Solving Overpopulation

Ian Princeton Tan explains how each of us could contribute to solving the country’s population problem.

Overpopulation is and should be everyone’s concern. It’s not something that we should blame only on the poor or the government or especially only on those who have seemingly taken God’s directive to “go forth and multiply to heart.

It would be so easy to point a finger at the poverty-stricken families with x (and counting) number of children. And they could very well take the blame without protest as uninformed as most of them are. But then again shouldn’t there be enough information and facilities made available to them in order to make the sensible choices? We cannot really think that these people actually choose to make everyday living a burden on themselves and on their ever-growing brood. Well, really now, that would make a large part of the population slightly masochistic.

As for the government, well, it’s so easy and convenient to blame it. This is not to say that the government is lacking in programs and what-not to help alleviate overpopulation. But obviously, since the problem is still there, its efforts are not enough.

Here is where we come in. As individuals, we are not called to any drastic sort of action so as to initiate change. It just means living life fully and responsibly. It means going about the day-to-day aware of the problem that faces society today. It means making informed choices and spreading awareness when given the opportunity. It means moving through the mundane conscious of how you can be of help. Most importantly, it is the willingness to take part and “be counted” when the need arises. And if some are moved to do more, then more power to them.

After all, each and every one of us adds to the head count that constitutes the country’s population. We must think that being part of the problem, then we should also be part of the solution.

Ian, 19, is a college sophomore taking up BS Communications Technology Management at the Ateneo de Manila University.

4 thoughts on “Solving Overpopulation”

  1. I currently live in the USA. I found this website by chance from an old forum message, so maybe I don’t belong here. However, I once lived in Singapore, and my father was ethnically Chinese from Indonesia. ‘Overpopulation’ is a major concern of mine. I was surprised and interested to see this article.

    Why do we all seem to believe that it was ordained by God that the earth must support thousands of times more people than existed in the time of Jesus?

    Political corruption, pollution, deforestation, global warming, mass extinctions, viral epidemics, terrorism, wars, injustice, recycling… It is fortunate that we have heroic people addressing these concerns. Also usually, if you listen carefully to their documentaries, there is a brief mention of ‘overpopulation.’ However, even these most aware people do not seem to understand that overpopulation is a key.

    Meanwhile, those who do focus on overpopulation fail to confront these basic causes:

    1. Poor people in many countries can not save money because their currency is unstable. Children often provide the only measure of personal security. (Albeit inefficiently.)
    2. Every economist seems to be taught with the short-term view that ‘consumer spending’ and ‘population growth’ are essential for a healthy economy. I.e., the global economy is not much different from a pyramid scheme.
    3. Because of such short-term economic thinking, the people of Singapore, Japan, Italy, and other densely populated countries are encouraged by their governments to have more babies. If such ‘developed’ nations can think this way–what can we expect of the ‘undeveloped’ nations?
    4. The immigration of people from poor nations to wealthy nations ceratainly does not help the poor nations–and creates hostility toward these people in the wealthy nations. All this is the very opposite of what is needed.
    5. Pope John Paul II once give a speech to the Italians declaring, “God wants you to have more children.” If a so-called ‘modern’ religion thinks this way–what can we expect of all religions?
    6. On the other hand: Planned Parenthood and such people do not understand the necessity to build a common understanding with religious leaders.
    7. No government except perhaps China has made its people feel that a small family is in their immediate self-interest.

    China is distinctly non-democratic. China is also the only nation that has made a serious attempt to control population. This is no coincidence. Any ‘democratic’ leader who seriously attempts to control population will quickly be out-voted, due to popular sentiment and short-term economic consequences.

    It is however naive to assume that China will continue this policy. China only acted after being desperate, and will act only so long as they are desperate. As China becomes the leading economic power–they will have even less incentive to control population, and more incentive to deforest, pollute, etc.

    What then is the solution? I see four key possibilities:

    1. For God to touch the minds of religious leaders, especially Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists and Moslems. (This however would require the greatest ‘miracle’ in history.)
    2. For every person in the world to have a chance to save money, in even the smallest amounts, and that is equally secure to those methods available in developed countries.
    3. For governments to offer special educational opportunities to those who come from smaller families, and incentives for businesses to activate similar preferences.
    4. For every film maker of every documentary about nature or the environment to emphasize these three points loudly, not merely in passing:

    – Nothing can truly improve until we learn to control the human population.
    – We can not control the human population, until we achieve social and economic justice in all nations.
    – We can not achieve justice in all nations, until the people of wealthy nations see all people as their brothers and sisters.

    I am trying to start a nonprofit organization with some of these ideas as goals, and of course, that would be open to new suggestions.

  2. It’s much more complicated than that.

    Poor families often intentionally choose to have more children as when these children grow up, they are intended to provide support to their retired parents. It’s their form of social security. And it works. Imagine one child having to take care of two elderly people, versus seven siblings sharing the responsibility.

    Also, China’s one child policy will eventually lead to an aged population composed primarily of men. It skews the natural progression of population.

