In Dan Brown’s Inferno, the great threat is the release of a “plague” that would make one-third of the world sterile, thereby reducing the rate of population growth around the world. We all know the planet has too many people to remain sustainable, but how do you deny someone a family without being evil?
Large families are still a significant part of human tradition. We are only two generations away from a time when one had a legitimate reason to worry whether a child would survive to adulthood. Rampant disease and the dangers of child labor took a heavy toll on the world’s children.
Then came Dr. Salk and his vaccinations. Medical science suddenly made huge leaps forward in disease prevention and cure rates. Our understanding of how the human body operates took significant strides resulting not only in more children surviving, but longer life spans for adults as well.
And all of a sudden, without nature and lifestyle killing off large number, there are too many people on the planet. Sustainability ended when we surpassed six billion people living on this rock. World population this morning is over 7.3 billion and approximately 114,ooo more will be added today, while only 47,000 will die, giving us an additional surplus of 67,000 people in just one day. At some point relatively soon, within this century by some accounts, we will completely run out of room.
What do we do to solve this problem, though? How do we curb population growth when having children is, at least for a majority of women, instinctive and natural? How do we reduce humanity’s global footprint without risking horrible genocide of specific people groups or unthinkable policies such as forced sterilization? Are there answers to this problem that don’t violate our sense of morality and personhood?
Answers to large problems don’t come easily and are often controversial along political and religious lines. Where the matter is of greatest concern, geographically, is in places where women and families have the fewest choices and least amount of education. Population in the United States has been decreasing the past six years, for example, but not nearly enough to offset the continued boom occurring throughout other portions of the world. An attitude of “not my problem, not my concern” throughout the developed Western world impedes any significant solution.
- Choice. Specifically, a woman’s ability to make medical and reproductive decisions regarding her own body without interference from government and/or religion. Mandates quickly become inhumane but give women an informed choice and watch them respond appropriately.
- Education. Women can’t make responsible choices if they don’t know what options exists and how to safely implement those alternatives. Women with higher levels of education have more employment opportunities and economic options resulting in smaller families.
- Society. Stop asking young women when they’re going to start a family. Stop asking new mothers when they’re going to have another. Stop glorifying teen pregnancy with ridiculously stupid television programs. Babies are people, not trophies.
- Economics. As long as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remains a leading economic indicator, there is an economic disincentive to slow or reverse population growth. GDP inherently requires increased consumption by a steadily increasing number of people. Fewer people means less consumption. We need to find a different way of calculating economic progress.
- Consumption. Why is our planet unable to support 7.3 billion people? Because we demand too much from the planet. Overconsumption has already resulted in a global water shortage, contributes heavily to climate change, and in a primary cause of global pollution.
Holy impregnability, Batman, we need to find a solution and quick. Unfortunately, this isn’t something the Caped Crusaders can likely pull out of their utility belts. Dire consequences, from economic collapse to global famine to a mass extinction event are all within the realm of possibility if we do not act quickly toward a solution. How quickly?
How quickly? Consider that darling little baby we mentioned earlier. She and everyone of her generation could be on the losing end of our procrastination and denial. The problem of overpopulation isn’t coming; it’s here and we have to respond.