On this page:
- Too many people using too much stuff too fast
- Just don’t mention the “P” word!
- We’ve known for a long time that rich nations have less kids
- The shocking mystery of Kerala, India.
- The mystery explained – and it’s exciting!
- This means you can help! Sponsor a child!
1. Too many people using too much stuff too fast
Common sense tells us that a finite planet cannot support an infinite number of people. My summary argument is that by almost any measure we apply, we are consuming more of the earth’s resources than ever before while at the same time growing the number of consumers faster than ever before. It’s not just that we consume more, it is also the sheer number of consumers. Our species is growing at more than 75 million people a year.
2. Just don’t mention the “P” word!
Talking about population control can raise all sorts of hackles. This paints environmentalists as crazy eugenics types. The great news? Taking action on population growth doesn’t even have to involve mentioning the “P” word at all!
3. We’ve known for a long time that rich nations have less kids.
It’s called the Demographic Transition. As the wiki explains:
In stage one, pre-industrial society, death rates and birth rates are high and roughly in balance.
In stage two, that of a developing country, the death rates drop rapidly due to improvements in food supply and sanitation, which increase life spans and reduce disease. These changes usually come about due to improvements in farming techniques, access to technology, basic healthcare, and education. Without a corresponding fall in birth rates this produces an imbalance, and the countries in this stage experience a large increase in population.
In stage three, birth rates fall due to access to contraception, increases in wages, urbanization, a reduction in subsistence agriculture, an increase in the status and education of women, a reduction in the value of children’s work, an increase in parental investment in the education of children and other social changes. Population growth begins to level off.
During stage four there are both low birth rates and low death rates. Birth rates may drop to well below replacement level as has happened in countries like Germany, Italy, and Japan, leading to a shrinking population, a threat to many industries that rely on population growth. As the large group born during stage two ages, it creates an economic burden on the shrinking working population. Death rates may remain consistently low or increase slightly due to increases in lifestyle diseases due to low exercise levels and high obesity and an aging population in developed countries.
4. The shocking mystery of Kerala, India.
Kerala state in India once had very high population growth. Then everything sociologists thought they knew turned upside down! The following quote from Bill McKibben is getting old – it’s from 1995. But I like it because it shows how utterly unexpected Kerala’s social demography turned out to be back then.
But here is the odd part.
- The life expectancy for a North American male, with all his chairs and cushions, is 72 years, while the life expectancy for a Keralite male is 70.
- After the latest in a long series of literacy campaigns, the United Nations in 1991 certified Kerala as 100 percent literate. Your chances of having an informed conversation are at least as high in Kerala as in Kansas.
- Kerala’s birth rate hovers near 18 per thousand, compared with 16 per thousand in the United States–and is falling faster.
Demographically, in other words, Kerala mirrors the United States on about one-seventieth the cash. It has problems, of course: There is chronic unemployment, a stagnant economy that may have trouble coping with world markets, and a budget deficit that is often described as out of control. But these are the kinds of problems you find in France. Kerala utterly lacks the squalid drama of the Third World–the beggars reaching through the car window, the children with distended bellies, the baby girls left to
…It is, in other words, weird–like one of those places where the starship Enterprise might land that superficially resembles Earth but is slightly off. It undercuts maxims about the world we consider almost intuitive: Rich people are healthier, rich people live longer, rich people have more opportunity for education, rich people have fewer children. We know all these things to be true–and yet here is a countercase, a demographic Himalaya suddenly rising on our mental atlas. It’s as if someone demonstrated in a lab that flame didn’t necessarily need oxygen, or that water could freeze at 60 degrees. It demands a new chemistry to explain it, a whole new science.
Utne Reader – from Doubletake 1995.
5. The mystery explained! And it’s exciting!
What caused this lower birthrate in a still largely developing economy? The United Nations Population Fund found the one variable that also worked in other contexts – was to educate and empower girls as they grew up to become women. It’s so strong it’s like a formula.
“Every three years of additional education correlates with up to one less child per woman!“
But why? Sharon Astyk writes:
The first factor, education, works in several ways. Literacy for women benefits families in a number of ways. It increases her health (a literate woman can read material about health and hygiene practices), it increases her family’s security (if her husband dies, she can get a better job), it increases her desire to see her children receive education and it increases her political power – she can read and understand national issues. Mandatory education for all children serves to remove children from the labour pool, and makes children not producers, but consumers, and thus parents are forced to view their children in that light…
…Women have high literacy rates and political power. Women are comparatively well protected from rape, and can choose their husbands. A 1994 study by Yale Economist Paul Schultz found that female literacy was perhaps the most defining factor in TFR in poor nations. In India, Kerala, with a 100% female literacy rate has a 1.7 TFR, compared to a 4.1 TFR in regions with a 30% literacy rate
Sharon Astyk, 2007
(Eclipse note: While I respect Sharon’s study on women’s and population issues and like this pithy 2 paragraph summary, I disagree with her peak oil pessimism. She thinks developed nations will have to revert to largely agrarian economies because of energy shortages.)
6. This means you can help! Sponsor a child!
For decades, our family has always had a sponsor-child or two. We especially love to sponsor little girls – to educate and empower them. We write to them, and let them know how important they are and their study is. What about you? Could you donate about $48 a month? Australia lets us claim these donations back as a tax deduction. We’re effectively doing this for free!
Also, if you campaign for the technologies in this blog like clean energy and more sustainable food and town planning, you are helping spread the culture and knowledge that will help sustain each new life on earth – with slightly less environmental impact. The famous population equation I=PAT is often used to illustrate how overpopulation multiplies environmental harm. What people often forget is that as just as bad Technology in that equation multiplies harm – if we move to more clean energy and other sustainable Technology it will multiply the environmental benefits. It’s just plain mathematics!
Finally, the UN has already predicted the global population will stabilise sometime in the later decades of this century. This blog is a collection of the technologies, systems, and values that will give all 9 or 10 billion of us then a better life – and have nature thrive as well.
How large a human population can the Earth sustain? That depends on what condition we leave the Earth in. Had we stopped pop-growth back in, say 1960, we might have been able to creep up to 4B or 5B people sustainably today. But we didnt’. If we do not stop pop-growth until after the rain-forests are gone, and insect diversity is devastated, then we might be lucky to have the Earth sustain 1B. And a very bleak Earth it will be.
Yes, good point Pyrotex… I hope my argument above doesn’t sound like I’m recommending we try and stuff as many human beings on the planet as we can! I guess I’m just trying to look realistically at the trends, and what might happen as a result and where we can find good solutions in the “T” in I=PAT.
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