I need to express my disappointment in the two lead articles in the April edition of Population Connection. Both express views of highly respected demographers and—true to their good training—these demographers stick to projections and include no discussion of the hard truth that the current rates of global population growth and global economic growth are unsustainable.
Humanity and our economic activities depend upon the availability of resources of three types: stuff that comes from the earth, stuff that grows, and the earth’s ability to absorb and recycle our wastes. Since the mid-1980s the rates at which we have been consuming these resources have exceeded the rates at which the earth can supply them naturally. An increasing number of observers now agree that this is unsustainable and that by as soon as mid-century the rates of these resource flows will peak and then commence inevitable declines. What then? Population numbers and economic activities must also decline due to a brutal combination of war, famine, disease, and, in turn, collapsing birth rates.
The Greek and Roman civilizations flourished in worlds of no more than 250 million people. Compared with our 7 or 8 or 9 billion, not too bad, eh?
Thanks for the sobering information in the April issue on various models for predicting population growth. However, let us not lose sight of where we are today. In my opinion, the rate of current resource extraction cannot be sustained for supporting anywhere near 6 billion people, much less 9 billion. I predict the human population around the year 2200 will be much smaller than it is now. The resource base for producing energy and food will gradually decline and lead to deadly competition for what remains. Let’s hope that I am wrong and that a new breed of insightful leaders will arise and act to prevent the Armageddon on the horizon.
James T. Martin
First, I want to thank you for your editor’s notes in Population Connection. I don’t routinely read the editorials in the various journals I receive, but I do read yours. Even though I’ve been working in population and family planning for 40 years, you so often have a new angle to share.
I have a concern on a news note on page 6 of your April issue, the one entitled “Pope Francis Gets His Messages Confused,” referring to his comment about reproducing like rabbits. You wrote, “Of women who use fertility-awareness methods, 24 percent become pregnant in an average year, similar to the rate for women who rely on withdrawal (22 percent).”
I have been tracking the evolution of family planning methods for decades in my work at USAID and the World Bank and I think the comment about the efficacy of natural family planning may have been somewhat accurate some time ago, but USAID has been funding research, pilot testing, and scale-up of new strategies for fertility-awareness-based methods, some of them reaching levels of reliability that rival those of condoms.
I think your readers should know about the advances in recent years. We are not pushing for these methods to replace other methods of contraception, but to expand the cafeteria of choices so that couples who might find fertility-awareness-based methods appealing, for whatever reason, sometimes but not always religious, will know about them.
Christian Connections for International Health
Health, Population, Nutrition Office, USAID, 1967-1992