered normal [or] sane.” 157 Shortly after the boatlift, arrests
of Cubans in New York City skyrocketed to between 2,000 and
3,000 a year, compared to 214 the year before the boatlift.158
Less egregiously, but more commonly, other human-export-
ing countries have preferred to rely on emigration to relieve their
population pressures rather than tackling the politically daunting
task of internal reform. But such reliance on emigration as an
escape valve for Malthusian population pressures in the human-
exporting countries would not be possible but for the complicity
of the human-importing countries eager to exploit the opportuni-
ties for cheap labor. Such complicity, when it occurs, is espe-
cially heartbreaking when one realizes that global population
could begin to be stabilized if all the human-exporting countries
were to make family planning services freely available to its citi-
zens and provide basic human rights to its women.159 One can
only imagine what reforms a country such as Ireland would have
had to consider if it did not have the option in the mid-1800s of
exporting a quarter of its population that it could not support.
Would it have had to consider providing its people with family
planning and contraception services or even reforming its laws
denying women the right to choose?
In the United States, environmental groups such as the
Sierra Club have hesitated to consider the environmental impact
of immigration for “fear of being labeled racists or xeno-
phobes”160 and therefore lose the support of left wing groups
and liberals. As Thomas Wolf has noted, it is f ar easier to raise
money by sending out colorful brochures showing baby seals
being clubbed than by entering the politically charged minefield
of the immigration debate.
Nevertheless, by 1993, even the Sierra Club was
conducting internal discussions of immigration, and the
head of the Club’s population committee conceded that
“short of wars or plague, reducing immigration and fertility
levels are the only ways of meeting the goal of ‘stabilizing or
reducing the population.’”161
In some ways the reluctance of environmental groups
to acknowledge immigration as an environmental factor is
understandable, for it would mean taking on the powerful corpo-
rate interests whose interest in profits is based on the exploitation
of foreign labor, particularly that of the human-exporting coun-
tries. Indeed, those interests have
been dominant since the American
Civil War, in the aftermath of which
millions of African Americans were
released on to the free labor market.
The racist inclinations of the titans
of industry were not disposed to hire
African Americans, who preferred to
import cheap (white) foreign labor.
It was to a gathered group of
these giants of industry that on
September 18, 1895 Booker T.
Washington was invited to speak at
the Atlanta International Exposition.
That an African American had been
invited at all to speak to such an
august gathering of industrialists was
itself remarkable for the time. But
despite considerable opposition to an
African American being given such
a platform, the board of directors of
the Exposition prevailed and voted to
invite Washington to speak on open-
ing day.
The result was one of the great-
est speeches in American history,
known in the history books today as
the “cast down your bucket where
you are” speech. Washington told the
story of a sea captain of a distressed
vessel which sent a signal to a neigh-
boring vessel pleading for water, to
which the reply was “cast down your bucket where you are,” for
the vessel in distress was near the fresh sparkling water of the
Amazon River.
And so Washington pleaded with the titans of industry: “To
those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a
foreign land, I would say ‘cast down your bucket where you are.
To those who but did so, Washington promised “we shall stand
by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready
to interlac[e] our industrial, commercial, civil and religious life
with yours.”162
Unfortunately, the industrialists rebuffed Washington and
continue to do so to this day, preferring instead to encourage
importation of cheap foreign (generally white) labor. The results
have been catastrophic for the African American community.
For example, in the 1970s most large office buildings in Los
Angeles hired black union workers as janitors, paying a then
generous wage of $9 an hour plus full benefits. Then the building
managers learned that they could do what the robber barons did
after the civil war—import cheap foreign labor to replace them.
They hired independent contractors, who in turn hired illegal
immigrants for minimum wage and no benefits. Thousands of
African Americans lost their jobs and livelihood, and wages
remained depressed.
In 1987, at a time when the
black teenager unemployment rate
approached 80%, “garment workers
in Los Angeles were pleading with
the Immigration and Naturalization
Service to allow them to import for-
eign workers on grounds that there
was a ‘labor shortage’ of unskilled
The replacement of domestic
workers by illegal immigrants has
often been justified on grounds that
illegal workers will take jobs no
American will take. In fact, however,
it is not the dirty work that deters
Americans from taking such jobs,
but the low wages of such jobs,
which in turn is caused by the influx
of foreign workers willing to work
for slave wages.164 For example,
there is probably no dirtier work than
garbage collection, yet these jobs are
greatly sought after when wages and
benefits are sufficient to support a
family—despite the filthy nature of
the work.
