This week NPR did a story about food shortages in the developing world, but the word “population” was never said. Other stories they have recently done about similar evidence of global environmental issues have similarly avoided mentioning overpopulation. I have noted this phenomenon so many times that it is making me a bit crazy. Why does the overpopulation problem, clearly behind our problems of pollution, ecological degradation, climate change, immigration, and various other economic woes, never get mentioned by the press or political candidates? Is it THAT awful, that huge a problem? Does it have such terrifying implications that nobody can face the fact that, as a species, we humans are rapidly overpopulating the planet, and already suffering the inevitable fallout from doing so?
Perhaps this subject _IS_ too terrifying for most people to face. Dr. Albert Allen Bartlett notes in a podcast interview (link) that immigration, a part of the population picture, is itself too politically incorrect, too risky for politicians to say much about lest they be labeled a racist or otherwise attacked. Is our human propensity for political sensitivity and B.S. going to keep us standing still on the tracks, like a deer in the headlights, until the population train runs us down? We each need to take some action to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Interestingly, Dr. Bartlett points out that, if every couple has 2 children, stability still won’t be achieved for about 70 years. This is compounded with the expectation that world population will pass global food-producing capacity within two or three decades. Dr. Bartlett also argues that, if humans can be shown to be responsible for any part of global climate change, we are already beyond a sustainable population. He recommends a book, “The Ecological Footprint” (link), which indicates that to bring everyone to the standard of living we have in the U.S. would require a half dozen more earths. He feels that we are already in a very dire situation, and ignoring it is just making matters worse. He also recommends the book “Twilight in the Desert” (link), written by a Texan in the financial industry about the coming exhaustion of Saudi oil. The book indicates that the Saudis are exhausting their oil fields quickly, and actually speeding the exhaustion of their fields by pumping water into the ground to increase production – a short term strategy with serious long term problems.
Dr. Bartlett says that modern medicine is making things worse by prolonging life, but not putting enough resources into birth control development, which would help the situation. He notes that the Chinese policy mandating one child per family (link), conceived 30 years ago, was based on the idea that population growth was getting in the way of economic development, and that this seems to have been borne out by the facts. China now says that they have avoided the births of over 300 million people, and the social costs and pollution those people would have generated. He said that China’s birthrate is still around 1 to 1.5% per year, or 10-15 million more people per year, in spite of the law. Interestingly, a 1998 U.S. Embassy report (link) says that a combination of education, family planning, and improved living standards have worked at least as well as the One Child Policy where that approach has been tried. This fits with the perception I’ve mentioned here that these factors can successfully reduce birthrates, and are the most cost effective way to do so.
Dr. Bartlett says that waiting for smart people in Washington to warn us of real trouble, or take action to mitigate the population problem, is wrong. Those people are smart, but not in the way that would cause them to do the right things as far as the global population problem. I believe that economic and political incentives that could motivate positive political action are not in place, but we in the electorate can put them there.
Please write your representatives – the population explosion MUST become a first item on everyone’s agenda! Also contact members of the media and demand that they cover overpopulation as the root cause of climate change and other environmental problems. Point out that, while it is difficult to accept, China’s one child family policy has worked, and that the same results can be achieved without legislation but by economic assistance, better education, and family planning. We all need to weigh in on this now to mitigate future problems that we, our children, and our descendants will surely suffer.