Joe Bish Joe Bish, 2/9/2011 [Archive]

In the Year of 7 Billion, 8 is Enough

In the Year of 7 Billion, 8 Is Enough

By Joe Bish

This fall, probably in late October, human population will exceed 7 billion people. Yet, on this score, the young adults of today's world have an unprecedented hope. For the first time in modern history global population stabilization is possible within our lifetimes.

United Nations calculations show that if global fertility settles at 1.4 children per women within a few decades, down from today's average of 2.6, our planet's rapid population growth could completely halt by 2045, at just over 8 billion. That is only 34 years away.

Yes, those are cries of joy you hear. They come from the multitude of species on the brink of human-induced extinction, from the atmosphere our expanding civilizations are force-feeding mass quantities of carbon and other pollutants, and from oceans choked with plastic.

More importantly, though, listen to the sighs of hope coming from women and young girls all over the planet.

In far too many areas of the world, women and girls remain second class citizens: denied access to education, sold into marriage at obscenely young ages and surviving without adequate health care. These are tragic circumstances, stunting the human potential of the affected women and girls. Such gross unfairness also denies them control of the number of children they choose to bear. Instead, their reproductive liberties are sacrificed to lack of availability of contraceptive services and information, the absence of reproductive health care and overt spousal domination.

This woeful situation also contributes to our world's rapid population growth. When women are denied the ability to control their fertility, the outcome is unavoidable: more births than otherwise would have been. Currently, there are 228,000 more births than deaths every day on Earth. This nearly incomprehensible pace leads to an additional 1 million people on the planet every 5 days.

Each of these additional million humans have rights to basic resources, such as food, clothing and shelter -- and most will aspire to use much more. It is the Earth, already hemorrhaging in environmental distress, which is asked to yield up these extra provisions and store the waste products of our many billions of people, day in and day out.

There is good news, however. A virtuous circle is available to remedy to all these interconnected woes.

The first step is an international commitment to win greater human rights for the oppressed women and girls of the world. As a secondary benefit, such victories are known to slow population growth. In turn, stabilization at 8 billion will be more likely, making our environmental challenges easier to solve.

If instead we allow the status quo, and leave the women of the world abandoned without educational opportunities, health care and access to contraceptive information and services, we will have morally failed them. We will also have left them unable manage their fertility. In that case, says the U.N., the year 2045 will not bring stabilization at 8 billion. Rather it will bring the 10.3 billionth human, with a still rapidly growing population reaching 11 billion just 5 years later.

Unfortunately, here in the United States, the new U.S. Congress seems more interested in returning to misogynist dark ages than leading the planet to a sustainable future. They are threatening the solvency of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and toying with draconian limitations on health insurance coverage related to abortion rights. Every indication is that they will also attempt to destroy international aid programs that help women plan their families and raise healthy children around the world.

If they succeed, the hopes and dreams of women and girls, environmentalists and the broad human family will be dashed.

Joe Bish coordinates the Global Population Speak Out, a yearly global grassroots initiative drawing attention to the challenges the current size and growth of human population creates for a sustainable environmental future. He can be reached at jbish@populationinstitute.org.



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