What Happened to Population Control?

Posted on March 19, 2007

Where have efforts to stabilize or even reduce the world's population gone? Even if major efforts to combat global warming are undertaken it may not be enough if the world's population continues to skyrocket upward. An interesting editorial in The Guardian looks at this very issue.

In the time it takes you to get to the end of this sentence, seven people have been added to the population of the world. At this rate, the United Nations estimates the number of people on the planet will nearly double by the middle of this century. Even with significant reductions in birth rates, the population is expected to increase from 6.7 billion now to 9.2 billion by 2050.

These figures are staggering. Yet there was hardly a mention of them in a major story last week: the announcement by Britain's two main political parties of how they will tackle what is commonly agreed to be the biggest threat facing the planet, global warming and ensuing climate change.

The editorial also explains how much more emissions will have to be cut if the planet's population reaches the forecast of 9.2 billion by 2050.
Put simply, if governments want to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, and the world's population rises to the mid-range forecast of 9.2 billion, each person would in fact have to slash their emissions by 72 per cent. More efficient technology, renewable energy and lifestyle changes will help do that, but growing prosperity and consumption in developing countries will also make it harder. That all our low-energy light bulbs, home insulation, efficient cars, boilers and washing machines have so far failed to stop emissions growing illustrates how difficult cutting them will be to achieve.

Some population activists argue the world can only support a population of two to three billion, even as few as 500 million in future. But even if reducing the world's population is unlikely or distasteful, it is incredible that there is not even a debate about limiting and maybe one day reversing growth. There are many understandable reasons for the prevailing reluctance to talk about population.

It is difficult to stabilize population during a period of rapid medical advances but the issue should still be considered. One of the reasons the idea has not been discussed as much in recent years has been the political climate. It has been difficult to even get close to discussing family planning and population control ideas during the current administration that favors big business over the environment and focuses solely on issues like outlawing abortion and abstinence instead of birth control. The Bush administration also cut funding to the UN Population Fund which was well funded under the Clinton administration.

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