There’s an elephant in the room! It is loud and it stinks, but no one wants to talk about it. I refer, of course to the explosion of human population since the turn of the nineteenth century that is threatening to overwhelm the planet. No one wants to talk about overpopulation, of course, because in the minds of a great many people overpopulation is closely tied to the issue of abortion — a topic that is very emotional and produces much more heat than light. But the two issues are not necessarily conjoined at all. Population control does not entail abortion; it can be accomplished in a great many ways that don’t conflict with deeply held beliefs.
Having said that, I would like to take a quick look at the issue because I would argue that the population explosion is the root cause of many of the problems facing humankind today — problems such as pollution of air and water, contamination and depletion of our water supply, nuclear proliferation, desertification, deforestation, world-wide violence, eradication of numerous animal species, and increasing numbers of poor and destitute humans. These problems are almost certainly exacerbated by, if not ultimately caused by, the fact that there are simply too many humans on the planet. It is a problem that demands our attention whether we want to think about it or not.
Consider: It is estimated that it wasn’t until 1804 that human populations on earth reached one billion. The human population then began to “explode” and was doubled by 1927. By 1960 it was three billion and is now at seven billion. It is projected to reach eight billion by 2025-2030. Human numbers on earth have grown by a billion people since 1999! Estimates by such groups as the Club of Rome have concluded that the earth may have already reached its carrying capacity, which raises the specter of increasing starvation especially when coupled with global warming that is causing widespread drought. The Inter Academy Panel Statement on Population Growth, ratified by 58 countries in 1994, noted that the growth in human population at that time was “unprecedented,” which strikes me as an understatement. We are already unable to feed everyone on earth, even if we could solve the logistical problems of getting food from warehouses where it is stored to places where it is desperately needed.
The really curious thing about this problem is that its solution is so simple: family planning. It is something that is ready at hand and available to all, or nearly all. In fact, this country was very much involved in funding family planning efforts in Third World countries, and the project was making real progress, until a certain Republican president (who shall remain nameless) put a stop to it — on the mistaken grounds, once again, that it fostered abortion. One of the simple actions that was proving effective at the time was the production of TV shows in Third World countries that focused on the benefits of small families, with accompanying information about birth control. Those shows were discontinued when the funding from the United States was cut off.
In this country, even today, our popular TV shows like to focus on large families and the birth of a baby to a woman whose “biological clock” is ticking — even is she happens to be unmarried and has no means of raising the child once it is born — is sure to raise the ratings. Not long ago we made a hero out of a man who had just fathered his twentieth child by placing his picture on the front page of our newspapers, and applauding his manliness. In fact, his lack of social conscience does not warrant applause, it warrants derision. In this case more is not better. We need to be sending different messages at home and abroad. Even though the problem is not as great in this country as it is elsewhere, it affects us all and we need to reflect on the obligations we have to future generations. The elephant is getting restless.