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.

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Bush’s Legacy: Decrease in Teens’ Contraceptive Use

The abstinence-only programs that were promoted and funded by the Bush administration may have contributed to an unsettling decline in the use of contraceptives by teenagers. From 2003 to 2007 condom use has leveled off but contraceptive use across the board has decreased by 10%.  This is while the level of sexual activity has stayed the same. Not surprisingly, the teen birth rate increased by 5% from 2005 to 2007. [Source here.]

President Obama has decreased funding for abstinence-only programs in favor of comprehensive sex education. I say good for him. And I am a Christian. But I have never seen the wisdom in handicapping young men and women by ignoring the very real threats of pregnancy, AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases. Teenagers are in a hurry to grow up, they are curious about sex (especially when it seems like the whole world is having it) and their sexual hormones are starting to kick into high gear.  The chances are that they are going to have sex sometime before they get married. To refuse to arm them with the information they need to make informed decisions seems to be both unwise and irresponsible. [quote]

There are ways of teaching our children about sex without encouraging it, just as there are ways to discourage sex without making it seem dirty or unpleasant. Abstinence-only sex education is like teaching a person to drive but neglecting to teach him how to drive defensively. There are ways to limit tragic consequences in both instances without relying on “just say no” slogans.

One weakness of the abstinence-only programs is the reasoning they follow. For one thing, they try to convince our teens that they are not mature enough for sex. They’re not mature enough to drive either, but we allow them to.  They also teach that sex outside of marriage is unsatisfying, but teens see evidence to the contrary everywhere they look.  And when we tell teens that they will become impure if they have sex, what kind of sexual problems are we setting them up for as they travel into adulthood and marriage? If they have engaged in sex, will they feel anything but guilt ever afterwards? And even if they haven’t. will they be able to make the transition from seeing sex as “bad” and sex as “good” when society finally gives them permission to engage in it?

Another criticism I have of abstinence-only programs is that they put the greatest part of the burden on our young women. They are to safeguard their virginity at a time when being popular often means giving it up. Boys are taught to abstain as well, but they aren’t expected to have the self-control that girls have. Along with these messages is the confusing one that children are a blessing from God, even if they don’t wait until marriage to have them. (Think of Bristol Palin as a trend-setter.)

I am glad that the Bush years are over, but I’m afraid that his legacy will continue for many of our teens whose parents and teachers are unwilling to face the facts, the same facts they don’t want their children to have access to.