A Chicago Tribune survey of
employers who had hired illegal
immigrants revealed the following
reasons why employers preferred
illegal immigrants to hiring African
Americans: “The blacks are unreli-
able . . . whereas the illegal immigrants are reliable.165 In light of
such blatant expressions of racial prejudice, one might ask what
these employers might do if the government declined to continue
encouraging illegal immigration? Would the employers just go
out of business, or would they get down to offering African
Americans work-training programs and other opportunities?
In their quest for profits, the modern day industrialists have
joined forces with pro-illegal immigration groups to convey
the impression that replacing African Americans with illegal
immigrants is supported by Hispanics and African Americans
alike, and somehow compassionate or moral. In fact, a Harris
Poll revealed that 73% of African Americans fully realize that
their employers are replacing them with illegal immigrants.166
An Immigration and Naturalization Poll revealed that only 11%
of Hispanics wanted to see more visas granted to people from
Mexico—not surprising since Hispanics are among those most
likely to suffer from the influx of cheap and exploited foreign
labor. Chinese Americans have also suffered. In New York City,
an influx of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants caused the
fancy restaurant prices to fall. Wages of dishwaters fell by 40%
“In some ways
the reluctance of
environmental groups
to acknowledge
immigration as an
environmental factor
is understandable,
for it would mean
taking on the
powerful corporate
interests whose
interest in profits
is based on the
exploitation of
foreign labor . . .
13WINTER 2014
after the influx, bringing legal and illegal immigrants alike to the
brink of poverty and desperation.
A 1992 study by the Center for Immigration Studies
When blacks ask why their economic plight has not
improved since the Civil Rights Act took effect in
1965, the answer is that the Immigration Act passed
the same year. Since then, the importation of mil-
lions of foreign workers into the [United States]
has done two things: it has provided an alternative
supply of labor so that urban employers have not
had to hire available black jobseekers, and the for-
eign workers have oversupplied labor to low-skill
markets. . . . Whether intended or not, the present
immigration policy is a revived instrument of insti-
tutionalized racism.167
Supporters of illegal immigration often argue that luring
illegal foreign workers to the United States helps Americans by
lowering the cost of products consumed by Americans. They
point to the “brain drain” of how America can lure away doctors
from impoverished native lands. Business Week has gloated that
the United States “is reaping a bonanza of educated foreign work-
ers.”168 Of all the reasons for supporting illegal immigration, the
notion of stealing away educated doctors from the impoverished
countries which spend their scarce treasure to educate them so
that Americans could save a few pennies on their doctors’ bills
seems the most immoral of them all.
As a study by Gary Imhoff revealed:
[I]f an influx of illegal professionals could lower
the wages of the overpaid, of doctors and lawyers,
rather than the wages of the poor, there might be
some economic benefit to their coming to this coun-
try. . . . Instead, it is the low-wage labor markets, the
wages at the bottom that are being depressed.169
The study concluded that illegal immigration: “Widens the dif-
ferences between classes in the United States; it keeps down the
price of hiring a maid or a gardener for the rich while it makes
things worse for the poor.170
Meanwhile, by refusing to enforce America’s immigration
laws, and luring illegal immigrants to their deaths in the desert
with promises of free education, free medical care, and calls for
amnesty, business and government in the United States become
complicit in fostering human exportation as the path of least
resistance rather than taking on the entrenched religious and
cultural interests, promulgating access to family planning, and
promoting the rights of women around the globe.
The current debate over global carbon emissions and climate
change has obscured a fact that should not be debatable—namely
that the environment is degraded by the human footprint.171 As
global population continues its inexorable expansion, that foot-
print upon our fragile earth becomes ever bigger and deeper.
