Tags: Population | Growth | Birth | Control | and | Increased | Terrorism?

Population Growth, Birth Control and Increased Terrorism?

Friday, 27 February 2004 12:00 AM

"If present trends continue . . ."

Four ominous words, their severity mitigated only by the fact that present trends never continue. And even when they do, their effects and meanings can change drastically and unpredictably.

Consider, for example, an issue that engages us all: just how many of us there are, stomping about on the globe. Clearly, the trend is toward more. But the trend toward more is slowing down, and nobody really knows why. Just as clearly, the trend is toward younger. But nobody really knows what that means.

Today, the Planetary Us stands at about 6.2 billion, up from a mere billion in the early 19th century, an almost-as-mere two billion as late as 1930. Not so long ago, demographers were predicting that the Planetary Us would peak at about 16 billion . . . assuming we didn't all starve to death first.

But now, United Nations experts believe that the Planetary Us might peak as low as ten billion, and that around 2200. Seventy years to treble the population. Two hundred to raise it by less than half again.

What's going on? It may surprise many that the two factors most frequently cited may in fact be disregarded.

One is war and the massacres attendant thereon. The century that witnessed the trebling also witnessed the most horrifying slaughter in human history. Long-term, it barely slowed things down. The other factor is "family planning," whether voluntary or state-compelled. Contraception, abortion, infanticide -- no more than war, do they control population.

In 1945, demographer Frank Notestein sketched a three-stage process by which this occurs. In the first, preindustrial stage, birth rates and death rates are high, and tend to cancel each other out at low population levels.

Countries going through industrialization experience rapid population growth because death rates decline while birth rates stay high, often for several decades. Many "failed states" have failed because they exhausted their resources and patience before stage three, when birth and death rates again come into balance, this time at higher aggregate population levels.

At the moment, according to the Worldwatch Institute, every country on earth is now in either stage two or three, with over 150 still in stage two. But there are wide differences between countries as they struggle forward.

Some of the largest, such as China and India, are relatively stable. Many smaller countries experiencing rapid population growth tend toward the chaotic, and often achieve it. Meanwhile, the United States, which may have reached the magic 2.1 stable population replacement rate - two kids per mother, plus a fraction of another to balance out the nonbreeders - experiences stage two-style population increase due to immigration.

But if population growth is slowing, the Planetary Us is also becoming younger. Or, more precisely, an aging United States and Europe confronts a youthful rest of the world.

According to the International Programs Center at the U.S. Census Bureau, over half the Islamic world is under twenty-five. The same holds true for much of the rest of the stage two world. Many have suggested that these youthful billions constitute a fertile source of hate and discontent, suitable for co-optation by terrorists and other radicals.

After all, there are few predators more deadly than young males with no education and no hope, and no use for a world that has no place for them.

As for the women in such circumstances, they often end up trading sex for survival and having children as a consequence.

But just as educating a boy to grow into a man able to engage in productive and remunerative work usually transforms him from a potential dangerous predator into a productive citizen, loving husband and responsible father, the same education and work allows women to mature in the same direction by freeing them to have to sell sex for survival. Marriage becomes a relationship based upon love and commitment, and children grow from that committed love as a free choice amongst several.

In a February 18th Seattle Post-Intelligencer column, "Guaranteeing Women More than Talking Point Status in Iraq," Erin Solaro makes the point that, long-term, the key to redeeming the Islamic world may well be the empowerment of women.

This has nothing to do with American-style pseudo-feminism -- and everything to do with women taking their rightful place beside men who oppose both fundamentalist and secular tyrannies.

Indeed, she suggests, the current struggle may be billed as a war against global terror, and it is. But long-term it may turn out to be a war for the freedom of half the human species.

Perhaps we might think less about population control and more about helping people build lives in which girls are educated and women can support themselves. Perhaps, when we think about the Middle East, we might ask the question of what people need to develop lives they find worth living, rather than looking for a worthy reason to sacrifice their lives.

At the moment, no one can predict when or at what level the Planetary Us will stabilize. All we know for certain is that equality is good for the planet."

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"If present trends continue . . ." Four ominous words, their severity mitigated only by the fact that present trends never continue. And even when they do, their effects and meanings can change drastically and unpredictably. Consider, for example, an issue that engages...
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Friday, 27 February 2004 12:00 AM
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