CCINAC: 3. Overpopulation

One of my favorite factoids is from Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, who says that if everyone on Earth consumed at the same rate as Americans, four Earths would be needed to house the extra stuff that goes along with the American lifestyle.

Although we still (currently anyway) only need one Earth to hold all our people and possessions, the population is growing at a pace that makes one question whether E.O.’s prediction is coming closer to reality.  Overpopulation is a serious concern, as more people mean more competition for goods and resources, and more waste and pollution.

Population growth has been steeply increasing ever since the Industrial Revolution, as the population grew by 4.5 billion in the 20th century, compared to the 1.3 billion growth in the 1,900 years prior, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

The planet’s population was 6, 692, 030, 277 more than 6 and a half billion — people in 2008, according to the World Bank. Millions more people have been born since then, and the numbers only continue to rise, burdening the planet with more demand for natural and unnatural resources alike.

Looking at the CIA World Factbook , it’s evident that many of the countries with high birth rates per 1,000 people are developing countries. The advantage that developed countries have concerning overpopulation is generally high levels of access to contraceptives, as well as some kind of sex-education.

Comprehensive sex ed and contraceptives are successful ways to combat high birth rates and unintended pregnancies, of which there are 70 to 80 million each year, according to the United Nations Foundation. In just unintended pregnancies alone, that’s an extra one billion people on the planet in 12.5 years.

Another way is by enhancing education, so that women in these countries are aware of their options in life — not just to have babies, but to work and develop a career or livelihood — and perhaps have children later than they originally would have. Not only might women delay when they have children, but with more education and a job, they will also be able to better provide for their families and avoid/get out of poverty.

This is a really interesting topic because directly legislating the issue is (1) morally questionable, in that it’s unsettling to think the world would sanction how many children you have; and (2) unnecessary if you legislate and focus on related factors such as education and access to contraception, which will lower birth rates without directly having to limit the amount of children people are allowed to have.  

With a finite amount of resources and space, it’s essential to make sure something like a birth rate — technically infinite — doesn’t exceed those resources and space. This is especially necessary in cases where people did not intend or want to have a pregnancy, but merely did so because of a lack of education or access to contraception. Although an environmental problem in nature, that doesn’t mean it has to have an environmental solution.

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