Unfortunately, global policy makers, like most environmen-
tal groups, have chosen largely to ignore the population factor
(“P” component), and instead have focused almost exclusively
on one relatively minor element of the human footprint—namely
carbon emissions (“T” component).172 The most widely pro-
moted schemes for addressing this one element have been
the “Cap and Trade”173 schemes, of which the U.S. Acid Rain
Program174 and the European Emissions Trading Scheme175 are
currently being implemented. Voluntary cap and trade schemes
include the Chicago Climate Exchange Program,176 the Kyoto
Protocol Clean Development Mechanism,177 the Regional
Greenhouse Gas Initiative,178 the California Global Warming
Solution Act,179 and the Climate Stewardship Act of 2007.180
The premise behind such schemes is that markets can be
created in which the right to pollute and emit carbon into the
earth’s atmosphere can be bought and sold. Governments can set
overall limits, and those industries that wish to exceed those lim-
its must buy them from industries or countries whose emissions
fall below the set limits.181
An alternative method of coercing industries to emit less
carbon is to tax industries that emit higher than an established
minimum or to discourage carbon emissions by imposing finan-
cial penalties on those who do.182
Research has established that the economic benefits to tax-
ing carbon emissions could equal that of charging for a permit
price in a cap and trade system, where both result in the same
level of reduction in consumption.183 Given that the effect of cap
and trade schemes and carbon taxes are the same, the question
arises as to why politicians, particularly in the United States,
have opted to promote tax and trade schemes rather than direct
excise taxes on carbon emissions.
One answer may be that tax and trade schemes are less trans-
parent. Consumers and voters are apt to understand clearly what
the consequences of a “gasoline tax” will be on the price they
pay at the pump but less likely to understand that consequences
of a carbon tax imposed on a “big corporation” may be the same
as a gasoline tax because the cost of an input in the production
of a product is ultimately reflected in the price of the product. 184
However, schemes that rely on consumer ignorance or lack
of understanding of economic principles are unlikely to prevail
once consumers realize they have been duped. For this reason,
policy makers should be honest about the costs and benefits of
carbon emission reductions.185 An NBC poll indicated that while
only 27% of Americans would support a gasoline tax to discour-
age driving and 51% think that jobs in the Northwest are more
important than the spotted owl, 51% of Americans said they
would drive less safe cars to help the environment.186
Only when such programs as cap and trade are made trans-
parent can the public support be achieved which is necessary
to long-term programs to save the environment. Even more
important, both policy makers and environmental leaders must
work to educate the global public to the inconvenient truth that
population, not consumption or circle-game politics, is the key
to reversing the trend toward environmental degradation.
Two f amiliar similes help explain the environmental dan-
gers now facing mankind:
The first is that of rearranging the deck chair on the Titanic.
While policy makers rearrange the deck chairs by playing the
circle game (the “T” component of Holdren’s equation) or urg-
ing passengers not to use them (the “A” component), the ship
that is planet Earth is sinking under the weight of an inexorably
expanding number of passengers.
The second is that of the human body. As one type of cell
(the cancer cell) expands exponentially at the expense of all the
other human cells needed for life, the whole living organism that
is a man or woman dies a slow inexorable death.
In the 1992 Presidential election, campaign workers posted
reminders that “It’s the economy, stupid.” Today, all those inter-
ested in saving the environment must put up posters reading,
“It’s the population, stupid.”
Endnotes: As the World Welcomes its Seven Billionth Human:
Reflections and Population, Law, and the Environment
1 See Jan J. Boersema, Environmental Sciences, Sustainability, and Qual-
Reijnders eds., 2009).
2 Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 116 (1973).
3 International Programs – World Vital Events Per Unit: 2013, U.S. CENSUS
BUREAU (Nov. 3, 2013, 8:32 PM),
tional/data/idb/worldvitalevents.php (data indicates population increase of 2.5
(1994) [hereinafter POPULATION, LAW, AND THE ENVIRONMENT]); see also Nafis
Sadik, Three People Born Every Second–250,000 Daily, L.A. TIMES, Feb. 22,
1990, at 10 (as cited in POPULATION, LAW, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, supra, at 17).
4 THE STATE OF WORLD POPULATION, supra note 3, at 11.
ENVIRONMENT 316, Table 22.1 (1992) (as cited in POPULATION, LAW, AND THE
ENVIRONMENT, supra note 3, at 17); see also SANDRA POSTAL & BRIAN RICHTER,
cubic kilometers of fresh water consumed per year by global economy).
