|It doesn’t get much publicity, but tomorrow is World Population Day. There are plenty of reasons to feel overwhelmed at how quickly our numbers are still growing, but we should also take heart at how rapidly birthrates have fallen in many parts of the world. The overpopulation problem won’t be solved overnight, but we – the generations now living – can accelerate the adoption of small family size that will give future generations a chance to enjoy a bountiful Earth.
Those who understand how critically important reducing and stabilizing the human population is must continue to be proactive in getting the population issue on the agenda of our leaders.
Significant challenges remain, and the window of opportunity seems to be narrowing. Our last release, for example, highlighted a new study co-authored by Paul Ehrlich that shows the extinction rate among terrestrial vertebrate species is significantly higher than prior estimates and that we might only have 10 to 15 years to prevent massive losses. Humanity is already deep into ecological overshoot. But we know what the solutions are, and to fail to actively promote them would increase the likelihood of worst case scenarios unfolding to the detriment of future generations and all other living things on Earth.
It’s Not An Intractable Issue
Thanks in large part to 20th century family planning programs, fertility rates have more than halved from a global average of over five children in the mid-1960s. This proves that it is possible to lower human numbers in a humane, non-coercive way. But it takes some will on the part of governments to promote smaller families, provide education about family planning and make it available to all. Very successful programs have been implemented, for example, in Indonesia, Iran, Thailand, and Bangladesh. The major impediment to reducing total fertility rates is not a lack of resources or birth control but a continuing desire for large families, female inequality, and harmful myths and misinformation about contraceptives.
As Joe Bish, the director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Centre, wrote two weeks ago in his remarkable essay Addressing Population Challenge Is Not Impossible, “embracing intergenerational responsibility means opposing laissez faire demographic fatalism.” In other words, we can’t just let the demographics unfold as they would.
In his article, Bish notes that some experts suggest a population sized at approximately two people per arable hectare would be ecologically sustainable. If this is so (and it may be optimistic), then with 1.6 billion arable hectares, the planet could support 3.2 billion people in perpetuity. Of course, a maximum population is not necessarily an optimum population. A smaller population would make for a less crowded Earth with a more abundant biodiversity. While even a population of 3.2 billion might seem like an impossible goal, it is attainable in the long term if one- and two-child families become the norm throughout the world. If we continue on our current trajectory, the UN projects a human population of 10.8 billion by 2100 – a scenario we must strive to avoid.
Where Do You Come In on the Numbers?
Do you know what the Earth’s population was when you were born? Population Connection, the largest grassroots population organization in the US, makes it easy to find out. Why not take a look and see how quickly the numbers have grown since you arrived on the planet?
Please engage with us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, where we do our best to educate and inform others about the consequences of overpopulation. We’d be glad to have you join us.
Madeline Weld, Ph.D.
President, Population Institute Canada
Tel: (613) 833-3668