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Half a child

By Matteo Farinella, on 15 June 2012

This seems to be the final answer to the question, population: how many is too many?

The only flaw one could find in this challenging talk is that there was not much room for debate, since both the excellent speakers agreed that we are already too many. According to the most realistic estimations the planet would be able to sustain at most 2.5 billion people (living our unsustainable lifestyle).

Therefore, even assuming a drastic cut in our consumptions (by all means necessary), remains the problem of how to accommodate the 7 billion that since last year populate this planet?

We simply can’t. This was the first point that Jonathon Porritt wanted to stress: any serious discussion about sustainable development and consumption must address the population issue. It is something we can no longer ingore and Porritt finds particularly frustrating the almost total lack of references to overpopulation within environmental organizations, in which he has been working for years.

Then Karen Newman proceeded to give some frightening statistics and discuss possible solutions. At the moment the average fertility is around 2.3 children per woman, which may not seem like a lot but it is still more than 2, which means that we are still growing. At this rate the world population is bound to approach the 10 billion mark in the next 20 years. In order to avoid this disaster we have to quickly reduce the fertility ratio by at least 0.5 children and start a rapid decrease in world population.

How can we achieve this?

Well, as a start we could be avoiding the millions of unintended pregnancies reported every year. This data clearly show that the problem is not so much cultural (as I naively tended to believe before this talk) but practical. We need to make family planning strategies available in developing countries.

Every statistic show that if they are available, people will use them whether they understand the problem of overpopulation or not. The limiting factor seems to be our society and our governments, which underestimate the problem and do not consider family planning a “fashionable” investment for aid money.

Of course family planning alone is not enough, because in some cultures reduction of fertility is often accompanied by a dangerous shift in gender ratio (usually in favour of male children who are considered socially and economically more viable).

To avoid this, family planning should always be accompanied by an improvement of women’s rights and education, which will in turn also increase the use of contraception.

These are just a few thoughts about a much wider topic that as Newman repeated several times is “complex, controversial but crucial” and need to be discussed. Talks like this one, which address the problem in a rational way, free of historical and political prejudices, are definitely a good starting point.

One Response to “Half a child”

  • 1
    Freya A Boardman-Pretty wrote on 18 June 2012:

    It was a great talk. It’s easy for people to imagine that increasing healthcare provision and life quality will only cause population to boom as death rates go down and birth rates stay high (I think one of the questions was going down these lines), but hopefully they managed to disabuse people of this idea. It would have been good if they’d shown the demographic transition model.

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