6 WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, supra note 5, at 316, Table 21.2.
7 Call of the Wild: More Environmental Facts, UNIV. MINN. (Summer 2004), (last visited Nov. 3,
2013) (“1.5 acres of rainforest are destroyed every second”).
8 WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, supra note 5, at 348, Table 24.2.
9 WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, supra note 5, at 351, Table 24.5.
10 WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, supra note 5, at 351, Table 24.6.
11 WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, supra note 5, at 351, Table 23.2.
THE ENVIRONMENT, supra note 3, at 17).
13 Dan Kulpinski, Human Footprint: Where Does All the Stuff Go?, NATL
trash-talk.html (last visited Nov. 3, 2013) (“Americans generated 251 million
tons of trash in 2006, the most recent year for which the Environmental Protec-
tion Agency (EPA) has data. Our per capita trash disposal rate was 4.6 pounds
per person, per day.”).
14 Michael Luke, Fresh Kills, NYC GARBAGE PROJECT, http://newyorkgarbage. (last visited Nov. 3, 2013).
15 Ralph Hamil, The Arrival of the 5-Billionth Human, FUTURIST, July/August
1987, at 36 (as cited in POPULATION, LAW, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, supra note 3, at
16 Id.
17 Id; U.S. Population Growth, SURVEYSEZ.COM,
growth.html (last visited Nov. 17, 2013) (noting that U.S. population growth
increases annually by the amount of people in the United States in 1776).
18 Hamil, supra note 15.
19 Currently, there are 7,122,017,290 people on earth. See U.S. &
World Population Clocks, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Nov. 3, 2013, 8:58 PM), http://
20 Actual estimates of the number of humans living today as a percentage
of the total number of humans who ever lived varies from 9% as reported by
the New York Times in 9 Percent of Everyone Who Ever Lived is Alive Now, to
75% as referenced in Carl Haub’s article How Many People have Ever Lived on
Earth. John No & Ble Wilford, 9 Percent of Everyone Who Ever Lived is Alive
Now, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 6, 1981,
percent-of-everyone-who-ever-lived-is-alive-now.html; Carl Haub, How Many
People have Ever Lived on Earth?, POPULATION REFERENCE BUREAU (Feb. 1995),
(last visited Nov. 3, 2013)(“. . . at some time back in the 1970s, a now-forgotten
writer made the statement that 75[%] of the people who had ever been born
were alive at that moment.”).
21 “On average, U.S. household food consumption adds 8.1 metric tons of
[carbon dioxide equivalent] each year. The production of food accounts for
83% of emissions while its transportation accounts for 11%. . . . In the [United
States], for each kilowatt hour generated an average of 1.3 pounds of [carbon
dioxide] is released at the power plant. Coal releases 2.1 pounds, petroleum
releases 2.0 pounds, and natural gas releases 1.3 pounds. . . . U.S. fuel economy
decreased 4% from 1988 to 2009, down to 21.1 miles per gallon, while annual
per capita miles driven have increased 9% since 1996, to 10,045 miles. Cars
and light trucks emitted nearly 1.2 billion metric tons of [carbon dioxide], or
FOOTPRINT FACTSHEET (2013), available at
22 Stephen Stec, Ecological Rights Advancing the Rule of Law in Eastern
Europe, 13 J. ENVTL. L. & LITIG. 275, 334 (1998).
23 Lee M. Thomas, Adm’r, U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, Address at the National
Press Club: The Next Four Years: An Agenda for Environmental Results 6-7
(Apr. 3, 1985).
24 Donovan Webster, Sweet Home Arkansas, UTNE READER, July/Aug. 1992,
at 116 (as cited in POPULATION, LAW, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, supra note 3, at
25 Id. at 112, 116.
26 Id.
27 Id. at 113.
28 Id.
MENT, supra note 3, at 162).
30 Id.
31 Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153 (1978) (as cited in POPU-
LATION, LAW, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, supra note 3, at 54).
32 Id. at 172.
33 Id. at 203-204 (Powell, J., dissenting).
34 Maria Goodavage, Battling Safe Windmills: Bird Deaths in Turbines Spur
Outcry, USA TODAY, May 27, 1993, at 3A (as cited in POPULATION, LAW, AND
THE ENVIRONMENT, supra note 3, at 37).
35 Id.
continued on page 59