News articles like this one
tend to engender strong, and polarized, emotions in people. A good portion (perhaps the majority) will react with "Awwwww" and a warm tingle at the heart-warming story that's destined for the Lifetime movie-of-the-week. Others, including me, blanch involuntarily (and not just because the mother claims it was a "miracle," despite voluntarily using science-based fertility treatments).
There are arguments that can be made against having excessively large families on the personal level (the distribution of resources, including attention, among more children, the greater risk to each child from gestating multiples, etc.), but these tend to be visceral and opinion-based. Moving on.
The concept of personal liberty and reproductive freedom is unquestionable on the personal level. The concept of responsibility on the global scale, on the other hand, is not. For 99% of its 200,000-year history, the human species experienced very slow population growth (we didn't crack 5 million people until the Bronze Age). A hunter-gatherer existence surrounded by predators and an inconsistent food supply meant that multiple offspring were offset by high mortality rates, and even into the modern historical periods population growth was still slow (800 million people worldwide in 1750, less than the population of India today). The evolutionary nudge toward large families was maintained as necessity in agrarian societies (where large numbers of children were, in addition to bundles of joy, free labor on farms using hand-powered technology), and extended into tradition today even when no longer necessary (my own family, descended from proud farming stock on both sides, spans four generations and more than 50 people, not counting spouses).
This is where harsh mathematics comes in. The current population of the world
is about 6.75 billion
. This is a fourfold increase in a hundred years and nearly a doubling since I was born. Numbers are projected to level out around 9 billion once the majority of the third world "catches up" with the first world. In stark contrast, the scientific consensus on the maximum long-term sustainable population of the planet, based on its resources and "recharge rate," is a paltry 2 billion
, a number we've long ago passed. That number is based on an assortment of limiting factors, such as the rate aquifers recharge, top soil regenerates and ocean fish levels replenish, plus the rate of depletion of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels that are a one-shot supply the planet won't produce again. Our current population is sustaining itself only through depleting a stockpile of resources (much like spending the capital in your retirement fund instead of living off the interest). This is a bad plan (both in the world of finance and in population dynamics).
The human species, then, has three options:
1. Ignore the situation and allow the population to build to 10+ billion, at which point natural population control measures will kick in (in a decidedly non-pretty way, likely through escalating mass famines and regional/global wars over limited resources).
2. Institute mandatory population control
measures as China and India have done (with varying degrees of success). These are severe violations of personal liberty and lead to civil unrest.
3. Encourage global responsibility on a personal level. Which means not having 14 children. (It actually means not having more children than necessary to maintain the sustainable population, which in a balanced ecology would be enough to replace the previous generation.)
Unpleasant facts, I know. Our planet just isn't as forgiving as we tend to think it is.
Labels: annoyance, environment, politics, social commentary