Thursday, September 24

One of many

The world has nearly 3 times as many people today as the year when I was born. And the global population continues to grow, poised to reach at least 10 billion by the end of this century. I was once one of 2.7 billion and now am one of 7.3 billion My grandfather who was born at the turn of the last century, 1899, was one of 1.5 billion.


Every billion changes the character of the world, reducing the area of wild and open space, leaving fewer resources for other species and future generations.

Many applaud the Pope's call to for action to stem climate change, yet "One of America’s leading scientists has dismissed as 'raving nonsense' the pope’s call for action on climate change – so long as the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics rejects the need for population control," writes Suzanne Goldenberg for the Guardian. "In a commentary in the journal Nature, Paul Ehrlich, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, argues that Pope Francis is simply wrong in trying to fight climate change without also addressing the additional strain on global resources from population rise."

The population of less developed nations is growing at a faster pace than in wealthier nations of Europe, North America and parts of Asia: "There is not a single issue among the sustainable development goals – including poverty, hunger, housing, education, employment, health, gender equality, human rights and environment – that would not benefit from reducing high rates of population growth," writes Joseph Chamie for YaleGlobal.

As explained in Allure of Deceit, the Central Intelligence Agency tracks such trends. Extremely high or low fertility rates, those that out of balance with resources like water or food can pose a security risk for neighboring nations. The countries with the highest fertility rates:

Niger, average of 6.89 children per woman
Mali, 6.16 children
Burundi, 6.14
Somalia, 6.08
Uganda, 5.97
Burkina Faso, 5.93
Zambia, 5.76
Malawi, 5.66
Angola, 5.43
South Sudan, 5.43
Afghanistan, 5.43

Notably, Afghanistan's fertility rate fell sharply, near half, since the US invasion in 2001. Countries with the lowest fertility rates:

Singapore, 0.8
Macau, 0.93
Taiwan, 1.1
Hong Kong, 1.17
South Korea, 1.25
British Virgin Islands 1.25
Bosnia and Herezegovina, 1.26
Lithuania, 1.29
Montserrai, 1.29
Ukraine, 1.30

From the first chapter, Allure of Deceit explores population growth and family planning from the perspectives of a remote village in Afghanistan, a conservative director of a small charity, and the director of one of the world's largest charitable foundations:

Pearl Hanson was a Texas conservative, practical and stubborn. Despite limited tools and her brash ways, her program had raised awareness about the economic benefits of small families. The link between wealth and family planning prompted even devout women to pursue methods of contraception on their own. Pearl understood and didn't cast blame.

The book is a murder mystery layered with social mystery. Why do some believers bitterly oppose family planning and contraception for others and yet practice these techniques on their own? why do they resist making contraception freely available for society as a whole, especially the young, and then express surprise about unwanted pregnancies?  why do they refuse to fund programs on family planning at the national or international level and then resist the desperate migrants who long to escape conflict and terror in the Middle East or poverty and hunger and lack of opportunities in Africa? why do some resist arguments that access to birth control reduces abortion? William Saletan writes for Slate about studies on the failure rate for specific methods of contraception and how that correlates with abortion.

Shame is a powerful weapon and one that knows no boundaries. Once a powerful authority like a parent or politician or Pope suggests that contraception is wrong, the sentiment spreads, planting fear and doubt. War and economic uncertainty spread doubt, too. Women do not want to commit to raising a child in a dangerous world. So thoughtful women, including many Catholics in the United States, ignore those who wield shame. One way or another, mothers strive to be responsible and avoid having children they cannot afford.

Photo of Afghan market, courtesy of Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika, US Army National Guard and Wikimedia Commons.