What About Population Control?

In the seventies, population control was a huge issue, but like many other hot topics this one has fallen by the wayside. For most people, that is. Not apparently for the man who held three people hostage at The Discovery Channel headquarters yesterday. James J. Lee, who was eventually shot and killed by police, was upset with The Discovery Channel because of the lack of environmental policy on its shows, not the least of which was “Kate Plus Eight” which he felt promoted population growth.

Lee took extreme measures (he even had explosives strapped to his body) to register his protest, but I couldn’t help but wonder when I read the news story where all the protestors about population growth have gone. There are millions more people on the earth than when the book The Population Bomb came out in 1968. (India alone has tripled its population since 1960 from 400 million to 1.2 billion today.) The author, Paul R. Erhlich, was mostly concerned with the world’s ability to feed its ever-increasing population, but since most developed countries have risen to that challenge, the furor over his predictions have died down.

Here in the United States, food supply is not a problem so we tend to overlook the billion people world-wide who go hungry every day. These days the problem is not so much production as it is access. In other words, the world’s population could be fed adequately if we could just get the food to the people who need it.

If the food supply is keeping up with the demand, why should we worry about population growth? I can think of two reasons why we should: 1) depletion of energy resources; and 2) global warming. The more people in the world, the more dire these problems will become. It’s hard to keep on providing enough energy when the number of people needing it is constantly increasing. (And it’s not only the number of people, but their changing lifestyles—like more cars when people’s ability to pay for them increases—that add to the problem.) As more energy is expended, the release of more and more carbons into the atmosphere will only continue to add to the collective problems under the umbrella of global warming.

Maybe we need a book like The Population Bomb for the new millenium. Too bad James J. Lee couldn’t have written one instead of trying to reduce the population by his own hand.

So, what about people like the Octo-Mom with her 14 children (including a set of octuplets), the Duggars with their 19 and Kate and Jon Gosselin with their twins and sextuplets? Are they really the problem?

Not in a country where the fertility rate barely keeps the population numbers stable. But what if the U.S. fertility rate surges above the 2.04 that it is today? Isn’t our fascination with fertility treatments a little elitist, as if we’re saying to countries with high populations: “It’s okay for us to have as many children as we want, because we can afford it. But you can’t because you can’t afford it (the treatments or the children).”

You could also argue that our attitude toward reproductive rights is racist. For example, there are people out there who are in a panic because they are convinced that the higher fertility rates of countries like Afghanistan and Somalia mean that Muslims are going to take over the world (especially because of their equally high emigration rates to countries which presently have Christian and Caucasian majorities). They want immigration policies that keep prolific but undesirable populations out. At the same time, they’re against abortion and birth control for their “own” people because they don’t want their own numbers to go down.

Anti-abortionists want us to believe that their motives are based entirely on moral grounds. But what they won’t tell you is that many of them are motivated by fear that white Christians won’t be able to maintain their numerical supremacy if abortion and birth control are freely available. “God’s people must increase,” they say. (As long as it’s the Christian God’s.)

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t knuckleheads out there who are against family planning for everyone, no matter how many children they already have or how strapped they are economically. The Pope’s refusal to sanction giving condoms to the people of many African nations where HIV-AIDS is increasing rapidly is an example of how short-sighted this policy can be. It doesn’t matter how many people (especially women) are dying of AIDS, they still must be deprived of the means to control the number of children they have.

The Bush administration’s requirement that any group receiving money for family planning initiatives was just as short-sighted: no federal funds were given to any group that mentioned abortion and in fact, all such programs had to include teachings on “abstinence -only.” What about all the married women who desperately need to limit the number of children they bear? Is abstinence good advice for them?

When so many women have no access to abortion or birth control, and so many more are in danger of losing the access they still have, it’s no wonder that the problem of population control is being kept under wraps. Those who would push baby-making on all women, no matter their circumstances, are completely ignoring the problem of over-population.

Perhaps we should be worrying more about that than about how many babies it’s possible for one woman to have.