Population growth is often called the “elephant in the room.” Too many fine people continue to steer a wide berth around the topic for fear of being tagged with one negative label or another.
It may be uncomfortable to talk about population growth. But it’s absolutely essential. In fact, real elephants are endangered today because of the soaring population and shameful behavior of our own heedless species.
A big part of the problem arises because many decent, intelligent people don’t quite know how to talk about population. And, yes, some do tend to worry a bit too much that they might offend someone, somewhere.
Let’s start by acknowledging up front that horrific things have been done under the false flag of “population control.” Some 70,000 American women were forcibly sterilized over the first seven decades of the 20th century. The spurious pseudoscience of eugenics was deployed to promote ideas and practices as a cover for racism. Like some infectious disease, eugenics fever swept up many otherwise estimable people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Charles Darwin, Teddy Roosevelt, and even Helen Keller.
These accomplished, yet imperfect humans were sadly all too willing to consign their fellow imperfect humans to fates they did not deserve.
Now we know better. Social engineering is a blind alley when it comes to that most personal and private of matters — the decision about when and whether to bear children.
We’ve now amassed an avalanche of evidence to demonstrate incontrovertibly that, when we successfully uphold all individual reproductive rights as an ethical imperative, population challenges evaporate.
At the time of our founding as Zero Population Growth in 1968, there were only four nations on Earth at or below “replacement rate” — which is just above two children per woman in places with low mortality. Today, there are nearly 100 such nations. With the exception of China and Peru, (and, to a lesser extent, India) which have engaged in widespread, deplorable coercive practices, it’s been accomplished through voluntary methods. Empowering women works. Smashing all barriers to reproductive healthcare works.
Yet this mission remains far from accomplished. We’re still adding a billion people to our already overcrowded planet every dozen years. Species are vanishing. And climate chaos is a direct result of population growth.
We simply can’t afford not to talk about population growth. Not if we care about our living planet.
The right way to talk population is the rights way: Every person everywhere has the inalienable right to determine their own reproductive destiny. No exceptions, no conditions. Rights are rights are rights.
When the population issue was percolating a century ago, we humans lacked the technology to manage our fertility. Times change, and we need to change with the times. Women now have a wide array of effective options — or they would if it weren’t for retrograde politicians. And this magazine issue highlights the vital, unfinished business of male contraception.
We need to tell the honest truth that population growth threatens our planet. Silence is not an option.