In his Thursday New York Times column “The Birth Control Solution,” Nicholas Kristof becomes the latest Times person to use news of the world reaching an estimated seven billion to suggest there are too many people on the planet. (Yet no one is volunteering to leave.)
What if there were a solution to many of the global problems that confront us, from climate change to poverty to civil wars? There is, but it is starved of resources. It’s called family planning, and it has been a victim of America’s religious wars.
Partly for that reason, the world’s population just raced past the seven billion mark this week, at least according to the fuzzy calculations of United Nations demographers. It took humans hundreds of thousands of years, until the year 1804, to reach the first billion. It took another 123 years to reach two billion, in 1927. Since then, we’ve been passing these milestones like billboards along a highway. The latest billion took just a dozen years.
In 1999, the United Nations’ best projection was that the world wouldn’t pass seven billion until 2013, but we reached it two years early. Likewise, in 1999, the U.N. estimated that the world population in 2050 would be 8.9 billion, but now it projects 9.3 billion.
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.
After pushing “more research for better contraceptives” and arguing that the U.N. Population Fund's "promotion of contraception means that it may have reduced abortions more than any organization in the world,” Kristof explicitly longs for one with less excessive and harmful humanity on it.
So as we greet the seven-billionth human, let’s try to delay the arrival of the eight billionth. We should all be able to agree on voluntary family planning as a cost-effective strategy to reduce poverty, conflict and environmental damage. If you think family planning is expensive, you haven’t priced babies.