THE ANCIENT LAMENT
Plowed fields have replaced forests, domesticated animals have dispersed wild life. Beaches are plowed, mountains smoothed and swamps drained. There are as many cities as, in former years, there were dwellings . … Everywhere there are buildings, everywhere people, everywhere communities, everywhere life … Proof of this crowding is the density of human beings. We weigh upon the world; its resources hardly suffice to support us . … In truth, plague, famine wars, and earthquakes must be regarded as a blessing to civilization, since they prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race. - Tertullian, c. A.D. 200
Tertullian's modern-sounding plaint came in a time when the earth's population was a small fraction of our own. It is an ancient lament: the world is crowded. Our American ancestors complained that the land was filled up even when their largest cities had 30,000 people in them.
This crowded feeling, common to urban life, surely contributes to a broad acceptance of the message of those who argue that population is assuming disastrous proportions. Stan Becker, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University and a Quaker who cares ardently about these issues, told me his global concerns often connect best with Quakers when he relates them to American urban sprawl—to freeways and malls and parking lots spreading across the suburban terrain.
Population activists have never been content to explain their reasons for population control in aesthetic terms, however. They have more practical, scientific reasons. But, as anyone can see who reads back through the last 25 years of literature, the reasons continue to shift:
* Hunger. When population control roared into public consciousness in the ...1