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How can there be too many children? It's like saying there are too many flowers. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Much was made for many years about the claim that the world was becoming dangerously overpopulated. For years, population statisticians have argued that humanity was headed for disaster if the allegedly soaring birth rates were not brought under control. Indeed, one can go as far back as the 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus, or later books such as Paul Ehrlich's influential The Population Bomb (1968).
Only a few years ago, a major Canadian newspaper ran a cartoon of an earth that was so full of people that some were actually falling off it. Other advocates of population control claim that the world is overpopulated because some one billion people go to bed hungry every night and several hundred thousand die of malnutrition every year. But others answer that this has more to do with inequitable distribution of the world's food and essential resources than soaring birth rates.
When Pope John Paul II made his historic first speech to the Italian parliament in the fall of 2002, one key point was that Italians should have larger families. News reports added that, according to the UN, Italy's economic future is in peril because there will not be enough people.
Ehrlich Paul Ehrlich predicted in 1968 that hundreds of millions of people would die of starvation during the 1970s and 1980s because the earth's inhabitants would multiply at a rate faster than the world's ability to supply food. He also had detailed schedules of how the world would run out of metals, oil, and other raw materials. Six years later, he increased his death toll estimate, suggesting that a billion or more would die from starvation by the mid-1980s. By 1985, he thought, the world would enter a genuine era of scarcity. As we know, Ehrlich's predicted famines never materialized; on the contrary, food production, especially that of rice, has outstripped population growth.
Since 1965, fertility in less developed regions of the world has fallen from six to fewer than three births per woman. The UN now also predicts that by 2050, 80 per cent of the world's population will have below-replacement (2.1 children per family) fertility rates.
The UN adds that the fertility decline in countries such as Italy, Spain and Japan is beginning to have profoundly negative implications. An ever-increasing proportion of older people will have the effect of overtaxing social security systems, pension funds and health-care facilities. It is thought that even massive immigration will not be enough to save such countries from the consequences of below-replacement fertility rates.
This situation prompted the UN to actually stage a second World Assembly on Aging, in Madrid, Spain in April 2002. Data presented at the assembly showed that one out of every 10 persons in the world is 60 or older. This, it claimed, would rise to one out of five by 2050, and one out of three by 2150.
Unfortunately for the planners at the U.N., they are still way behind reality. Some developed countries have already reached the ratios predicted for the future. Instead of in 2050, today one out of five Europeans is 60 or older and it is expected that, by 2050, in some parts of Europe, it will be a remarkable one out of two.
Reasons for decline
According to the New York Times (March 10, 2002), some demographers say that neither government policies nor foreign aid in "family planning" have been critical factors in fertility declines. Indeed, as a University of California researcher found, women in Brazil reduced their fertility levels‹from 6.15 to 2.27-without a national "family planning" policy. Brazil's ambassador to the UN suggested the key factor in the decline was television. Brazilians apparently saw small, happy families on television and decided to emulate them.
In India, according to a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, cultural factors, not "family planning," have been involved in fertility declines there. The trouble with these explanations is that they ignore the obvious: the consequences of abortion and contraception. For example, so many female babies are aborted that India has developed a serious imbalance between boys and girls.
Decline is worldwide
On March 2, 2002, Globe and Mail correspondent John Ibbitson described how a number of countries, including China, Brazil, Russia, and practically the entire Caribbean, are experiencing birth rates very near, if not below, replacement level. Former "population factories" (as Ibbitson called them) such as India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are moving toward what he called "population stability." Even in countries where the birth rate remains relatively high-such as in sub-Saharan Africa and the Islamic Middle East-birth rates have dropped or even plunged. Ibbitson mentioned neither contraception nor abortion as causes; that would signal that liberalism and the permissive society have failed.
In Japan, the fertility rate has dropped to a mere 1.3 children per woman. The Japanese population is predicted to actually start declining by 2007. "I can't help but wonder whether Japan's industries and the economy can take losing 800,000 people a year," says Makoto Atoh, deputy director-general of the Japanese National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
"Economic management would be hard, economic growth would plummet, and living standards would worsen," he said. Japan's health minister went a step further, predicting that the Japanese people "will become extinct" if fertility declines are not reversed. Similar fates await Germany, Italy, Bulgaria and other countries if they keep on their present course.
Some population-control advocates had been promising economic growth if fertility rates were lowered, but that has not come to pass. The UNFPA's latest report shows that only a handful of countries could make that claim, but they eventually became mired in economic downturns. Demographer Dennis Ahlburg now suggests that the UN would be better off concentrating on lowering death rates, rather than birth rates. He says this would mean strengthening its programs in traditional health care services, not "family planning."
