And here is the original version before the editor cut the naughty bits out (in red).
“I have come to believe that the population explosion is the world’s most critical problem.”
Dwight Eisenhower
“…five dollars invested in population control is worth one hundred dollars invested in economic growth…”
Lyndon Johnson
“One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population.”
Richard Nixon
Whoa! When’s the last time you heard a president or a prime minister or any head of state mention that population growth was a problem? If you’re not a baby boomer, you probably never have. Perhaps you’ve grown up with the comfortable assumption that we’ll all – somehow – wind up in a future with George Jetson and Rosie the Robot as neighbours.
But as I noted in my August column, much of Asia is already dangerously overpopulated. And it is you and I who are complicit in this gruesome ecocide, since practically every gadget we buy seems to be made over there.
And over here, the pressures are felt whenever a hectare of farmland becomes another parking lot. Or when we heard in October that Alberta’s woodland caribou population is being cut in half approximately every eight years.
So why don’t we hear about human overpopulation any more? Why has it been a taboo subject for the last three decades?
Martha Campbell, author of Why the Silence on Population?, lists several reasons. The first is that birth rates have generally been falling globally, from 5.5 children per woman in the 1950’s to 2.5 children per woman now (though the latter statistic hides a variance ranging from 7.0 in Niger to 0.8 in Singapore). So this improving statistic tends to paint an overly rosy picture for the overly optimistic to turn to.
For the less optimistic among us, Campbell gives her second reason. It is that attention is often given to over-consumption on the part of rich nations, as opposed to over-breeding in the poorer ones. Over-consumption is certainly a huge problem (and I think I mention the Hummer crowd in about every second column I write), but it is also estimated that there are about 215 million women in the world who desire – but who can’t afford or don’t know about – effective contraception.
The third reason is that certain extreme elements of society see even relatively innocuous items like condoms as being part of an evil plan. One would think that the Monty Python song Every Sperm is Sacred is just a sarcastic reference to a pattern of thought that had died half a century ago, but you only have to go to to see that this isn’t the case. For example, the Ugandan Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala argued that it would be better to die of AIDS than to use a condom.
Another reason Campbell gives for the silence is that the term “family planning” came to be associated with coercion. In particular, there were the examples of China’s one-child policy, as well as the forced sterilization program in India in the 1970’s. The result was that the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development tripped all over itself in an attempt to change the language to a more politically correct version. However, it wasn’t only the language that changed. From 1995 to 2007, aid to poorer countries for voluntary family planning services was cut in half.
Campbell doesn’t mention Julian Simon, but he certainly deserves an honorable mention for such ludicrous statements as: “Even if no new knowledge were ever gained…we would be able to go on increasing our population forever.” Unfortunately though, Simon was neither a mathematician nor a scientist. He was a professor of business administration. In his world, the words “increasing” and “forever” could actually co-exist in the same sentence.
But it is the real world of tomorrow in which our children will be living. Is it too much to ask that some time before then, a politician or two will have the knowledge and fortitude to mention the “P” word again?