Seven billion humans and counting: A curse or a blessing?


It seems that the birth of the 7 billionth person has resulted in musings about overpopulation, birth control and womens’ rights. I got an email this morning highlighting Nicholas Kristof‘s NYT column and an article in the Economist.

1) Kristof in today’s NYT on birth control:

What’s the impact of overpopulation? One is that youth bulges in rapidly growing countries like Afghanistan and Yemen makes them more prone to conflict and terrorism. Booming populations also contribute to global poverty and make it impossible to protect virgin forests or fend off climate change. Some studies have suggested that a simple way to reduce carbon emissions in the year 2100 is to curb population growth today.

Moreover, we’ve seen that family planning works. Women in India average 2.6 children, down from 6 in 1950. As recently as 1965, Mexican women averaged more than seven children, but that has now dropped to 2.2.

But some countries have escaped this demographic revolution. Women in Afghanistan, Chad, Congo, Somalia, East Timor and Uganda all have six or more children each, the U.N. says. In rural Africa, I’ve come across women who have never heard of birth control. According to estimates from the Guttmacher Institute, a respected research group, 215 million women want to avoid getting pregnant but have no access to contraception.

What’s needed isn’t just birth-control pills or IUDs. It’s also girls’ education and women’s rights — starting with an end to child marriages — for educated women mostly have fewer children.

“In times past, the biggest barrier to reducing birth rates has been a lack of access to contraceptives,” the Population Institute notes in a new report. “Today, the biggest barrier is gender inequality.”

Read the complete Kristof column here.

2) The Economist on the same topic:

Lower fertility can be good for economic growth and society (see article). When the number of children a woman can expect to bear in her lifetime falls from high levels of three or more to a stable rate of two, a demographic change surges through the country for at least a generation. Children are scarcer, the elderly are not yet numerous, and the country has a bulge of working-age adults: the “demographic dividend”. If a country grabs this one-off chance for productivity gains and investment, economic growth can jump by as much as a third.

Less is more

However, the fall in fertility is already advanced in most of the world. Over 80% of humanity lives in countries where the fertility rate is either below three and falling, or already two or less. This is thanks not to government limits but to modernisation and individuals’ desire for small families.

Whenever the state has pushed fertility down, the result has been a blight. China’s one-child policy is a violation of rights and a demographic disaster, upsetting the balance between the sexes and between generations.

China has a bulge of working adults now, but will bear a heavy burden of retired people after 2050. It is a lurid example of the dangers of coercion.

To me, these columns are a lurid example of the dangers of simplistic thinking that blames global problems on the presence of human beings, i.e., “the problem is us.” The Economist makes a strange argument for increased productivity and prosperity — balance the scarcity of people. Some sort of human crop rotation, I think.

These two articles have caused me to reflect about how much emptier my life would have been if my grandparents didn’t have eight children. My brothers and I probably wouldn’t have been born since our mother was the fifth child born to her parents. Our Dad’s mother lost two children before he was born. She later died in childbirth.

I’m curious to know your thoughts. Are 7 billion people a blessing or a curse?

Have your say!  Leave your comments below.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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3 Responses to Seven billion humans and counting: A curse or a blessing?

  1. Kevin says:

    Not only is the fecundity of Humans as a species a threat, it also goes against nature, populations of species in the wild is governed by the space and food allocated to them, we are artificially at the said 7 Billion and growing. We draw from everywhere and focus all available resources in congested areas throughout the World. We exacerbate this Population growth by preventing the possibility of natural selection. We have many People with many Diseases who would not normally live to an age where they can pass on these defective Genes but because of Medical intervention, these defective Genes are guaranteed to live on in our World,
    We will not only end up overpopulated but also totally dependent on Drugs to ensure our existence. I have had Pneumonia twice to date and more than likely have a Genetic predisposition for the Diseases, Ailment, whatever you want to call it, had I not had Medical intervention, I would not have survived to pass on these Genes to further Generations.
    We will, in many Generations, be, totally at the mercy of Medical/Drug Companies.

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    • Kevin –
      Given your strong feelings, have you considered suicide or withholding live-saving medical intervention if you fall ill again? I’d pray not. We can be good stewards of the earth as God has instructed without practicing eugenics or culling the weak and diseased or using other means of population control (like Communist China). But thank you for your thoughtful response to this post.

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  2. Kevin says:

    You completely lost the gist of my reply, I said, categorically that I was happy the meds made me well, I stated that clearly but it would be naive, nay ignorant of me to ignore the fact that the Human was never going to live to the age it does without the intervention, at some time by the medical fraternity or the aid of Drugs etc. We have triggers/switches within our bodies that determine our longevity and so on, it is not exclusive to anyone it in non-excluding, we are meant to die, do you think, honestly, that the population was meant to continue growing exponentially? where do you think we would live? where would the Food come from etc.?

    I think your reply was cruel and unfounded, why suggest suicide? no one knows, not even you know what you would do when faced with a traumatic situation but someone reading your reply may have been thinking of it and your question may have given them the push they needed .

    I never made any reference to culling. If the Human Genome becomes riddled with defective Genes, would the resulting phenome be able to exist without the application of prescription Drugs produced by the multi-Billion Dollar Drug companies? Monsanto are already holding people to ransom by producing Seed that will produce plants that will produce non viable seeds, they themselves hold the key so people in poorer countries cannot retain some seed from the Crop to perpetuate their crop for years thereafter without paying the mighty Dollar.
    I just don’t understand how blind some people are regarding facts.
    The Fact is, we cannot keep adding to the numbers, if you can genuinely explain to me how we won’t , at some stage, arrive at a point of our development where we will ONLY be able to survive with the aid of expensive drugs to counter the downside of poor, weak sick Genes or whatever you wish to call them, please tell me.
    I am NOT advocating any of the disgusting things you intimate I am , I am merely pointing out that we have never been at this point population wise in our History and to just blandly expect things to sort themselves out is ignorant bliss.
    Given the dreadful Wars, usually religious based, that have occurred over the millennia, the Plagues and pestilence that have wiped out the hundreds of millions, where would we be now numbers wise? can you tell me for sure that we can keep on reproducing ad infinitum?
    We all know that in congested poor Housing within the larger Cities of the World, crime is at it’s worst, more people cause more problems, not by intent, by sheer numbers.
    We send hundreds of millions in aid to Famine affected areas, this alleviates the problem temporarily, these unfortunate People are given a new, if temporary lease of life where a modicum of normality returns leading to more Children being born ( because Religion dictates they go forth and multiply ), these Famines, usually due to Drought, are cyclical and when they return, the numbers of people have increased times over, is this really the way to go? would you continue to have Children, year after year, with no job or Money to give them what they need,? your children, their children and their children living in a tiny House , well that’s the situation on a Global scale.

    Bible thumpers think that if they believe blindly, everything will be ok. I just lost my dear Mother, a tough time but despite our closeness, she hasn’t tapped me on the Shoulder to say, don’t worry, every-thing’s fine or chills in the air etc, she is within me and I am happy with that but if you are waiting on a Miracle, you’ll be waiting a long time and Time is not what this Planet has, we need to act now. On the Miracle front, I asked a friend who goes to Lourdes if he ever witnessed a Miracle, he said, well, I’ve heard of someone regaining their mobility or sight etc, my opinion is, let someone go there with one Leg and come out with two or let’s reduce the difficulty of the Miracle, let me see a man go in with four Fingers on one hand and come out with five…. That’s a Miracle.

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