Please Explain: How to Save the World—Population Growth and Control

Friday, January 27, 2012

This week's Please Explains is the second in our series on how to save the world—ways to approach complex global problems such as climate change, food supply, garbage disposal, the global water supply, and violence. Today we're looking at the population explosion—there are now 7 billion people on the planet. We're joined by Hania Zlotnik, director of the population Division at the Department of Economics and Social Affairs at the United Nations, and Dr.Joel E. Cohen, mathematical biologist and the head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, and author of How Many People Can the Earth Support?


Joel E. Cohen and Hania Zlotnik

Comments [21]

Ed from Larchmont

See Our enemy is not overpopulation, but sin.

Jan. 28 2012 05:58 AM

Why is population growth a given rather than something we can work against? Human (over)population is THE reason we are exhausting the resources of the world, killing off other species -- everything from the geese in Prospect Park that are in our way to all of the chickens/cows/pigs/goats... that many people eat daily.

I would love to see a population control add campaign. Maybe there could be some numbers offered of, say, the hours a baby takes in caring, average amount of crying per day, average amount of sleep a parent can expect in the first year, costs per year, list of the things a parent won't be able to do when the child is aged 1, 2, 3. Maybe just a little bit of reality mixed into all of the "cute consumable goods" someone earlier mentioned might begin to balance the fantasy.

I'd like to see some shaming of folks who have more than 2-3 kids. It is a selfish irresponsible thing to do. I wish it were frowned upon the same way that, say, littering is.

Learning that Rick Santorum has 7 children is more indicative than any other position of his that he has no regard or understanding of the world he lives in.

Are people ready to hear this kind of stuff or does it sound too crazy to think that we are not the best thing this planet has ever seen?

Jan. 28 2012 12:35 AM
Shelley from Prairie Du Chien, WI

Mr. Lopate,

I am very surprised that you questioned the statistic concerning the percentage of unplanned births in the United States! Pregnancy, birth, babies -- all are material events or goods that fuel their own lucrative industries, industries that produce very seductive (i.e."cute" clothes, toys, furniture, bedding, etc.) products. Our culture encourages and supports extreme consumption - create a baby, create a legitimized reason to buy all that cute baby stuff; instantly double your consumer needs...for a really long time!

Perhaps, if infants and children were regarded as live, living, vulnerable human beings, if LIFE was respected, our society might develop the necessary respect for children and the act that brings them into being, which might, in turn, result in fewer unplanned births.

Regarding birth control education, rather than teaching young people how not to create a pregnancy, might the k-12 Education and the Medical/Public Health communities collaborate to create a required critical thinking curricula that guides students (and parents) in giving real and honest and thoughtful consideration to the meaning of a human LIFE. This curriculum might also give consideration to the concept of "having" children as the greatest of all self-indulgences in contemporary U.S. society.

Jan. 27 2012 02:06 PM
Rah from manhattan

Good point, Natalie Burrows!

Jan. 27 2012 02:03 PM
Natalie Burrows from "Broooklyn

I am surprised that more attention is not being paid to the role of conservative religions in forbidding contraception and encouraging large families: these include the Roman Catholic Church, the Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Christian Fundamentalists as well as others. These populations most often live in weatlthy countries and sometimes receive government stipends to help support their large families, paid for out of the general tax base. I advocate no governmental halp when these populations already receive support from their common use of public schools, roads, mass transit, etc.

Jan. 27 2012 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I read sometime around 2005 that in Italy only 20-30% of pregnancies were unplanned, when the figure for the US was around 50%.

Jan. 27 2012 01:57 PM
Ed from Larchmont

One reason we're seeing the economies of the West collapse is because of the lack of young people, of course.

Jan. 27 2012 01:53 PM
Carol from Queens

Please discuss Haiti.

Jan. 27 2012 01:53 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Rah

When we were American kids back in the '50s, we were told to eat up everything on our plates because Chinese and Indian kids were starving from famine. Today, the complaint is that Chinese and Indian food exports are competing with US farmers!

I have lived 65 years listening to this kind of hogwash, about how doom and gloom is imminent if we don't do this, that, or the other. Sorry if I don't buy into it anymore. People are quite flexible if given the economic freedom to do what they want to do. Short of nuclear war, or a comet hitting the earth, I think we'll survive, like it or not.

Jan. 27 2012 01:52 PM
Rah from manhattan

Good point, Ed from Larchmont!

I take very good care of myself, so- barring the unexpected- I'm planning to take care of my nieces and nephews when they get old and their children are busy.

Seriously - a lot of people in their 60's & 70's are taking care of elderly parents.

jgarbuz- yes, it's fine for us here, but a lot of people on this earth are suffering now from famine and drought.

Jan. 27 2012 01:46 PM
Ed from Larchmont

This woman appears in the documentary 'Demographic Winter'. How is it for the better-ment of humanity?

Jan. 27 2012 01:43 PM
Geo from astoria

Is homosexuality natures way of population control?

Jan. 27 2012 01:41 PM
Ed from Larchmont

At the same time, it can get to the point where there aren't enough young people to run the economy and aid older people, there is a mathematical point of no return.

Jan. 27 2012 01:39 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Genesis 1:28

"And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Be fruitful, be happy, don't worry. All these "social scientists" are always wrong!

Jan. 27 2012 01:38 PM
Kim Doggett from Manhattan

It's not a question of how many people the world can support. It is a question of how many humnas do we want it to support. We could all live like chickens in cages to fit more people on the earth but what is the point.

Jan. 27 2012 01:36 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

It's strange that people so misunderstand Malthus. The question is not whether resources grow linearly and population exponentially. That was the ILLUSTRATION of the problem he offered, and for illustrating the principle it's quite clear and valid.

The question is about resource demand exceeding supply. How can a population avoid impoverishing itself, is the question. Food supplies will eventually stop growing, but population seems likely to grow as long as there is food, impoverishing itself in the end, unrelated to how much food is produced.

We see the very same problem with money. The earth's resources of all kinds are now being depleted at increasingly rapid rates. Yet our idea of "sustainability" seems to be to sustain growing profits, and accelerating our rates of resource depletion with ever more crafty technology. So, like population, the question is how do we get money (in this case) to stop having sex with itself before civilization is impoverished.

There are good real answers, but denying the problem isn't it.

Jan. 27 2012 01:35 PM

I think it's all about the empowerment of women, and education to the children.

Jan. 27 2012 01:32 PM
Rah from manhattan

Overpopulation is either an elephant in the room or a very large gorilla, but nobody seems to want to talk about it.

Why reproduce? Because it's "what people do"? To have someone to take care of you when you're old? To see what it looks like? To narcissistically copy your self? Ugh.

Americans are horrified by the idea, but we're going to have to limit our issue sooner or later.

Jan. 27 2012 01:26 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Mankind is doomed by a constant stream of never-ending Malthusian doomsayers who make their livings constantly trying to panic us into believing that the end is near!

The basic truth is that mankind has never been in better shape overall. What we need is an end to naysayers, muckrakers, and apocalyptic doomsday predictors.

Life isn't so bad. Let's just try to appreciate and enjoy it, within moderation, of course.

Jan. 27 2012 01:26 PM
Bernard from Bronx

The problem is not overpopulation. It is over consumption.
The world, no matter how small the population, is
stretched if we live the way the industrial world does. The
food consumed and the raw resources used to
satisfy man's perverse desires are at the core of
the problem.

Jan. 27 2012 01:25 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Please see the documentary (1:00 today on EWTN) 'Demographic Winter' by profesors of demography about the consequences of the aging population and its effects on the economy. Not good.

Jan. 27 2012 05:58 AM

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