Millions of people die and millions of people are born each day. And the human population continues to grow. This past week the United Nations made a symbolic gesture and proclaimed the birth of the seven billionth person. It’s impossible to track the exact number of people on the planet, but a majority of the agencies that track these statistics agree that we are at around seven billion people. Which sparks the discussion and concerns over overpopulation. With more people there needs to be more resources or more technology to streamline the use of those resources. The United Nations estimates that we’ll hit eight billion folks in 2025 and ten billion by 2083. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the milestone was “clearly a clarion call to action,” not just for the United Nations and national governments, but also for “local communities, civil community leaders, non-governmental organizations, faith leaders — we have to have a combined solidarity to address this issue.”
I read an article in the Huffington Post by Lisa Hymas calling for a cultural change in America that not having children become socially acceptable. She sees herself and American people in general as a drain on the planetary resources and pollutants with the large carbon footprints. She calls for sterilization to become more accessible and people to stop pressuring others to have children. John Holdren, the White House science czar, holds a more extreme viewpoint . In his book Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment he presents policies like “Involuntary Fertility Control”, a program to sterilize women after giving birth to two children (pg. 788) or adding a sterilant to the drinking water (pg. 789) as methods of curtailing population growth. The disturbing thing is that Mr. Holdren is an advisor to our President for science and technology.
Mr. Holdren is not alone in this extreme viewpoint. There have been cases of forced sterilization by a government entity throughout the world. There was a series of cases in North Carolina where thousands of people diagnosed with a “mental illness, epilepsy, or low intelligence” were involuntarily sterilized from 1929 to 1974. In 2010, the Chinese government forcibly sterilized 10,000 people in Southern China. In 1995 the President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori put a program in place to forcibly sterilize the indigenous people in the country in the name of a public health plan. An investigation is being re-opened. There is an extensive history of forced or involuntary sterilization throughout the world and even in this country, that we are not far removed from.
Now I’m not saying that our government is formulating a policy of involuntary sterilization. What I am concerned with are intentional changes in social behaviors through fear and propaganda. People need to be educated on the facts and not to be made guilty over having a child. Our behaviors, culture, and perceptions of social norms are greatly influenced by what we watch, read, and hear in our media. And our media system does take advantage of that.
Though overpopulation is a potential problem for the future, raising the standard of living in a country seems to be a natural cure in lowering the birth rate. Most industrial countries have a declining population and some rely on immigration to maintain population levels. There needs to be a fertility rate of 2.2 children per woman to maintain the present day infrastructure and to take care of the elderly. We are actually experiencing the lowest fertility rates in history. Lower than 2.2 in industrialized countries, higher in the third world.
Whatever the debate or priority attached to population control, it’s essential that we ensure that those decisions are made voluntarily. Talk of intentionally changing societal behaviors scare me. Framing decisions with the weight of the greater good is premature when it comes to the decision of having a child. And it’s one step closer to someone making that decision for you.