Any discussion about our future survival inevitably brings us to the population crisis, and the deeply divisive questions which it raises. We see, in nature, that whenever a particular species of plant or animal proliferates without having its numbers curbed by natural rivals, a crisis of ecological imbalance eventually ensues. That is what is now happening with homo sapiens. We appear, on the face of it, to be no longer threatened by any rival species, disease or growth curbing mechanism. There are now seven billion of us, with the world’s population expected to reach ten billion by the middle of the twenty-first century. This world was never intended to accommodate ten billion humans, and it simply doesn’t have the resources to do so. That’s a fact, much as the world’s religious and political teachers may wish to ignore it, and talk about new technologies and new solutions which will, somehow, enable the world to do something it was never supposed to do – accommodate ten billion large, hungry, aggressive and highly evolved primates with no natural rivals or control mechanisms.
All of the shortages now facing us – in food, energy, space, water – can ultimately be traced back to this monumental population crisis. There is but one solution. Human beings across the world have to embark on a deliberate, compulsory and intensified, endeavour to limit the number of children born to each family. Both India and China initiated one child per family policies – in the latter case unsuccessfully, due to various shortcomings, but in the case of India with partial success.
Any programme to control this population crisis will require the support of the nations of the world and will, in each country, have to be innovatively tailored to cater for the many different cultures and level of development. A grassroots education programme, far greater than anything the international health organisations have hitherto attempted, will have to be instituted to spread the message to every home, and hamlet, that our survival depends on drastic population curbing. Some countries would have to include tax breaks, tax penalties or the granting of government assistance to one-child families not available to others, as part of the package. Properly run vasectomy facilities should be operated throughout every nation in the developing world. Each government should, as a matter of extreme urgency, begin conducting research and drawing up detailed population-curbing strategies. The problem is that, although the nations regularly convene conferences to discuss a wide spectrum of issues, not all of them terribly important, they to thus far have refused to even embark upon a meaningful conversation about initiating family reduction strategies. They, and most of their citizens, prefer living under the illusion that somehow, some unspecified cure to the problem will emerge from nowhere, and mankind’s growing population will be able to continue its plunder of nature’s dwindling resources.
In that context, the only contribution that nature can make is to unleash tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, fire. The tsunami which hit Southern Asia in December 2005, wiping out tens of thousands of people. The earthquake that struck north-eastern Pakistan on 8 October 2005, killing 86 000 people. What we need to ask ourselves is whether we prefer to force mother earth into unleashing large-scale natural disasters, of this nature, on a regular basis. Is it preferable to dig through the rubble of a collapsed building, searching for those who may still be alive and trapped, or should we take other steps to reduce the number of the species homo sapiens?
If, somehow, we began, tomorrow, a lifestyle under which all fertile women have only one child, the population would drop by one billion by 2070. By 2125 we would have reduced our presence to 3,4 billion. By the end of the 22nd Century we would be at 1.6 billion, a population level last seen in the 19th Century. The sustainability of such a population would be far higher.
The one philosophical argument put forward against population curbing is that we’re interfering with nature, and the cultural identity of countries. That is hardly an argument which can honestly be put forward by the species which has wiped out the dodo, destroyed the forests, poisoned the oceans and continues dispatching enormous quantities of toxic matter into the atmosphere, every day without regret or recantation.
It is unlikely that any voluntary population curtailment movement will attract widespread support from the mostly visionless people currently occupying the high places in the parliaments, churches, mosques and temples. Perhaps, though, each one of us can investigate and think about this issue and, within our own spheres of influence, do as much as possible to advance the message of population containment.
There are, indeed, organisations out there trying to advance the message, and place the debate at the forefront of mankind’s agenda, but they’ve received virtually no public support. Perhaps we can change that.
Here, ultimately, is the question for each of us to answer. Global warming may, it is true, have created changes which are already irreversible. It’s certainly a possibility that within the next three centuries we will join the growing list of extinct species. But should we fight, or now already hoist a flag of surrender? Should we spend those two centuries, or three, or whatever, battling to restore that which we and the generations from which we are descended have plundered and destroyed? Should we strive to heal some of the wounds we’ve caused? Or should we do nothing? Continue with business as usual? That is the question we, as communities and individuals, have to answer.