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It's Time to Fight Population Growth

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  • Augie
    It s Time to Fight Population Growth, Which Exacerbates Global Warming and Sprawl By Katha Pollitt, The Nation April 9, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 10, 2007
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      It's Time to Fight Population Growth, Which
      Exacerbates Global Warming and Sprawl
      By Katha Pollitt, The Nation
      April 9, 2007


      Getting a better deal for mothers has been at the
      forefront of the feminist agenda for decades, although
      you'd never know it from the way the women's movement
      is always being accused of attacking women with kids.
      So it's ironic that what is finally driving at least
      some governments to act is the desire to boost
      fertility rates. The aim is to breed the next
      generation of workers -- ethnically correct workers,
      too, not the troublesome immigrant kind. As Sharon
      Lerner noted in The New York Times Magazine ("The
      Motherhood Experiment," March 4), fertility rates --
      the average number of children per woman -- have
      fallen below replacement level in ninety countries,
      including such Catholic stalwarts as Ireland (1.9),
      Spain (1.3), Italy (1.3) and Portugal (1.4). Even the
      much-trumpeted increasing US population is mostly a
      product of immigration (the actual fertility rate is
      2.0). While politicians in Japan (1.3) seem fatally
      drawn to chastising women as recalcitrant "baby-making
      machines," European governments have started asking if
      making life easier for working mothers might do the

      In the modern world, the traditional ways of producing
      large families -- early marriage, lack of sex ed and
      birth control, religious propaganda, community
      pressure, denial of education and jobs to women --
      don't work so well, especially when combined with the
      high cost of living that prevails in many developed
      countries. Even in comparatively conservative
      countries like Greece (1.3), young women are going to
      college, working and postponing marriage, as young men
      have been doing for years. Faced with the choice
      between career and kids, a lot of women seem to be
      voting with their wombs. As Lerner notes, the
      countries with the most rigidly patriarchal families
      and the most sexist workplaces are the ones with the
      lowest birthrates. (That's something for the World
      Congress of Families to consider when it meets in May
      in Warsaw. Founded by right-wing "family values"
      ideologue Allan Carlson, the WCF inveighs against
      abortion, same-sex marriage and secularism and
      promotes large "natural families" and "religious
      orthodoxy." I don't get the feeling working moms are
      on the agenda.)

      If fears of population implosion result in paid
      parental leave, improved childcare and more support
      for mothers' careers, it won't be the first time a
      government has done the right thing for the wrong
      reason. But isn't it weird to promote population
      growth while we wring our hands over global warming,
      environmental damage, species loss and suburban
      sprawl? The United Nations projects that in 2050 the
      world's population will reach 9.2 billion! When we
      think of overpopulation the usual image is of some
      teeming Third World slum, and indeed most population
      growth will come in the developing world. But actually
      it's the developed world that's doing the earth in.
      Every American uses as much energy as forty-eight
      Bangladeshis, and as many resources as an African
      village. Europeans and Japanese aren't far behind.
      What feels right for a nation or an ethnicity -- we
      need more Russians! more Italians! more Scots! --
      might be wrong for the human race, to say nothing of
      polar bears.

      For decades experts have argued that heavyhanded
      fertility-control schemes were unwarranted and that
      modernization -- better healthcare, women's rights,
      voluntary contraception -- would cause birthrates to
      fall naturally. And so they have! It worked! We should
      be cheering. Six billion people is plenty. Since women
      themselves are taking the initiative, why not take
      advantage? There's a limit to what family-friendly
      policies can achieve. Even Sweden, which has done the
      most to help mothers keep working and is also ahead of
      the curve on encouraging men to take leaves, is at
      only 1.7.

      Measures that facilitate combining work with
      motherhood are simple gender justice. But paying women
      to have kids, as in France, which offers a year's paid
      leave of up to 1,000 Euros a month for a third child
      -- that's just nationalistic vanity. Fact is,
      population decline looks practically inevitable --
      according to the UN, in a few generations Asia and
      Latin America will start shrinking as well -- so why
      not learn to live with it? Economically, the problem
      is a coming dearth of young workers to fund social
      security and care for an aging population. Yet while
      demographers fret about those unconceived second and
      third babies, every country on earth throws away
      plenty of children who are already here. Poor
      children, for example -- why can't they grow up to be
      those missing skilled, educated people and productive
      workers? What about the children of France's Arab
      immigrants who rioted two years ago to protest
      joblessness and social exclusion? The Gypsies of
      Eastern Europe, whose kids are written off at birth
      and who have been sterilized without their consent in
      Slovakia and the Czech Republic? Vladimir Putin
      bemoans Russia's free-falling population, but babies
      are still being stashed in his country's appalling
      orphanages. Get those kids out of there, or stop
      complaining! The disabled, or older people who'd like
      to keep their jobs past the legal retirement age --
      there are a lot of would-be workers who just need a
      bit of accommodation. Instead of cajoling or bribing
      women into gestating the home-health attendants of the
      future, states should start treasuring the people --
      all the people -- they have right now.

      That includes immigrants. Just below the polite
      official discussion, there's a disturbing undercurrent
      of nativism and racism that in some places is merging
      with the family-values religious right. "Europe is
      almost lost; to a demographic winter and to the
      secularists," claims the WCF. "If Europe goes much of
      the world will go with it." Fortunately, one country
      is a beacon of hope: "Poland has saved Europe before.
      It is likely she will save Europe again." When was it
      exactly that Poland saved Europe, you ask? That would
      be 1683, when the Polish army of King John Sobieski
      led the defeat of the Turks in the siege of Vienna,
      thus halting Muslim expansion in Europe. Will Polish
      women bear kids for Christ? The ruling Law and Justice
      Party is doing its part, with legal restrictions on
      abortion and contraception. Maybe they should try
      childcare. Current number of children per Polish
      woman: 1.3.

      Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation.

      Live Simply So That
      Others May Simply Live
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