Population control was not discussed in the Paris Climate Talks although it seems to be the obvious answer to all our problems. Environmentalists have, for many years, forecast a dystopia future if the earth is overpopulated. So what are the factors that make population control unfavourable?
A more crowded Earth?
In the 1950s, the population stood at 2.53 billion. But the numbers skyrocketed to 7 billion in a mere 60 years’ time. David Attenborough has called for population control because our dense numbers will harm our biodiversity. Supporters say the arithmetic is simple. Overpopulation will mean higher consumption of natural resources like water and oil, increase in food insecurities, urbanisation which will lead to species extinction, deforestation, and more carbon emissions. Renown naturalist Chris Packham said: “With wild species becoming extinct at hundreds of times the normal rate, we really have to recognise the connection and think hard about our sheer numbers, as well as our consumption and technology.”
The global population is growing at 80 million per year. Our numbers will reach 9 billion by 2050 and by the end of the 21st century, the number will sit on 11.2 billion. The UN estimates the following countries will expect the highest population growth by the end of 2050: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the US, Pakistan, Indonesia and Uganda.
Why is mandatory population control hard to implement?
Abortion is illegal in some countries, particularly the heavily Catholic nations in Latin America. Countries like Malta, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile do not allow abortion under any circumstances.
While these nations still have a rigid anti-abortion stance, Pope Francis has sided with the UN’s position to reduce the population. He has encouraged Catholic archdioceses to pardon women who have had abortions. Human Rights groups have urged governments to decriminalise abortion because many women still live in poverty thus they cannot provide for children.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), around 225 million women want to prevent or delay their pregnancy but have no access to safe contraception. Women receive little support from their spouse or communities, and have inadequate access to information and services. Thus women resort to using dangerous abortion methods. Rights groups say women need to be empowered through education, advocacy, information and awareness on family planning, and governments should be more supportive. Further, some countries require financial and technological support to make abortion processes safe and available.
Many people believe starting a family and having children is precondition to a fulfilling and accomplished life. Childless women are accused of being selfish and repeatedly interrogated by family, friends and even other women why they have chosen to be child-free. Like all living organisms, humans are hardwired to reproduce in order to continue our species’ survival. But some women, like Erica Gies who is the founder of ThisWeekInEarth.com, has chosen not to have children. Environmental and even medical professionals are advising couples to have smaller families so future generations will not need to struggle for resources. A poll conducted by YouGov says more and more families believe future parents should consider the environmental impact before deciding on the number of children they want to conceive.
The scientific debates
Critics say there is no direct link between a mass population and environmental degradation. According to the study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they said if a one-child policy were imposed, the population in 2100 would remain almost the same as now.
Throughout history, mankind has encountered several catastrophic events that wiped out vast populations. This includes: The Black Death, World War One and World War Two. Experts hypothesise in the event of disaster that kills off 2 billion people, this will hardly affect our numbers.
Professor Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide said: “Even if we had a third world war in the middle of this century, you would barely make a dent in the trajectory over the next 100 years.”
Rather than focusing on population control, experts have called governments to reduce consumption, encourage more effective family planning and preserving our ecosystem.
Other environmentalists argue population reduction is not the quick-fix solution. They say governments should invest more in building renewable energy and sustainable agriculture because we depend heavily on burning fossil fuels for energy.
China’s one-child policy
Critics say adopting a one-child policy has had its disastrous consequences. Namely, they are pointing at China. China’s attempt to curb the population started in 1979 and ended in October 2015. Couples were penalised if they had more than one child (ethnic minorities were allowed to have two), or face forced abortions.
The social drawbacks of the policy included the The Little Emperor Syndrome where children are excessively pampered by parents. Consequently, this created a generation of spoilt brats. But on the greater scale, the policy created the ‘4-2-1’ problem where the ageing population will increase while children who were born in the One Child Policy era are expected to look after a large number of pensions. Another negative effect is the gender imbalance since boys are more favoured and the current ratio stands at 116 boys to every 100 girls.