A friend recently asked why people don’t pay more attention to population issues. Between us we came up with several explanations.
Here is the combined list that we put together, with my comments. Do you know other reasons? Email me if you do!
1. The increase in population is so slow that it is difficult to notice. True! But that is why we have census figures, which show that our population is rising geometrically (like compound interest). Other figures show that we are using resources that should belong to our progeny.
2. We are accustomed to looking at near causes, not ultimate causes. It is easy to see that there are more extremes of weather, and to read about climate change, but how many people actually connect those facts with the underlying cause—more people emitting greenhouse gases?
3. Population issues have to do with family size selection, and that is ultimately a personal decision. True again! Fortunately, people are choosing to have smaller families. Unfortunately, there are many barriers in their way. We need more research on safe and effective contraception, and we need to make all methods available to all people with little or no expense.
(An aside. Some people accuse me of advocating “population control”. Other than using the term “birth control”, I have assiduously avoided the word “control”. Indeed, I believe that people should have as many children as they want—including none. My role is to help people achieve their family size goals.)
4. Religions tend to either promote large families or prohibit contraception—or both. Although I believe in freedom of religion (as does the Constitution of the United States), I also believe in the ability of people to use their God-given brains. Most religious prohibitions date back to the era when “…Be fruitful, and multiply” was more relevant.
5. Large size, whether it be vehicle or family size, is an important attribute. This seems to be a male thing. Get over it, guys!
6. Many otherwise reasonable people don’t realize that there are limits to growth. Or, perhaps, they just never thought about the possibility of limits. Our European forefathers came to a sparsely populated continent and enjoyed its bounty. Regrettably, the level of resource usage that we have enjoyed cannot go on forever.
7. The International Conference on Population and Development turned away from population and toward reproductive health (RH). The reasons were good. Concentrating on population, in India for example, had led to coercing people to be sterilized. RH would include family planning, but RH includes other important services such as prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
8. The influence of vocal anti-abortion activists. Many people who are against abortion associate population issues with abortion. Remember that the best way to slow population growth—and to prevent abortions—is with good access to modern contraception
9. The success of family planning and attention to declining birth rates. Indeed, most rich countries (and many poorer ones) have fertility rates that will eventually lead to stable population sizes—but there are still many other countries that have high growth rates.
10. Many people confuse the decreasing rate of growth with population shrinkage. Wrong! The world’s population is still growing by 80 million people a year, and the overshoot of our global Ecologic Footprint is 50%. That means that we are far from being sustainable.
11. The media don’t pay much attention to population issues. This is the reason for this column! For more than fifteen years the Herald has been the only newspaper in the country—perhaps in the world—to carry a regular column treating population issues.
12. People deny that the world will be very different in the future than what we have known. It is easy to just assume that the world will continue with the status quo, but oh, so wrong!
I have left a couple of reasons out of this article. Some people believe we need growth for our economy to thrive; last month’s article dealt with growth. More troublesome is how we can support the increasing numbers of old people with fewer young people coming along.
Happily, National Geographic has ignored the taboo against population. This prestigious magazine is running a series of articles in 2011. January’s cover reads: “Population 7 billion: How your world will change”.
Many of us will not be around long enough to see our world deteriorate much more. It is our kids and grandkids who will feel the effects the most.