Even immigration may not be the magical elixir that solves the depopulation problems of certain countries. The UN's Population Division calculated in a 2002 report that, for Europe, the annual number of migrants necessary to keep the ratio of workers to non-workers constant at 1995 levels would have to increase to 15 times the level in the 1990s-an unrealistic number.
Population control still being
Indeed, when the UN General Assembly assessed the results so far of the 1997-2006 Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, it cited population growth as a primary obstacle to overcoming poverty.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Centre for the Study of Peace and Conflict at the University of Toronto, claims it is "wildly irresponsible and premature" to declare that the population explosion is over and that we should start worrying about an implosion in its wake. Those who believe the crisis is over have "misinterpreted and taken out of context" recent data on fertility trends, Homer-Dixon said in a March 2002 Globe and Mail column: "The human population explosion is far from over, and its dire effects will be with us for many decades yet."
This attitude is still pervasive in India, where a group advocating population control is seeking to overturn a target and coercion-free population policy that the government adopted two years ago; they favour a policy of enforced sterilization and a two-children-per-family limit.
In the Philippines, the World Bank and certain unidentified foreign donors have established a "Maternal Health and Population Management Program," which is set for implementation either next year or in 2005. The Philippines government is reportedly resisting the program. The Philippines was one of the countries targeted in the notorious Henry-Kissinger-produced National Security Memorandum 200 of 1972. This memorandum called for population control in 18 fast-growing countries to ensure the welfare of the United States' strategic, economic, and military interests.
The fictional population "explosion" justified worldwide distribution of contraceptives and the provision of sterilizations and abortions. Today, these items are being utilized for, and disguised in, the causes of "women's health," "poverty alleviation," and the like.
Wise words from the Vatican
"In defence of the human person, the Church stands opposed to the imposition of limits on family size," said the Pope. "All propaganda and misinformation directed at persuading couples that they must limit their family to one or two children should be steadfastly avoided, and couples that generously choose to have large families are to be supported."
He went on to observe that "not a few of the powerful of the earth Š fear that the most prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat to the well-being and peace of their own countries." The Pope observed that the problems of poverty, starvation, and want in the world are not an outgrowth of there being too many people, but rather of the inequitable distribution of the world's resources: "Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing true economy of communion and sharing of goods, on both the national and international levels."
This point of view was reiterated in the summer of 2002, when the Vatican's permanent observer at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, stated that the Holy See rejects the imposition of policies that attack the right of parents to freely decide how many children they will have. "Nature itself establishes a certain balance between generations," said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. "We have seen on many occasions that, when there is radical intervention on this balance from outside, problems are created."
And what of Canada?
Media reports, newspaper columnists, and the Bureau of Statistics never mention the true causes of this decline, which all pertain to the "permissive morality"-contraception, abortion, sterilization, vasectomies, homosexuality, and pornography.
Canadians are waiting longer than ever to get married, with the average age of a newly wed man or woman being well over 30. "Increasingly, we've become so materialistic, our wants and desires are so high," observed Dr. Berna Skrypnek, a professor of human ecology at the University of Alberta.
This has had its effects on childbearing. The proportion of women having their first baby in their 30s has jumped from 14 per cent to nearly a third in less than a generation. The self-indulgence of Canadians is illustrated by the statements of one woman quoted in a Toronto Star article. She first traveled around the world, then went to university to obtain a master's degree, before finally getting married at 29. "I just feltŠthat I was independent enough that, getting into a relationship, I would still have that sense of accomplishment," said Jane Pal-French.
One observer suggests Ottawa's strategy is to persuade baby boomers to stay in the work force as long as possible. Retirement expert Malcolm Hamilton says baby boomers "must stay on the job and off the dole, or the system implodes."
Those citizens do not seem to be heeding his advice, however, as the retirement age has fallen by four years during the last two decades. Hamilton noted that governments have taxed baby boomers to the greatest extent in history, prompting families to put both spouses to work and have fewer children. As well, more is being taken from young workers through increased contributions to the Canada Pension Plan.
Perhaps the height of absurdity was reached in November 2001, when a cap was imposed on births at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa. At a time when Canadian abortions have numbered well over 100,000 annually for years’ the hospital demanded written assurances from its obstetricians that they would limit the number of births at the hospital to 2,100 per year. This order was made with the threat that the physicians would lose their jobs or privileges
Tony Gosgnach is Assistant Editor of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper.