The World Tries to Manage Her Population
WELL-MEANING men and organizations have long been engaged in programs to relieve the problems attributed to population growth. Many “solutions” have been tried—some agricultural, some economic and some political.
However, as with most “cures” that attack symptoms rather than the cause of a disease, the results have been disappointing. Most programs have either had little success, failed outright or aggravated things still further. A look at some of these “solutions” shows why.
A growing population can survive without many things, but not without food. For years the productive North American Great Plains have been a “granary of last resort” for starving nations. When populations living at bare subsistence levels had local crop failures, they could always count on the grain-rich countries to pack off millions of tons of surplus to tide them over.
Now the surplus is nearly gone. World food reserves are reported to be at their lowest in many years. Whether there will be enough food to eat during the year to come depends on the weather during the current growing season. “The world has become dangerously dependent on current production and hence on weather conditions,” says director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization A.H. Boerma.
Should bad weather strike, do you really think people will dip into their own reduced food supplies to aid starving peoples? Or, due to modern food production’s dependence on energy, will they sacrifice their energy supplies to aid these people? As the New York Times recently editorialized: “Affluent Americans could soon be faced with the choice of consuming energy on highways and in air-conditioned rooms, or permitting the production of food to feed whole populations in Africa and Asia.”—March 25, 1974.
Programs to help the poor nations feed themselves have been launched with much fanfare. Dr. Norman Borlaug’s 1970 Nobel Peace Prize citation credited him with a “technological breakthrough that makes it possible to abolish hunger in the developing countries in the course of a few years.” Yet, even so, Dr. Borlaug said his Green Revolution was “not the solution.” It could only delay the food crisis while the nations continue working on population control. “If the world population continues to increase at the same rate, we will destroy the species,” he said.
Now the results are coming in. Among other things, this technology requires large amounts of increasingly costly energy, fertilizer and pesticides. As a result, rich farmers benefit far more than poor ones, who often cannot afford to use it at all. Wealthy households then buy up poor farmers’ lands, thus only adding to unemployment problems.
For these very reasons, a report on one nation’s intensive efforts to use Green Revolution technology says: “They are failing. Their optimistic plans and programs have created only increased human suffering and promise more of the same.”—Natural History, January 1974.
Other efforts attempt to slow the rate of population growth, rather than trying to feed any number that are born. Wealthy industrial nations generally have low growth rates, some even approaching the widely hailed goal of “zero population growth.” Their peoples seem naturally motivated to have fewer, better cared for children. On the other hand, in the less developed countries with largely rural populations, children themselves are considered a form of wealth. Parents desire them to help with farm work and as “social security” to care for them in old age.
As a result, families in these countries average nearly twice as many children as those in industrial nations. Also, “people have six or more children because they know that two or three will die,” says a Bangladesh official. And studies show that families who lose children often overcompensate by producing more living children than those whose children all survive.
Thus many conclude that the answer to overpopulation lies in economic development and industrialization, together with adequate measures to keep children alive so parents will not overcompensate. However, says The Encyclopædia Britannica, “overrapid growth of the population brings in its train an excessive need for [economic] investments . . . just to keep pace with the extra mouths to feed and bodies to clothe and shelter.” Thus, little or nothing is left to improve living standards.—Vol. 14, p. 823.
Recognizing this, most experts now agree that there are just not enough time, energy and other resources to develop the poor nations to the point that birthrates begin to drop naturally. Even if they could be developed, at least a generation passes before results begin to be felt. So the experts say that population growth must be reduced first, before economic development can be successful. That brings up—
Many believe that some form of birth control must be part of any successful population program. Accordingly, some nations are pouring funds into family-planning programs and reducing aid in other fields. What is the outlook for this “solution”? Disappointment.
“Radical” birth-control measures such as abortion and sterilization have morally destructive side effects. Japan legalized abortion in 1948. Professor T. S. Ueno of Tokyo’s Nihon University says, “We can now say the law is a bad one.” Free sex and lack of respect for the life of the unborn are among the moral problems he cited. “Abortion has become a substitute for contraception,” as indicated by the 1.5 million performed in 1972. He believes that where life is held in such low regard, the next step could be euthanasia, putting those over a certain age to death!
India, with perhaps the world’s oldest family-planning program, recently slashed her target figure for reduction in the 1980 birthrate by 40 percent! Many of the people and even their leaders are resisting government and international programs.
Selfish interests keep many from cooperating with family planning. They may want to keep their race, religion or language group numerically superior to gain or maintain political power, though they would be glad to see reduction in other’s populations. One major Latin-American nation recently restricted birth control there, hoping to double her population within the century. The desire for growing national power and fear of overpopulated neighbors were cited as reasons.
The Catholic Church has long used religious dogma to block any “artificial” form of birth control, so keeping her impoverished masses swelling in numbers. The Encyclopædia Britannica summarizes the overall outlook:
“It would be futile to deny that artificial population control is inhibited by powerful moral constraints and taboos. . . . even the most optimistic program of population control can only hope to achieve a slight reduction in the rate of increase by the end of the 20th century.”—Vol. 18, p. 54.
Does a “slight reduction” in twenty-five years sound like the “solution” to you?
Failure of all the foregoing “solutions” is bringing home to world leaders that population growth is a world problem. Civilization has become tightly interdependent, and nations can no longer act without regard for international repercussions. Growing numbers of leaders are urging a cooperative world approach to solving problems associated with population. Accordingly, the United Nations has declared 1974 to be “World Population Year” and plans a world conference on population control in August.
A “world population plan of action” is expected to arise from this meeting. Will it be binding? One observer notes that the plan “could more appropriately be called a suggestion,” which will outline steps that countries “might wish” to take in their own circumstances. “This all seems pretty weak medicine,” notes this writer, in view of the rapidly escalating situation.—Science, March 1, 1974, p. 833.
The alternative to vigorous worldwide action is seen by many to be a series of jolting hardships that may pave the way for dictatorial control of population and resources, as well as the loss of human freedoms. They foresee forced abortion, sterilization and even such things as genetic engineering and elimination of the weak. Would you want such a “solution” imposed on you? Is there a better one?
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Efforts to manage the world’s population problems end in failure when “cures” attack symptoms rather than the cause