Austin Bay

If demography is destiny, then news of America's decline is (like Mark Twain's death) decidedly premature.

Statisticians tell us Oct. 17 (at 7:46 a.m. EDT, according to the Census Bureau's estimate) was the day America's population reached, then surpassed, 300 million people. That's a three followed by eight zeroes.

Unfortunately, Oct. 17 was Halloween with an extra "Boo" (B with two zeroes) for various "greens" and ecological radicals mired in Malthusian desperation and myths of looming disaster.

For decades, the doomsayers have been predicting catastrophe wrought by the "population explosion" and diminishing resources.

Author and columnist Mark Steyn notes in his new book, "America Alone" (Regnery Publishing), "The end of the world's nighness isn't something you'd want to set your watch by. "

Steyn provides a collection of the dire predictions made by "Chicken Little's eminent successors."

Steyn's list includes:

-- 1968, in "The Population Bomb," distinguished scientist Paul Ehrlich declared, "In the 1970s the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death."

-- 1972, in "The Limits to Growth," the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and gas by 1993.

-- 1976, Lowell Ponte published a huge bestseller called "The Cooling: Has the New Ice Age Already Begun? Can We Survive?"

-- 1977, Jimmy Carter confidently predicted that "we could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade."

"None of these things occurred," Steyn writes. "Contrary to the doom-mongers' predictions, millions didn't starve."

Steyn, however, isn't against gloomy prognostications, per se. In fact, "America Alone" is a doom book of a peculiar sort -- it's insistently witty and trenchantly written. Both are achievements, given the core subject matter: American demographic success and vitality (fecundity, folks) compared to the demographic decline of other democracies and modern, industrialized nations.

Steyn is an arch "Euro-pessimist," who backs his pessimism with numbers.

Europeans are reproducing below the "replacement rate" -- thus the average age of their populations is increasing sharply. If current trends continue, by 2050 one in three Germans and Italians will be over 65 years old. In the United States, only one in five will be so gray.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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