Having Children in a World of 6 Billion

John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society:

"Human population growth is the most pressing environmental problem facing the U.S. and the world."[1]

Information from the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College:

"One cannot help but conclude that population growth and environmental pressures will feed into immense social unrest and make the world substantially more vulnerable to serious international frictions [another way of saying wars]."[2]

Economists Herman Daly and Robert Goodland:

"The dream that growth will raise world wages to the current rich country level, and that all can consume resources at the U.S. per capita rate, is in total conflict with ecological limits that are already stressed beyond sustainability."[3]

In 1900, the world's population was only 1.6 billion; today it's over 6 billion and estimated to be 8 billion by 2028, followed by 9 billion in 2054.[4] It's estimated that the U.S. population will grow from 272 million to more than 400 million citizens by 2050 - where the growth rate is estimated to continue rapidly.[5] Researchers estimate that the Earth could sustain 2 billion people with the consumption rate roughly equal to what the average European consumes (which is very comfortable and far less wasteful than in America), while allowing the current level of plants and animals to survive at the natural extinction rate.[6] That means the Earth already has "three" times the number of people it can support in a comfortable and sustainable manner. Taken as a whole, one child becomes 88 million added to 6 billion every year.[7]
Many Americans argue that they are not the problem, it's the less developed countries in the world and their fertility rate of 10 or more children. However, this is not true. First, the fertility rate for less than developed countries is 3.2 children and the fertility rate for developed countries is 1.6 (the U.S. fertility rate is 2.1). Secondly, there are many other factors to one's environmental impact than just the number of children one has - consumption and technology must also be added into the equation. Given this information, the environmental impact of every person on the planet can be represented using the following formula:[8]

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Where Population represents the number of people in a country, Affluence represents the standard level of consumption, and Technology represents the environmental destruction indirectly caused by technology.

For example, the environmental impact of a woman giving birth to just one child in the U.S. is equivalent to a women in India giving birth to 35 children; in Bangladesh it's 140 children; in Haiti it's 280 children.[9] Of course, parents in these countries don't have anywhere near this many children and consequently don't impact the environment like the parents in the U.S. and other developed countries. The fertility rate in India is 3.1, in Bangladesh it's 3.3, and in Haiti it's 4.7.

To ignore the environmental destruction caused by over consumption, harmful technology, and overpopulation is not leadership - leaders set the example and make sacrifices for the common good so others will follow. Humanity must quickly reduce its numbers and there's no time to waste. Every year, we lose at least 1,000 species (with some estimates at 50,000 per year) and the number continues to increase.[10] The decline of biodiversity is the biggest disaster humanity has ever faced. Yet, for all practical purposes, it's being ignored by religion, society, and the government.

It's a myth to say that two children is just replacement for the parents. Population has momentum and replacing parents won't decrease our current population from 6 billion to 2 billion. If every couple has two children in their early twenties, that's effectively 14 or more children over the course of one's life time. Even if every couple has only one child in their early twenties, it's effectively 3 or more children over one's life time. If citizens in developed countries (especially in the U.S.) would reduce their consumption and pollution, limit themselves to one child, and delay that child's birth for as long as possible; it would greatly reduce our impact on the planet and save thousands (possibly millions) of species from extinction. Of course, adopting the children that are already here (instead of creating additional children) would save even more species from extinction. Furthermore, if Americans would put pressure on politicians to drastically reduce immigration and assist less developed countries with contraceptive services; it would save even more species from extinction. While working toward these goals and providing leadership, we must also put pressure on politicians to protect the biodiversity and wildlife habitat still remaining on the planet by supporting conservation, renewable energy sources, and other sane economic policies.

Many people argue that the world needs "their" children because they are smarter than the rest of us. However, this argument has no merit. If actions of intelligent people were so important, we wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place. The world's so-called "intelligent" people (the rich and middle class) are far more responsible for the world's problems than the "less" intelligent. Here's why. Most so-called intelligent people clear huge tracts of land to build enormous homes, shopping centers, country clubs, etc. They spray large quantities of pesticides on their factory farms, lawns, gardens, and golf courses. They invest huge sums of money into industries that destroy the environment on a monumental scale and they vote for politicians gutting the environment and democracy under the pretense of family values and character. Over the centuries, they've displaced and absorbed indigenous people who have lived hundreds-of-years in a sustainable manner. Nevertheless, poor and uneducated Americans also cause extensive environmental impact. Poor Americans have higher fertility rates and their desperate conditions and lack of education increase the probability of abusive and willful misuse of the local environment. The solution is for all Americans to decrease their impact by adopting the children that are already here or at least limiting themselves to one biological child and at the same time reducing wasteful consumption and pollution while improving education for all Americans. 

