Sunday, 13 October 2013

Is it Right to Take Steps to Control Population Growth?

In China there is a one child policy. In India, government jobs are given only to those with two or fewer children and encourages hysterectomies after a second child. In Iran a couple must undertake a mandatory contraceptive course before marriage. Uzbekistan is reported to have been pursuing a policy of forced sterilizations, hysterectomies and IUD insertions to impose population control. 

What is population control? It is the practice of altering the rate of growth, usually through the birth rate, in a country through either positive reinforcement, ie benefits for small families, or negative reinforcement, ie punishment of those who exceed the country's limit. It is usually carried out by the government, who have ultimate power over their citizens. Population control is often a response to over-population, poverty, environmental concerns or sustainability issues, and on the most part proves successful. 

But where did the idea come from? Who decided that it would be best to take away self-control and responsibility from countless families worldwide? Most fingers point to Thomas Robert Malthus, a scholar on political economy and demographics in the 18th century. He is most well known for his theories concerning population change. Malthus considered population growth a danger that would eventually lead to catastrophe. Humans would always reproduce faster than the world's capacity to feed them. 

"That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence. That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence by misery and vice." an Essay on the Principles of Population

Malthus was aware of the changes being made to the agricultural and mechanical industries, and he foresaw the increase in crop development and transport to further regions of the world. Therefore the means of subsistence grew and continues to grow with the domestication of land in order to feed the growing population. When we run out of space to grow crops, we will have reached the limit of the means of subsistence, and the population will have to stop growing as well. Malthus argued that there are two types of checks which hold the population within resource limits. The positive checks include hunger, war and disease - events which kill existing people. Negative checks include contraception, abortion and celibacy - actions which lower the birthrate. 

The general consensus in most governments is to use negative checks to keep the population under control. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts the global population is estimated to rise to between 8.3 and 10.9 billion by 2050 according to UN projections. However it is also thought to be likely that by 2150 for the population to drop as far as 6.2 billion! This is due to growing concerns that continued population build up will be unsustainable in connection with pressures on the environment, global food supplies and energy resources.

But this is not news to us. The world has experienced continuous human growth since the end of the Great Famine and the Black Death in 1350. Even two World Wars last century did not slow down growth. In fact people celebrated by having more children. We've known for a while that we cannot keep growing under the slower rate of growth of sustainable resources. However, most people seem to be under the impression that as Bosrup said, "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." With the more urgent need to find food, people will strike out more often to create new methods to gain more resources.

Take for example the recent news story about the world's first lab-grown burger. Although it was met with great criticism, it marks the beginning of a new doorway, opening up routes for us to become more sustainable. But this is only one case, and how sustainable can it really be? Is Bosrup's idea an illusion, or could we just continue growing forever, creating new ways of sustaining ourselves?

But there is a difference between letting humanity grow abundantly and freely, and letting it grow sustainably, within our current limits. So I put this question to you again. Is it right to take steps to control the global population using governmental policies and actions? Obviously many people would agree that it is right - that we have to keep the door open for the next generation and make life easier for them, not leaving them to fix our mistakes. And the policies do seem to be working. Although harsh, China's one child policy has successfully prevented over 400 million births since 1979 and continues to work today.

On the other hand, there are also arguments against population control. For some it is considered a form of authoritative control, a tool of the rich implemented over the poorest inhabitants of the world. Its the classic belief that you want to change the world, but you don't directly want it to affect you. Therefore the rich and powerful who have the authority to implement rules over the citizens actually on the whole ignore those rules themselves.

The rich are also threatened by the poor, of which there are many more in the world. By giving aid to the poor masses, you are only imperiling everyone else. Therefore the brutal reality according to capitalists is simply to leave them to starve. The massive populations of the Third World seem to present a threat to the West and Capitalism. In 1966, the USA made their foreign aid dependent on the receiving country adopting family planning programs. Japan, Sweden and the UK soon started to devote more money to reducing the birthrate in the Third World. Of course this focus on diminishing global numbers is needed, but it still doesn't answer the question as to it's ethical morality.

Anyway you look at it, steps to population control are considered immoral by the majority of the world. Most important is the use of positive checks, hunger, war and disease. By using positive checks to control the size of the population, you are automatically killing people, either directly in war, or indirectly in letting them starve or become sick. Of course killing and murder is considered wrong in almost every culture, while it is a part of basic human kindness to look after one another and to help those in need.

However, negative checks are more difficult to discern. That is why most countries use these to control the birthrate. As I said before, negative checks include contraceptive methods, abortion, celibacy and mutilation for sterilization such as a hysterectomy. Of course, Christian ethics would suggest that out of these, only celibacy would be considered morally right. Catholic arguments against contraception and abortion are renowned. On the other hand, more secular and utilitarian ethicists could be inclined to believe that if the child is not wanted, or if the lack of that child would cause happiness for others then it would be perfectly acceptable to make use of the negative checks to support the governments in trying to control overpopulation.

In the end, everyone has a different opinion about growth policies. Personally, I am totally in favor of these policies. Yes they can be harsh, and yes they do often lead to social problems, but there are not many resources as it is, and to allow everyone to grow freely, eventually even the land mass on the planet could not hold us, let alone the environmentally harmful waste that would be given off. It is not a pleasant solution to our problem, but it is the easiest solution if everyone complies with their country's policy. However, I think everyone should be involved in these policies, the rich and authoritative just as much as the poor and desperate. 

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