Rena, I must congratulate you for taking on such a hot-button subject and I'm looking forward to your article.
Just would like to add my own two-cents worth:
Overpopulation is indeed a problem when you look at humanity as a whole, but to tackle this issue, I think we need to look at the regional situations. Certain developed countries like Japan and Europe have not only stabilized their population but are facing de-population. Yet, what is scary is that many developing countries are caught in the 'demographic trap' - general standards of living, availability of contraception and education have improved by leaps and bounds, but not yet enough to 'roll' them over towards the trend of having smaller families. Think countries like China, Indonesia and even my country, Malaysia. After facing generations of impoverishment, people are dead-intent on catching up with their aspirational lifestyle that mirrors the West. Religions that prohibit family planning and culture (certain Asian cultures consider the capability to 'rear' many children as a mark of personal success, while children may be considered a form of 'investment' who will take care of aging parents financially; therefore the more the better!) complicate the issue.
In poverty-stricken and war-strife regions like Africa, the overpopulation problem is even more difficult. Firstly, in societies where intensive manual labour is necessary for survival (think old-fashioned agriculture, carrying buckets of water from rivers, gathering and chopping firewood), children are prized as 'an extra pair of hands' to ease the burden of parents' work. Secondly, since health facilities are so poor, threat of diseases are high etc infant mortality is very high. Risk of early death of a child born in Somalia due to sickness, violence or other environmental factors is much higher than an American or Malaysian child. Therefore, it is just human nature's defensive statistical logic to have more children as a form of 'insurance' to compensate for the threats being faced.
Improved education (especially for women) and improved standards of living have been proven to reduce family size and thus eventually stabilize or decrease population. Unfortunately, many developing and least developed countries lack the fund to develop themselves, so the population problem cannot be solved. Governments of developed countries are by any measure not doing enough to help alleviate the problem. Except for Sweden, Luxemburg, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark, others have persistently failed to honour the UN International Aid Target of committing 0.7 percent of GNP to official development assistance funds (For perspective: is it too much for to donate just less than 1 per cent of your income?). Some countries spend waayy more on military weapons, entertainment, government bailouts of messed-up investment banks.
Conclusion: in the developed world, overconsumption is the problem. In the long run, awareness and education will stabilize and even reduce population. One more issue that needs to taken seriously is that like it it or not, many people in developing countries blindly look to developed Western countries as their aspirational way of life. Therefore, developed countries need to 'lead by example' by transforming aspects of their unsustainable lifestyle, including reigning in their population.
On the other hand, MUCH MORE needs to be done to enable development in poor countries so they can escape from the 'demographic trap'. Developed countries must strive harder, not only by relaxing their tight clutch on their national purses, but through other means to help accelerate the development progress of lagging developing countries, for the good of the whole of humankind.
One final sobering point though: even if we realize that de-population may be a positive trend, our economic systems might resist this. Why? Sadly, higher population = larger market = mighty labour force = stronger economic power.
Dwindling populations = many old, sick persons vs few young, productive individuals = labour shortage = less consumption = economic contraction = DISASTER (not to mention, pension funding problems!). Case in point: Japan seriously considers its shrinking population as a national economic threat and is actively encouraging its citizens to have more children! If other developed countries follow suit, will we ever succeed in defusing the human population time bomb?
The world is so messed up. :(
Written in September 2008