P. J. Sullivan
What is the most urgent problem facing our planet? Our country? Is it warfare? Nuclear proliferation? Oil depletion? Hunger? Epidemics? Air and water pollution? Degradation of our food? Soaring housing costs? Global climate change? Species extinctions? Deforestation? All of these are important, but what is it that they all have in common? What do they all feed upon? And why is it getting little or no media attention?
The answer is human overpopulation. Every one of these crises is linked to and exacerbated by population pressures. Yet most people still do not agree that our planet is overpopulated. Fertility clinics are still legal and thriving, while abortion rights are hotly disputed. There are still people who want to clone human beings. There are still insurance companies that pay for Viagra but not for birth control. Too many Americans celebrated when the US population passed the three hundred million milestone. A gay activist group in Washington State tried to get a measure on the ballot there that would annul any heterosexual marriage that had not produced a child within three years [Fox News, 8 Feb 2007]. Adoption of unwanted children is still a bureaucratic hassle. Childless people are rarely allowed to share in the lives of other people’s children. There has been ample discussion of global climate change, but usually without a mention of its link to overpopulation.
Clinical depression is growing more widespread and some are predicting that by 2020 it will be the world’s number one public health problem. Does population pressure contribute to this? The deer studies of Dr. Hans Selye strongly suggest that it does.
When I bring up this issue I am called racist, which is nonsense. I’m talking numbers, not races. If an airplane that was built to carry twenty-five passengers is carrying fifty, is it racist to point out that the plane is overloaded? Carrying capacity is the issue, not race. Some agree that our planet is overloaded, but argue that more “good” people––meaning their kind of people––are always needed. If an airplane is overloaded, does it matter what kind of people are overloading it? Class is not the issue either. The issue is simple numbers.
The US population has tripled in my lifetime. Do we think this can go on forever? Are there no limits? When will it end? If not now, when? Economists are saying that America is running out of land to develop. “Man begets, but land does not beget,” said Cecil Rhodes. Paul Ehrlich said that the optimal US population is 125 million. How many of us can remember when we were at 125 million?
Fisheries experts are predicting that there will be no more ocean fish by 2048. The World Wildlife Fund predicts that, at present rates of consumption, we will need to colonize two earth-sized planets by 2050. Why are the media not screaming about population’s role in the collision course we are on? Because population growth is good for business? Because militarists want more cannon fodder? Because the Vatican says that contraception is immoral? Because everyone thinks it is the other guy who is overpopulated?
I have not even mentioned the appalling overpopulation among domestic dogs and cats, which are overfed to obesity while Third World children starve. According to NEWSWEEK [ 30 Sep 1996 ], soon we may be faced with a world that supports no living things besides ourselves, cats, dogs, and cows. Yes, there are too many cows.
Sure, we need to change our life styles and cut down our rates of consumption, but these measures will do little good if the population keeps growing. No matter how ascetic our life styles, we all leave footprints on the planet’s ecology. We all have to use energy resources that contribute to climate change. The unborn do not.
What then can we do? Step one is facing facts and admitting that population is a problem. This is not an argument for eugenics, which has to do with race or class. Forget race and class; just look at the numbers. This is a plea for responsible, voluntary restraint of reproduction by all races and all classes, for the sake of the planet that we all share. It is a plea for awareness, a change of attitude. We ought to be able to discuss this urgent matter without finger-pointing, name-calling, or blame games.
Given that our planet is already overpopulated, we need negative population growth, not zero (ZPG). Why are so many people terrified of negative population growth? It is the only thing that can save us. There is no escaping the mathematics. If we do not reduce the birth rate the death rate will rise catastrophically. Which would you prefer?
P.J. Sullivan is the author of three books of historical nonfiction, including “Mostly Rapscallions,” a book of satire about the jokers in history’s deck.