by Dr. Roy Cordato
Senior Economist, Emeritas
Below is a question from the “North Carolina End of Course Assessment in Biology that was recently released by the state Division of Public Instruction. It should be pointed out that this is one of several propaganda and not science based questions on the test.
What will most likely happen if the human population continues to grow at
A There will be fewer natural resources available for future generations.
B There will be an increase in nitrogen levels in the atmosphere.
C There will be a decrease in water pollution.
D There will be an increase in the number of strong hurricanes.
The “correct” answer is A. The problem is that this question involves a prediction for which there is not a shred of historical evidence to support. As global population has grown over the past couple of centuries, resources have not become more scarce but more abundant. And this is true of almost any natural resource one can think of. The fact is that as resources become especially scarce their prices go up and people tend to find more of them, or they find ways of using them more efficiently (for example by getting more output from each addition BTU of energy), or by finding cheaper and more plentiful substitutes. For example when whale oil became increasingly scarce humans (you know those creatures who, according to this question will be the reason for fewer natural resources in the future) discovered technology for using using much more plentiful crude oil as a source for lighting. And guess what, ever since this discovery and as global population has grown, oil has become almost continuously less not more scarce. A more recent example is the conversion from copper wire for communications purposes to fiber optics (whose main resource input is sand).
The premise behind this question, which is both theoretically and empirically false, is that humans are strictly resource consumers when in fact we are resource creators. The late Julian Simon, University of Maryland economist, referred to the human mind as the ultimate resource, It is the creator of all resources from what is just stuff in nature. As the population grows more minds are added to this resource base. This explains why there is not a shred of historical evidence linking population growth to resource depletion. The ignorance embedded in this question should not be tolerated in North Carolina schools.
(For a more extensive look at the whole issue of sustainability see this study I did several years back.)