    Japan and some scandinavian countries are already suffering from shrinking/aging populations, thus leading to immigration as a necessary measure to maintain the same levels of productivity. Immigration may have negative effects such as brain drain, but on the other hand, that is exactly how the Philippines manages to keep itself afloat – through remittances by these immigrants.

    Which takes me to another point. Overpopulation views people as a burden. I believe that is such a negative view of the human person. Realistically speaking, people require food shelter and clothing in a world where resources are lacking – but in return they can provide creativity, innovation, labor and other value. Even in business, personnel are now viewed as human resources. So it’s a matter of perspective as well.

    The world CAN support the population that exists now, it is a matter of resource management. That will take people with creative minds to come up with effective solutions.

  3. This is a valid point which I neglected to mention: “Immigration may have negative effects such as brain drain, but on the other hand, that is exactly how the Philippines manages to keep itself afloat — through remittances by these immigrants.” The other points made by Gregory Mapa are also valid so far as they go. However I believe that I did discuss them adequately. His is an intelligent and informed perspective. It is precisely such a perspective that I wish to confront and that I personally find rather perplexing.

    In Bangkok, according to a documentary I viewed recently, the only way to get to work efficiently seems to be to weave through miles of stalled traffic on a motorbike. In Singapore, my father actually made a million dollars but what it got him was life in a modest sized apartment costing half a million dollars. In Jakarta, everybody wants to get to Singapore. Never mind Mexico City, Cairo, Shanghai, etc., etc. No matter how abnormal life becomes, the human race in general and Asians in particular seem happy to accept things as normal. In 1967, with no ‘homeless problem’ and no ‘gang warfare,’ American professors were teaching us that the world could easily feed its existing population, if only we solved matters of economic injustice. And they still taught this in 1987, with vastly more population, and the richest nation on earth filling up with homelessness and street crime. And now here we are in 2007, hearing the same thing. And however bad things become in America, you can be sure they are worse in Asia. Yet no matter the location, and no matter how relentless the downward spiral, people are always hoping to move upward. While we must admire and learn from this spirit, we must not blind ourselves to realities.

    Let us accept that millionaires will soon become all wonderfully generous, that the corrupt will all be imprisoned, and let us ignore the questions about bio diversity about which we are just beginning to compile scientific data. Let us ignore the fact that every politically viable plan for moving Americans upward today must involve pushing Asians farther downward, and that every Asian county is in addition jostling economically with another. Let us even assume that nuclear fission or “Tessler’s secret invention” is just about to give us unlimited free energy, and that the super-rich people who arrange this will reverse all human history and suddenly be generous with this energy. Yes, let us be like casino gamblers and risk the planet on these hopes. But even so, does any of this in any way negate the fact that at some point in the near future we must learn to exercise ten times the existing restraint on human population? Even if manna falls from heaven, what are we going to do with twice the people? To speak otherwise is to speak on a level with those who will always believe in chain letters and pyramid schemes.

    Yes, let us also assume that to reduce population will cause suffering. I believe I have already said so, and also said however, that this is not nearly so difficult a scientific or economic problem as what we are going to do when the population doubles? And even if we will be caused pain by reducing population, yet to increase population only delays the very same pains and makes them worse in the end, precisely the same as a pyramid scheme or borrowing from a loan shark.

    In other words, let us agree for a moment that the population is “ideal” where it now is. Even so, would this in any way reduce the huge effort that must be taken? No matter how hard we work and shout for population control, it will take a miracle to keep the population where it is. It is simply impossible to place ‘too much’ emphasis on controlling population. Therefore I can not understand what seems to be an instinctual rejection of such efforts.

    Thank you Gregory Mapa for representing this opinion well. I believe that most intellectuals and world leaders would agree with you. As I said, your points are all valid so far as they go, and certainly must be taken into account. I simply think that for some inexplicable reason, you are perhaps not able to understand or respond to the points that I had already raised. I believe that this is a standard human trait, created perhaps by the laws of evolution. The greater the ability to be rational about having children, the less the chance of having children who will pass on this ability. So it has been for several million years, all built in to the essence of why we exist today.

  4. P.S.–one point made by Gregory, that I did neglect to mention, is about the so-called negative population growth of Japan and Scandinavia, etc. Yes, this causes problems with the existing economic structures, primarily that demand that people who are extremely rich must always have a way to get richer. However, there is a great deal of deceptive language in the way these figures are discussed. “A slowing down of population growth” or a “slowing down of economic growth” is commonly implied to be the same thing as a reduction in population or a disatrous loss of the ability of a country to survive. These are certainly not the same thing. For fifty years, it has been generally agreed by intellectuals that if only we can redistribute wealth fairly, we can solve all economic problems. The same intellectuals however seem unable to apply the same insights into population growth. It is not possible here to go into complete details, but this also should not be necessary. Suffice to say that the problems of reducing population have answers, and are in fact relatively simple. Part of the problem is simply that economists and rich people who determine these directions are accustomed to language and patterns of analysis that greatly distort the situation for what it is.

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