What Are the Pros and Cons of Reducing Births?
The projected increase of the human population from 6.2 to 9.3 billion or more between 2002 and 2050 raises an important question:
Can the world provide an adequate standard
of living for 3.1 billion more people without
causing widespread environmental damage?
There is intense controversy over
whether the earth is already overpopulated
what measures, if any, should be taken to slow population growth
To some the planet is already overpopulated, but others disagree.
Some analysts, mostly economists, argue that we should encourage population growth to help stimulate economic growth.
Others believe that asking how many people the world can support is asking the wrong question, equivalent to asking how many cigarettes one can smoke before getting lung cancer.
Instead, they say, we should be asking what the optimum sustainable population of the earth might be, based on the planet's cultural carrying capacity.
Such an optimum level would allow most people to live in reasonable comfort and freedom without impairing the ability of the planet to sustain future generations.
No one knows what the optimum population might be.
Some consider it a meaningless concept; some put it at 20 billion, others at 8 billion and others as low as 2 billion.
Those who do not believe the earth is overpopulated point out that the average life span of the world's 6.2 billion people is longer today than at any time in the past.
They say that
the world can support billions more people
people are the world's most valuable resource for solving the problems we face and stimulating economic growth by becoming consumers.
Some people view any form of population regulation as a violation of their religious beliefs whereas others see it an an intrusion into there privacy and personal freedom.
They believe all people should be free to have as many children as they want.
Some developing countries regard population control as a form of genocide to keep their numbers and power from rising.
Proponents of slowing and eventually stopping population growth point out that we fail to provide the basic necessities for one out of six people on the earth today.
If we cannot (or will not) do this now, they ask, how will we be able to do this for the projected 3.1 billion more people by 2050?
Proponents of slowing population growth contend that if we do not sharply lower birth rates, we are deciding by default to
raise death rates for humans (already occurring in parts of Africa)
greatly increase environmental harm. In 1992, for example, the US Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London issued the following joint statement:
"If current predictions of population growth and patterns of human activity
on the planet remain unchanged,
science and technology may not be
able to prevent either irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty for much of the
Proponents of this view recognize that population growth is not the only cause of environmental and resource problems.
However, they argue that adding several hundred million more people in developed countries and several billion more in developing countries can only intensify existing environmental and social problems.
These analyst believe people should have the freedom to produce as many children as they want.
However, such freedom would apply only if it did not reduce the quality of other people's lives now and in the future, either by
impairing the earth's ability to sustain life
causing social disruption
They point out that limiting the freedom of individuals to do anything they want to protect the freedom of other individuals is the basis of most laws in modern societies.