Telling people from far away what to do

My recent post discussing population growth was somewhat controversial, especially when it came to my opinion that even western countries, that already have low birthrates, should try to achieve even lower birthrates. Many of the posts on this blog originate from a thought quite well described by quoting Michael Jackson: “If you wanna make the world a better place, take look at yourself then make a change! I’m starting with the (wo)man in the mirror…”.

The human population has grown more than five times in the past 70 years. Just look at that graph, that’s insane and I really wish I could do something about it.

Luckily, population declining is already happening in some places, for example, Japan. This worries the Japanese a lot, which is understandable. At some point, it becomes dangerous if there are too many generations with less than two children per couple, the whole population with all culture, language and traditions might be lost after a couple of hundred years.

In my other post I didn’t mean to suggest that everyone should stop having children, having just one child or adopt. The average just needs to be a little bit below 1 child per one adult. The birthrate per two adults in Japan is just 1,45, which is generally considered to be too low. But a decline in a country’s population can always be corrected by immigration. The OECD countries average of 1,65 per woman (who obviously got pregnant with a man) is quite good actually, but the global average of around 2,8 needs to be lower.  However, if some people have 5 children, it needs to be evened out somewhere else to achieve that on a global level.

So if most western countries already have quite low birthrates…Why don’t I simply argue that countries with very high birth rates, often developing countries, should do more to stop their population from growing? Because I have so far, not have any readers from the countries where population growth is highest. In fact, internet connection is limited in these countries. For me, right now, there is simply nothing I can do to tell families in Chad to have fewer babies (the country with the birthrates and only 5% have access to internet)I feel we’re in a bit of a hurry to stop the population growth, otherwise, I wouldn’t suggest any measures in industrialized countries that already have low birthrates.

I think that globally, the population growth at the moment should be around -2%, i.e. a decline. Small enough not to make societies go into crisis. That rate would make us land at around 6 billion in 20 years. But in the following years the growth rate would need to stabilize at an average of 0%, otherwise, we go extinct at some point. Maybe we don’t have to go as far with the population decline as the pre-industrialisation  which was less than 10% of all people today. I can’t honestly say what the perfect size of the population would be: something between 1 million and 6 million, I guess?

People can only, with certainty, make choices for themselves. I have decided not to, in any case, have more than two children. One would be better, but it’s nice to grow up with a sibling. At least, I wouldn’t be making the problem worse. Maybe I’ll adopt or have no children… That’s a question for the future. I’m not planning to have a family in many years and the later in life I chose to have children the fewer people will be simultaneously living on this planet! So if you wish global population growth to stop, the only absolutely certain thing you can do to contribute to this goal, is by deciding on your own reproduction. This is maybe not the ideal solution but it’s a solution where you agree to take your share responsibility for a huge problem.

However, in the long run, I do think that targeting those women in Chad and Congo Dem.Rep. might have an even bigger impact. Education of women and government programs on family planning are really needed. One action does not have to exclude the other: You can both decide not to have more than two children and donate to charities making programs in the third world available! I don’t think we need to be afraid of overdoing the efforts for population decrease.

As the resources of the earth are limited, these actions and programs would actually have to take place before economic growth and I’m not sure how likely that is. The planet can’t sustain a western lifestyle for this big a population. If many people in Chad can’t even access the internet, how likely is it that the birthrates would just start dropping?  Of course, the other alternative is for the whole world to give up the western lifestyle. If you dream of having 5 children but want to be eco-friendly, you can choose a lifestyle that does not include much resource use. But how can you guarantee that all of those 5 children will choose the same lifestyle?

Somehow it seems unfair to tell other people, far away, that they need to do something about a problem if you, yourself, is not in any way willing to give something up. I think that’s the basic problem of the entire environmental crisis: we always blame someone else, no matter what the question is. If I could do magic, I would absolutely target the third world and make sure that their birthrates decline. But I know that this blog does not reach them, so I can just make a difference in my own community. Most people reading my blog are from Europe so unfortunately, you are the only people I can reach to bring up this issue. I’m not saying that everyone has to have small families or no children. All I do is to ask you to reflect upon how your own reproduction affects the big picture. If there’s something you can do to stop those families in Chad or Congo from having 6 children, please tell me how I can contribute!

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