Even if the vast majority of humanity agreed to limit themselves to one biological child and many others chose adoption instead of a biological child, in an attempt to reduce our numbers to 2 billion, it would take approximately 117 years or more.[11] In the mean time (using the current extinction rate), between 117,000 and 5.8 million species would perish. In reality, it's going to take a much longer time, because many people will refuse to adopt or at least limit themselves to one biological child and reduce their consumption - no matter how much environmental destruction they cause. The more likely scenario will be nearly 9 billion people by the year 2054 unless individuals from all walks of life start taking leadership roles. How many species will die under this kind of population growth? What kind of future does this hold for the children of today and tomorrow? God will hold us accountable for our "ignorance and arrogance" toward the environment (His garden).

Furthermore, there are many nurturing alternatives to having one or more biological children or grandchildren. One can adopt the children that are already here or one can devote more of their life or free time to educating the public on the importance of reducing our population, establishing conservation, and preserving our biodiversity. At some point, humanity must realize that for every human born into a world of 6 billion (especially in the United States, where we consume five times more than the average human being), it represents the extinction of other species, the decline of our life-support system, and a decline in one of the most important spiritual links with our Creator.[12]  Few people can study nature and not find God's handy work - nor can they deny the moral consequences of destroying species just for the sake of having their own biological children or grandchildren.

Many religious leaders, scientists, nonprofit organizations, and politicians understand this, but because overpopulation is such an unpopular topic many won't bring it up for fear of being ostracized by society and even by their own family members. Others are yelling at the top of their lungs over the issue, but the mass media won't report it because it's not an issue that sells advertising. In addition, the wealthy class (owners of the mass media and architects of our current economic system) benefit by overpopulation because it allows them to harvest the environment beyond sustainable means, reduce wages for laborers, and retain more profit for themselves. We must also remember that most politicians really serve Big Business over the common good and science. Population growth also puts tremendous pressure on politicians to create additional jobs at the expense of the environment and humanity's long-term health. Population growth and the resulting job growth required to sustain this population is an insidious and destructive cycle on a finite planet. If people expect politicians to solve our problems, it's going to be a long and unsuccessful wait. The only time the world has truly advanced in thought has been when individual citizens have made sacrifices for the common good and convinced others to do the same - only then do politicians join the fight. Democracy, slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, and a host of other important issues would've never been resolved without individual action, leadership, and sacrifice.

All of us must join in this extremely important debate involving our country and the world, especially young adults, because they have the most to lose. As citizens within a democracy, we're obligated to discuss important issues with each other and support candidates and religious leaders that "truly" care about the common good and humanity's "long-term" health. Apathy, denial, avoidance, censorship, hostility, sadness, fear, and a host of other defensive tactics won't solve our overpopulation problem nor will it preserve the quality of life on this planet. Humanity and individuals must deal with this issue in an active, responsible, and logical manner. Galileo declared, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." 

1.  John Flicker, "Population and Habitat," 11 July 2001 www.audubonpopulation.org
2.  Air Command and Staff College, The Environment and Sustainable Development, CD-ROM Version 2.1 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University, 1998) Lesson OS 502, U.S. Command Establishment Tool Book, ch. 2: p. 5.
3.  Jed Greer and Kavaljit Singh, "A Brief History of TNC's," Corporate Watch, 15 Aug. 1999 www.corpwatch.org/corner/glob/history, p. 6.
4.  Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1999 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999) p. 8 for the 1900 population data and Katie Mogelgaard, "Six Billion and Counting," Nucleus [Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists] Fall 1999: p. 6 for 2028 and 2054 population data.
5Negative Population Growth, "Why the U.S. Needs a Smaller Population," E Magazine July/Aug. 1999: p. 17.
6.  David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press; San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995) p. 35.
7.  Korten, When Corporations Rule, p. 21.
8.  Fertility rate information obtained from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Report WP/98, World Population Profile: 1998, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1999. Information on the environmental impact formula obtained from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment (Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 2000) p. 7.
9.  National Wildlife Federation, "The Impact of one Child" 19 January 2002 www.nwf.org/population/ipat.html
10. Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1999, p. 97 and Rain Forest Action Network, "Rates of Rainforest Loss: Rainforest Fact Sheets," 11 July 2001 www.ran.org/info_center/factsheets/04b.
11. World mortality rate obtained from U.S. Census Bureau, "World Vital Events," 7 July 2001 www.census.gov/cgi-bin/ipc/pcwe.
12. Negative Population Growth, "U.S. Overpopulation Earth's Biggest Problem," [Washington, DC]      


More by :  William C. Gladish

Top | Environment

Views: 3346      Comments: 1

Comment Very informative, pragmatic, sensitive and sensible article..but I really dont know how many will appreciate it!

09-May-2011 09:48 AM

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