Opinion: Decrease the birthrate, save the world?


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Overpopulation is the root of the world’s biggest problems, but it is one of the least-talked-about global issues, say Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich in an Op-Ed Thursday. Sure, we hear about climate change and carbon emissions, but we don’t hear about how the rapidly expanding population is causing those problems. And the U.S. isn’t helping slow the growth with tax deductions for kids, anti-family planning groups and the cultural expectation for women to have children. Yet, despite the encouragement to have children, the discussion about how to support them is absent, the authors argue.

Here’s an excerpt:

Promote and support family planning education at the family and community levels as a cheap way to reduce poverty and severe climate change. Support organizations that are trying to get contraceptives to the 200 million women in the world who lack and want them, and help them obtain equal rights, education and job opportunities. Access to contraceptives and reproductive freedom are rights, not luxuries, that ultimately benefit all of humanity. Vote for leaders who vigorously promote those humane solutions. And demand that media start educating the public every day on the role played by the unsustainable human numbers behind environmental degradation and human calamities — and start covering the solutions. The public needs a constant message: ‘It’s time to stop growing and become sustainable.’


Here is how readers responded on the discussion board:

Consumption is the problem, not population

This is a terribly misleading article. It is absolutely abhorrent to suggest that the populations in Africa are ruining the earth. While birthrates are higher in many African countries, the carbon footprint and use of resources by people living in this area are far far lower than those of people living in the west. Americans create far more CO2, eat more food, use more water, make more trash, etc. To put a picture of an ‘overpopulated’ refugee camp in Kenya at the top of this article is in poor taste, and is not well-reasoned.

Of course contraception should be made available around the world, and women’s equality should be a goal. But alarmist articles like this one are not useful in creating programs to do this. Placing the blame on poor women happens all too often. Arguments like those made in this article led to coercive birth control measures in many developing countries in the 1970’s, including things like forced sterilization. It scares me to read this in a major publication.


Most people in the U.S. don’t face this problem, in response to alizoo


I don’t think the article is blaming Africa for ruining the earth. And it’s hardly alarmist. Just giving an example the conditions in which much of the rest of the world lives. We in the U.S. don’t see this, but the fact is the vast majority of people on this planet do not have the necessities for life that you and I take for granted. The fact that ‘it scares [you] to read this,’ is illustrative of why most people are not facing the problem. The enormity is frightening.

--Nova yos Galen

It’s the root of all problems

You can scarcely name a problem today that is not either caused by, or exacerbated by, over-population.


The Catholic Church’s influence is a factor


Roman Catholic church is a big part of the problem. They rule in many of the third world countries and their birth control policies are a big player in world overpopulation.


The problem is underdevelopment, not overpopulation

The problem isn’t overpopulation, it’s lack of development. Somalia being a prime example. The population density of Somalia is actually lower than here in the US. However, Somalia has not had a functioning government for over 20 years. This has destroyed the infrastructure of the country, as well as many other aspects of society. The planet can support a rising human population, if the development of the planet is continued. Rising populations coupled with no development or de-development per se will lead to the calamities mentioned in this article.


What’s wrong with family planning?


why kill the messenger? why the sarcasm? i don’t believe the article calls for the eradication of the human species, nor is it trying to instill fear; rather it is attempting to educate readers that the topic of overpopulation has been ignored for too long by government and the press. what’s wrong with better family planning and a more responsible approach to having children? to think that the earth will forever sustain our population growth is folly and naive.


The structure of the world economy is to blame

Talking about population without talking about food security, sustainable development and so on is ridiculous. Every society that has gained a reasonable standard of living has seen population growth level off or even decline. The problem is that the world economy is still divided into relatively well-off consumers and poor producers. The people who are locked into economies that provide the raw resources to the better off have little real chance to attain a good standard of living and populations under stress produce more babies.


*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.



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--Samantha Schaefer