Population worldviews clash as 7 billionth baby arrives

Secretary General Ban Ki moon and studentsl Credit UN Photo Eskinder Debebe CNA World Catholic News 10 31 11 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) and students of the New Explorations into Science, Mathematics and Technology (Nest+m) School. | UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe

As the world welcomes the seven billionth baby this week, experts are divided over whether the planet faces overpopulation or the opposite problem of countries not sustaining their birth rates.

Despite warnings from groups such as the United Nations who spoke of the “challenge” posed by billions of people using global resources, Texas A&M University's Dudley Poston warned that many countries are actually failing to sustain their populations.
“Almost half of the world today lives in countries where the fertility rates are at 2.1 or less children per woman,” Poston told CNA on Oct. 31, explaining that 2.1 is the minimum replacement rate for a society.

Poston, a professor in sociology who specializes in demographics, said the numbers show how these countries have no choice but to “allow more immigrants in or raise the birth rate to keep their population size stable.”

The outlook is grim, however, since raising the birth rate “is next to impossible, and many countries don’t want more immigrants,” he said. 

As countries around the globe celebrate Oct. 31 as the unofficial birthday of the world's seven billionth person, some are using the occasion to voice fresh concerns over waning global resources.

Demographer Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University told CBS News on Monday that rapid population growth is currently underway and “makes almost every other problem more difficult to solve.”

“If we could slow our growth rate, we have an easier job in dealing with all the other things like education, health, employment, housing, food, the environment and so on,” Cohen said.

The United Nations Population Fund added to the concern in an October action alert, saying this “unique moment in human history represents both an achievement and a challenge, and will have an impact on every single person on the planet.”

“A world of seven billion has implications for sustainability, urbanization, access to health services and youth empowerment,” the organization warned.

But Poston noted that countries such as Japan, Croatia, all of Eastern Europe have greater issues to contend with since all “are right now losing population.”

Also included included in the population decline are the historically Catholic countries Poland, Spain and Italy, which all have a replacement rates of 1.4 children per woman.

“In future years as more and more countries reach replacement fertility levels, we will need to start thinking in terms of  'fewer' and not 'too many' people” but not until then, Poston said.

An analysis of U.N. population data by the Population Research Institute found that the world’s population will peak at over eight billion around the year 2040, and then begin to decline.

Because of greater longevity, people aged 65 and older will be close to twice as numerous as those 15 years-old and younger by 2050.

On a deeper level, commentators such as the Wall Street Journal's Bill McGurn said that population growth can be seen as a problem or a blessing depending on how a human being is fundamentally viewed: as just another mouth to feed or a unique individual who can contribute to global resources.

“In short, it all comes down to your conception of the human person,” McGurn wrote in an Oct. 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

“Another way of putting it is this: Instead of looking for ways to reduce the number of people at the banquet of life, we would do better to look for ways to lay a better and more bounteous table.”

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McGurn's observations of this ideological conflict are perhaps outlined most clearly in the Philippines—where debate currently rages between the country's clergy and political leaders on the proposed Reproductive Health Bill. 

The legislation would  attempt to control population growth through widespread distribution of contraceptives and compulsory sex education in schools.

According to the Filipino bishops' conference, all health care service providers, employers, public officials and private citizens could be punished with monetary fines or imprisonment if they refuse to comply with the bill's provisions.

The House of Representatives' Committee on Population and Family Relations approved a consolidated version of several measures contained in the bill on Jan. 30.

The Filipino bishops have called the legislation “a major attack on authentic human values and on Filipino cultural values regarding human life.”

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