Sunday, 3 July 2011

Population Time Bomb

It is so obvious nobody will talk seriously about it.  If the global population continues to grow at current rates, food shortages will be more common, food prices will rise steeply and there will be greater pressure on the few remaining wildernesses to be cleared for agricultural use.  The United Nations have raised their concerns with current fertility rates, indicating that fertility rates need to drop below replacement levels.

In the UK, the population is growing at its fastest rate since the post war baby boom. In recent years there have been recommendations by organisations such as the General Registrars Office in Scotland for pronatalist policies to increase fertility in order alleviate future problems of an aging population.  If developed nations, which already consume much more than their fare share of global resources can't slow down, what hope is there elsewhere?



There is a reluctance in many quarters to confront this issue, perhaps because of the historical associations between population control and eugenics: efforts to prevent those perceived weaker or inferior from breeding.  It is an issue that was raised in The Tragedy of the Commons over forty years ago.  If people take on a moral responsibility to not reproduce and others carry on regardless, those who carry on will produce the next generation who may genetically pre-disposed to maintaining a high fertility rate.  In a natural setting, those with high fertility rates would be held in check by food or resource shortages but it is in the nature of modern humans not to let people starve - we have the dominion over nature and can turn more land to food production.

It is not an easy problem to resolve and it can take decades to see real results, which is another reason the issue is avoided.  A lot of the population growth in recent decades has come about from reduced infant mortality, which has resulted in more children reaching adulthood and aspiring to start their own families. And who would stand in the way of this aspiration?  It is their right to start a family, enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I guess the answer revolves around education and increasing awareness of the benefits of smaller family sizes, empowerment of women and the availability of effective contraception. Ignoring it will certainly not work.  Nor will cutting funding to family planning clinics in developing countries.

How do you think we should move forward on this one? Answers on a postcard.


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