How Many Are Too Many?
by Morris Sullivan
There are at least three more people in the world now than there were when you began reading this sentence.
There are now 5.8 billion human beings on the planet, and according to the United Nations, the population of earth is expected to grow to around 7.9 billion by 2050. [For the most up-to-date numbers, www.zpg.org] In a world that currently wrestles with such serious problems as global warming, the thinning of the ozone layer, increasing crime rates, toxic chemicals in our food, and starvation in developing nations, each of which is at least partially due to growing world population, it's hard to imagine anyone opposing restraints on population controls.
However, such people exist. Some are well-meaning optimists blinded by their denial. Economist Julian Simon, for example, stated in 1981 that, "There is no meaningful limit to our capacity to keep growing forever." Many religious and industry leaders embraced this statement, using it to justify their anti-control ideologies and their commitment to their stockholders.
Others, however, have more pernicious motivations--like greed and religious fanaticism. Motivated by religious-right attitudes, family planning opponents in Congress have attempted to limit funding for the activities of foreign family-planning organizations by forcing them to renounce abortion and to withhold information on the subject.
In July of 1998, family planning opponents in the House considered an amendment appropriations bill that would define contraception (for distribution in foreign countries) in such a way that it would exclude oral contraceptives, Norplant, and the IUD. At the time, Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) declared that RU486 and other contraceptives were "baby pesticides," a notion which would surprise the 30 million American women who use the pill, Norplant, and the IUD to prevent pregnancy.
These restrictive policies follow the example of the "Mexico City Policy," named for the site of the 1984 international population conference. During that conference, held in a city in which hordes of unwanted children survive by picking scraps off of our heaps of garbage, the United States announced that it would end funding to private family planning programs overseas if they had any involvement with abortion. (Clinton repealed the restrictions in 1993.)
Those, like Simon, want us to believe that our population-related problems are all due to overcrowding, not overpopulation. Overpopulation and overcrowding are different. Overcrowding does not necessarily mean that people live shoulder-to-shoulder. Rather, it occurs when there are too many people crowded into one space--crowded to the point that a high percentage of the population must live in substandard conditions because of the lack of living space and lack of opportunity to make a living. It's like having a dozen people trying to crowd around a small fire‹someone is bound to be left out in the cold.
"Substandard" means that one's ability to be productive, safe, and healthy are impaired due to cramming too many people into too small a space. The level at which overcrowding exists varies according to cultural and economic factors. For example, Japan has far more people per square mile than the United States. However, the Japanese are better adapted to crowded conditions than we. The crime rate is lower than ours, the streets are, for the most part, safe at night, and the traffic, while congested, is better managed than ours. Most important, however, their industrial and economic structure provides enough work and income for most Japanese to afford food and shelter.
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