Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maybe baby-It's time to talk about population

As a mid-stream baby boomer I’ve watched the world add between 4 and 5 billion more people to its surface since my birth.

Along with awakening to the cumulative impact we have on air, water, soil, forests, oceans, climate and all living things and systems, some also recognize that the more people you have in one place, the more conflict there is over resources of all kinds. Increasing human numbers make conflict inevitable. How conflicts are resolved are not. We’ve chosen both peaceful and violent means….and we still do on a daily basis. The fact remains, more of us are not making things any easier.

Twenty years ago the Dalai Lama said this:

“The population problem is a serious reality. In India, some
people were reluctant to accept birth control because of religious
traditions. So I thought, from the Buddhist viewpoint, there is a
possibility of flexibility on this problem. I thought it might be good to
speak out and eventually create more open space for leaders in other
religious traditions to discuss the issue.”

How much speaking out is there these days? It’s been 50 years since scientist Paul Ehrlich got us to recognize that the “population bomb” is ticking. I find that the discussions about this underlying cause of so much planetary stress are rarely a table topic these days. Have people just become jaded and given up in the face of what seems inevitable, the net addition (after subtracting deaths) of 34 million more people just since the beginning of this year? It does seem daunting. And it could be worse.

Full disclosure is that I was once a Director of Education for a Planned Parenthood affiliate. The non-profit is one of the largest and most effective voluntary family planning education and service delivery organizations in history. It and other efforts have helped people for many decades to decide when to have children and how many, rather than rely on roulette as the primary way of bringing healthy children into the world. And it is one of the ways that people with lower income have gained access to primary health care, in some cases saving lives. In effect, our population would be far greater (and sicker) at this point without policies and funding that provide people choices. And where these services are available, there is less human suffering and more prosperity. 

When I was hired at Planned Parenthood, it was in large part due to the fact that I had established a center for men that provided information and education about reproductive health and responsibility. It was understood that until we more fully address the needs and psychology of men in the realm of reproductive choices, responsibility would continue to largely fall on women's shoulders. Now, a new test for fertility is coming to market that will help men immediately discover whether they are fertile or not. I am curious if this will lead to greater awareness on the part of men, not just those desperate to have their own biological offspring, but an overall recognition of the role men play in bringing more of us into an overpopulated world, one decision, one person, one couple, one family at a time.

Back to the Dalai Llama talking about religious beliefs in India 20 years ago, (a country now straining under an incredible 1.2 billion humans), it still remains that belief systems control behavior. Whether it’s religious conviction, nationalism, a sense of ethnic preservation or other social ideology justifying why we should continue to “be fruitful and multiply,” at root is usually an entitled sense of male dominance and control at worst, male pride at best that too often spirals our numbers beyond carrying capacity all over the world. That, and the notion that technology solves all problems and will solve this one by finding more Earths to populate. It hasn’t and it won’t.

It’s time again to talk about how to keep our numbers in check instead of relying on war, famine, disease and now climate change to do the job. We need to consider those people who have been at this effort for a long time and give them our support in the form of time or money or both.
One of those efforts I have supported over the years is the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.  All over the world it has delivered services where least available and difficult to access. A few dollars go a long way.

And what about making population a table or bedroom topic again? Very intelligent and educated people need to consider right now their decisions about how many children they have in the larger context the Dalai Lama and other leaders have spoken about. And those less educated need access to information and services as part of a comprehensive health and wellness approach. We need to see this topic reintroduced in the mass media and consistently framed as a fundamental problem that can be addressed in a humane way that elevates human freedoms and liberty instead of being perceived as taking them away.

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