Another Take on Solving the Population Problem

There’s a new documentary out about the population problem: Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.  It lays out a provocative theory about this problem and how to solve it.

The documentary, Mother

Check out the trailer: Mother

The documentary’s educational premise revolves around the idea that “Overpopulation is merely a symptom of an even larger problem – a “domination system” that for most of human history has glorified the domination of man over nature, man over child and man over woman. To break this pattern, the film demonstrates that we must change our conquering mindset into a nurturing one. And the first step is to raise the status of women worldwide.”

This premise sure seems to advocate taking on the social organization that has dominated just about every global society for hundreds of years – patriarchy.  That is one tall order. However, efforts to try and raise the status of women globally is a way to begin to chink away at the patriarchal armor.

The theories of Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundationparallel the idea of raising women’s status to deal with the world’s escalating population– he advocates that “only by raising the living standards of the poorest can we check population growth.”

And part of raising living standards is access to education.  As the documentary indicates, when women have more education, they have fewer children. In conjunction with education in general, other experts say that contraceptive education and access in poorer countries is they key to curbing the rapidly growing global population.

According to a recent United Nations report, the world’s population forecast is just above 9 billion by the year 2050. With numbers like this, I don’t see how anyone can believe there isn’t a population problem.

Hania Zlotnik, director of the U.N.’s population division, has indicated that to solve this problem, the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the wealthy Western nations that help to finance their development, “face a choice about whether to renew their emphasis on programs that encourage family planning” (I am sure StopAtTwo’s John Taves would advocate including the “stop at two” rule be part of these programs!).

Celia Dugger and Justin Gillis of the New York Times write that these programs were a major focus of development policy in the 1970s and 1980s, but they have since stagnated in many countries, because they have gotten “caught up in ideological battles over abortion, sex education and the role of women in society.”

Seems this new documentary is an effort to educate society that it’s high time to move past ideological battles and have the wherewith-all to begin to take on the even larger “domination problem.”

What do you think? Is this the strategy, and if so, is it globally possible to shift away from a “man domination” model?

3 thoughts on “Another Take on Solving the Population Problem

  1. I don’t believe a large (and growing) population is the problem. Imagine how you’d feel if someone said your daughter was the one person who broke the camel’s back and she has to go. It’s crazy – even though some countries have laws that do just that, and even throughout history some form of population control has been used by nearly every society from the tribal to the advanced.

    Still, the human race has adapted throughout millions of years of change. When populations grew into the first city states technology changed to accommodate that society.

    Now, to me anyway, the question is: How do we progress past the information age into something that allows us to use our resources more efficiently so as to allow for the extra population?

  2. Craig, your beliefs are typical of many, if not most people. The information on are all facts or logic, not beliefs. However, the goal of StopAtTwo is to make these facts and logic so well known that they are a common set of beliefs. I’ll start from the bottom of your posting and work up showing where your beliefs don’t mesh with the facts of nature.

    You are right that we need to figure out how to use our resources more efficiently. More specifically we must learn how to provide for our numbers without consuming resources faster than they renew. That is impossible to do if we average more than two children per person.

    The experts are confused about this. There was an article in the NY times that projected a population of 10 billion. Most people hear that the population will peak at 9 or 10 billion and conclude that we have solved the ever increasing population problem. We’ve known all along that the population will stop rising. The only question is whether it is peaking because we have gotten the birth rate under control. If not, then it is peaking because we’re at the limit of what the planet can provide for and that means that people are dying because we are making too many babies.

    It is true that humans have adapted throughout human history, but you have the cause and effect backwards. We didn’t invent things to provide for a larger population. Our inventions allowed larger populations. In other words, throughout human history we’ve been bumping into the limit of what the environment can provide for. Every time we figure out how to get food more efficiently, (e.g. farming, gas engines, refrigeration), or discover new territory, we enable the population to grow. Europeans wiped out a large percent of the indigenous population in the Americas via disease, and then brought their more efficient ways to the continent. For the past 500 or so years, North America has seen a string of inventions that has kept raising the limit such that the population has not reached the limit. But that cannot last forever. We cannot invent infinite food, and averaging more than two is infinite people.

    Nobody is suggesting that we should adjust our population numbers by killing people, so your question about the daughter is pointless. But, yet, there are issues we can understand here. At the population limit, it is a mathematical certainty that children must die such that only one per adult makes it to adulthood. This means that if we average three children, then one in three must die.

    In many countries the childhood mortality is high, and the average number of children is above two, so we have to ask if some number of those childhood deaths are caused by too many births. How does that make you feel? My mom showed me the math when I was a kid. That math made it clear to me it was wrong to have more than two. I was her fourth child. How did that make me feel? It didn’t bother me in the least. I knew that she didn’t know these concepts when she had me.

    Similarly, after I had my children, I realized that the concept that the world had plenty of food was nonsense, because that food is produced using non renewable resources. This means that we must get our numbers down, and therefore we must average less than two, and therefore I should not have had two. How does that make me feel? Well, I feel like an idiot for not recognizing the obvious sooner, but whatever. It is still reality.

    This brings me to your belief that a large and growing population is not the problem. Many of the population experts, in fact almost every one, cites the population numbers and the growth rates as some sort of proof of the problem. They are wrong for doing that. The only issue is whether we are averaging more than two. We all contribute to that average, and therefore we must all know our responsibilities. Once we have widespread understanding of these facts, and are all aware that we must manage our numbers, then we can guide our numbers to lower levels that our technology can sustain. Will this be utopia? Of course not.


  3. is an article that explains why the science that Hans Rosling and other demographers are relying on just isn’t effective.

    Scientists like Hans Rosling are making not only the mistakes listed on that page on StopAtTwo, they are also failing to recognize that we can change human beliefs. 50 years ago in the USA it was universally recognized that judging someone by the color of their skin was wrong. 150 years ago, it was not universally accepted that slavery was wrong. Hans’ thinking on how to solve the human population problem is like saying we need to solve the slavery problem by finding better economic opportunities for southern plantation owners than cotton. Cotton requires large amounts of cheap labor, and therefore it is economically viable to hold slaves. If we can move the south into a manufacturing based economy, we can reduce slavery. There’s nothing wrong with this, but all of us today would choke on a plan like that. We’d scream “BUT SLAVERY IS WRONG!!!”.

    A plan to move the South to a manufacturing economy might work to end slavery in spite of the fact that nobody is told that slavery is wrong. However, with respect to population, Hans’ plan won’t work. It won’t work because there are belief systems that promote large families. It is a simple fact of nature those belief systems will become the only belief systems, by sheer overwhelming numbers of people, if we do not create the opposite belief system, which is StopAtTwo.


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