A Few Things Ill Considered

Global Population Speak Out

So a couple of month’s ago I signed up for the Global Population Speak Out, which (you are better off to follow the link) is a simple project intended to draw attention to the problem posed by the world’s growing human population. My obligation is pretty small, fortunately, in that I was asked only to at least mention the issue in some way, some where.

I say “fortunately” because it has turned out to be a hard thing to write about for me.

It is clear that current population growth is unsustainable, and I would suspect that the current population as it stands now is itself unsustainable. The environmental damage that we as a species cause is pretty clear, as is the unsustainability of our consumption of resources and ecosystem services. But what is not clear is what to do about it.

What is the right path when the choices are between the immoral and the impossible? It is hard to feel comfortable with child quotas, mandatory sterilization or any other similar policy that visits that kind of governmental control on such a personal and private aspect of everyone’s life. But it is ludicrous to simply hope that humanity suddenly comes to its senses and collectively decides to have no more than one child each until the planet and our presence is in balance.

But isn’t the alternative to proactively addressing the issue unrestrained growth until we hit uncontrollable collapse?

I really have no idea what we should do about it.

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    February 28, 2009

    Educated women have fewer children. Given enough education, women have fewer children than the replacement rate. This is already happening in large parts of Europe, and some parts of New England. Sterilization, child quotas, etc, have been tried by China, and they have nearly worked – but China is still (just barely) above the replacement rate. In other words – the heavy handed methods do not work as well as education.

  2. #2 derek
    March 1, 2009

    The famous “demographic transition” is an illusion caused by increased international mobility. Education has always raised women to a higher economic class; upper class women have always had fewer children than lower class women; and their numbers have always been made up from the lower class. All that’s happening now is that the upper and lower classes come from different countries instead of from the same country.

    The actual population densities of Europe and New England aren’t going down, and the population densities of the countries the immigrants to Europe and New England are coming from aren’t going down as a result of emigration either. It’s just the same dynamic as ever, played out on an international instead of local scale.

  3. #3 Cássio
    March 1, 2009

    “China is still (just barely) above the replacement rate.”

    Searching on the internet, I could find this site that contradicts what you have said. I quote:

    “China’s future population growth is a product of past growth. The average number of children per woman has been below the replacement level of 2.1 since the mid-1980s. Most recent estimates from the State Statistical Bureau assume that current fertility on a national average is at 1.85 children per woman.”

  4. #4 Pierce R. Butler
    March 1, 2009

    Making contraception of all kinds (including the software: comprehensive sex education) very easily and very widely available would seem the logical minimal first step. Unfortunately, that would upset a lot of cultural (mostly religious) applecarts, so there will be much resistance – but when those problems are compared to a massive population crash, the choice is fairly clear.

    The same difficulties – and the same rejoinder – apply to the next move: giving/allowing women a wider range of career paths than motherhood.

    My personal hope is to inculcate the value that humans are a high-K species, best suited for having few offspring and investing heavily in each. (Yes, I do recognize that’s only a small part of a much larger puzzle.)

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    March 1, 2009

    Something else to bear in mind: population growth is deeply intertwined with the “limitless growth of everything” model of modern capitalism.

    Attempts to reduce the former are attacks on the latter, or at least have often been treated as such by the Powers What Is. Regardless of the merits of any given demographic strategy, it cannot avoid the ideological context of politics-as-we-have-it any more than it can bypass religion – and that’s just to get enough voice to be noticed…

  6. #6 Art
    March 1, 2009

    IMHO the mother of all problems, and ultimately the hardest to solve, is the mater of population limits. All of the biggest problems are tied into population issues. War, famine, disease, energy shortages, poverty and the lack of both education and human rights are intimately tied into population issues.

    But how do you tell a man that he can’t have more children? It is taken as read that children are gift from on high and couples have a right, granted from on high, to have as many children as they wish.

  7. #7 PJ
    March 2, 2009

    It’s good to see someone popping their head up over the parapet and talking about this modern taboo. If you don’t already know about it then Google “optimum population trust” for an organisation that tries to raise the profile of uncontrolled human growth.

    It seems to me that there are too many vested interests that see increasing population as “a good thing”. Even if it was technically possible to cram more and more people into a smaller space and still feed them (as some argue), what sort of quality will those lives have?

    While the capitalist system sees humans as predominantly economic units/consumers to maintain (the myth of) continual economic growth then even simple steps like biasing the tax system to encourage small families (e.g. half child allowance for 2nd child, none beyond that) are unlikely. Politicians prefer to state that more young people are needed to support the aging population.

    Politicians have been glacially slow to tackle the threat of climate change and, despite the obvious link to planetary carrying capacity, it’s hard to see any government even openly discussing the subject. Sadly it currently seems that the only way population would decrease is through constant or major wars, a fatal pandemic, major resource shortages, etc. Not a rosy future to consider.

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