Cure for overpopulation may be worse than the problem itself
"Declining fertility rates mean there's no need for draconian measures"
By Susan Martinuk, Calgary Herald
It's possible that Diane Francis, one of Canada's leading financial columnists, lies awake at night worrying about monsters in the closet.
In her latest weekly Financial Post column, she confided to us her belief that world leaders meeting in Copenhagen are deliberately ignoring the real "inconvenient truth" that is the cause of world's environmental problems -- Overpopulation.
People are the problem. Their "soaring reproduction rate" is ruining the world's vegetation, oceans and atmosphere. Since individuals have obviously been irresponsible in controlling their own fecundity, she advocates the implementation of worldwide, government-controlled population control laws. In her words, "a planetary law, such as China's one-child policy."
Obviously, it's a rather extreme solution. Maybe it would be easier to just get everyone to hold their breath (and cease pumping out those nasty carbon gases) for 10 seconds every minute.
We've heard this Malthusian nonsense before. Paul Ehrlich made it a popular fear in the 1970s after he published The Population Time Bomb. His writings predicted that mankind's uncontrolled reproduction would bring about the destruction of human life. He believed that the world's population would fall to 1.5 billion by 1985 and the U.S. would have a population of only 22.6 million by 1999.
Over the past decades, Ehrlich's fearmongering and predictions have been proven wrong and even ludicrous.
Yet, every once in a while, someone like Francis decides it's time to beat that worn-out drum again.
Francis quantifies her need for a global dictatorship based on a statistic that the Earth's population will reach an "unsustainable" number of nine billion by 2050. But whether the world is full or half-empty very much depends on context.
For example, The Economist (Oct. 29) considers that same statistic within the context of worldwide fertility rates and proclaims that the world is reaching huge milestones in stabilizing and reducing population growth. One-half of humanity is having enough children to replace itself -- the rest have fertility rates that are below replacement rates.
Fertility rate is the hypothetical number of children a couple must have to replace themselves. The global average is about 2.3 (considering that some children die) and more than 70 countries (from every continent) now have fertility rates that are less than the replacement rate.
It's not just western nations; the average fertility rate in developing countries has fallen from six to three children in the past 20 years. Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, South India and many others are already at -- or below -- the replacement rate.
In other words, population numbers such as those used by Francis may continue to climb for a time.
But they will diminish on their own with lower fertility rates. There's no need to impose draconian measures such as mass sterilization or government population control.
We've already seen the horrific consequences of China's one-child policy (as advocated by Francis) in female infanticide, a lopsided ratio of boys to girls with the resulting social crisis of not having enough women to marry young men, and abortion rates that are higher than birth rates. By 2030, China will have the oldest population in the world -- with a very small population of young people to drive the economy and support their elders. Then what?
The consequence of low fertility rates is already evident in Canada, where fewer young people available to support the social and medical costs of an aging population. In 2007, a Maclean's article on our "baby bust" mused about paying women to have children.
So are we in the midst of a population explosion? Or implosion? That depends on how you view mankind. If man is just another animal resource to be managed or, worse still, a blight on the planet Earth, then there will always be too many people.
Conversely, if you believe that human capital is a benefit, then more people are always needed to stabilize society, to care for the elderly, to drive the economy and build a better world.
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