Increasing importance has been placed upon population and population growth over the course of the past few centuries. Scientists are frenetically searching for the solution to this issue, and their outcomes are bleak. They are telling the world that if population growth does not slow, the earth will swell to a capacity too large to sustain itself and the conclusion will be apocalyptic. Explanations are numerous, however viable solutions are difficult to find.
Adherents to the Malthusian theory, such as Garrett Hardin, author of the article There Is No Global Population Problem, believe that this extreme growth in population will hinder economic development, therefore the industrialized nations must fight to control the population boom. Others, including those supporting the demographic transition theory, such as Gerard Piel, author of Worldwide Development or Population Explosion: Our Choice, claim that the opposite is happening; economic development is limiting population growth and if every country is raised up to a level of economic stability population rates will decrease.
Although both articles raise good points and offer up possible solutions, the demographic transition theory’s solution, as characterized by Piel’s article, is a more effective way to slow population growth. Piel’s article outlines the population problem and solution, yet it neglects to analyze the real cause. The consumption rates of a few countries are creating poverty, hunger, and overpopulation in many countries throughout the world. If this issue continues to be ignored, even if Piel’s solution strategies are implemented, the world will reach carrying capacity and our worst prognostics will come true.
In 1798 the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he deduced, “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometric ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetic ratio. ” (Piel 1995 Pg. 44) His claim was that there would be a point in time where the world’s resources would no longer be able to support the population and the world would be reduced to “wars of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague. ” (Malthus 1798 Pg. 49) Hardin’s article supports the Malthusian point of view.
He believes that there is indeed a population problem, and there are three basic things which can be done to solve the problem; deglobalize the issue, bring immigration to a halt and use “mutual coercion” to reduce birth rates. Hardin’s most important claim is that the population problem is not truly a “global” problem; instead it is a widespread problem that is mistaken for something global. Instead of uniting to solve the problem, each individual government should work separately to find the best solution for themselves, taking into account their own customs and ideals.
To illustrate this point Hardin makes an example of China, stating that their production groups are a good example of a government tailoring a population reduction program to their own culture. “Chinese traditions and cultural ideals make it easier to put the good of the group ahead of individual desires. ” (Hardin 1989 Pg. 48) The government, realizing that this cultural fact could be used to “shame” families into aborting children when it was not their turn to bear them, capitalized on this and successfully found their own solution to population growth.
Hardin commends this action, and suggests that the United States do something similar, focusing on monetary rewards for avoiding pregnancy, because this is the solution that would work in our culture. By implementing this method of “mutual coercion” he feels that birthrates could be brought down to a manageable level. Beyond mutual coercion and deglobalizing the population issue, Hardin asserts we must eliminate immigration. Immigration has increased exponentially from the birth of our country, with legal immigration into the US tripling from 1970 to 1990 (Lawson 2006).
With millions of new bodies flowing into the country each year, both legally and illegally, the population has almost no chance of reaching zero growth within our lifetimes. Hardin believes this immigration needs to stop, as we are an advanced nation and “unrestricted immigration characterizes a new nation; restrictions are the mark of a mature nation. ” (Hardin 1989 Pg. 49) The flow of ideas may continue, but with each idea it is not necessary to include a person. Although his three-step plan seems to provide an interesting solution, Hardin’s solution has many flaws.
His idea of mutual coercion assumes that every culture is homogenous, and that every person will fit the mold and adapt to the pressures of society. He makes huge cultural generalizations by saying, “Chinese women are controllable by coercion” (Hardin 1989 Pg. 48), and that Americans would only be coerced by monetary rewards. Because these assumptions lack physical data, they detract from the credibility of his argument. His idea to deglobalize the problem, although practical in the way it divides based on cultural truths, neglects several important issues.
Firstly, he fails to compensate for the fact that some world governments will not have the means to fulfill a solution without help from the global community. For example, several African nations, although growing at the fastest rate in the world, will not have government resources to dedicate large sums of money to family planning and birth reduction. Only with monetary and physical help from other members of the global community will it be feasible for these nations to implement a program and help eradicate the population problem.
The biggest failure of Hardin’s argument of deglobalization is that he overlooks the real problem behind overpopulation in many of these countries, which is the consumption of resources by the Western world. “A population that is under 5% of the world’s population generates and consumes 25% of the global GNP” (Porter and Sheppard, 1998 Pg. 136) This rabid consumption by the most well off countries pushes the global south deeper into poverty, which is a root cause of population growth. Although Hardin admits “Americans are too comfortable to try hard to find an answer. ” (Hardin 1989 Pg. 9) he neglects to mention that a good deal of the population problem is caused by the unceasing consumption by our country. If the problem is deglobalized, as Hardin suggests, the Western world will essentially be turning its back on the problem it created. The demographic transition theory, which Gerard Piel supports in his article, offers up a more educated solution to the population problem. The theory claims population growth is related to economic achievements; the more advanced countries increase their life spans, enabling more people to mature to the reproductive years, which in turn leads to an increase in population growth.
The growth is then kept in check by technological advances, namely birth control, but also by the fact that a smaller family is ideal since agriculture is not the main source of income and more people is no longer more help, just more mouths to feed. Piel describes this viewpoint as “the fewer, the more—for each” (Piel 1995 Pg. 46) He goes on to suggest that by putting each country through the “demographic transition”, which is namely achieved by increasing economic development, it is possible to halt the increase in population.
He explains, “we can reach zero-growth population, if we expand the world economy fourfold and share the proceeds equitably. This would bring the poorest 20 percent out of poverty. ” (Piel 1995 Pg. 45) In order to defeat poverty, which is both the cause and effect of overpopulation, it is necessary for the industrialized nations bind together to assist the unindustrialized nations in achieving economic prosperity. As an example of the process of demographic transition, Piel, like Hardin, turns to China.
However, he accredits the decline in population growth to the revolution that turned China from a politically isolated country into the ninth largest economy in the world. With the doubling of the GDP China saw its literacy rate skyrocket, the life expectancy extend, infant mortality drop drastically and, in 1992, the fertility rate approach the zero-growth rate. (Piel 1995 Pg. 50) This proves that by simply moving into the second stage of the demographic transition, China was able to finally control its population of 1. 2 billion people.
Piel’s solution, although far from perfect, does a better job at realizing that this problem truly is global, and that the only way in which a resolution will be found is if the entire world works together. Although he does not blatantly support the ideas of the consumptionist theory, which believes that the consumption distribution supports inequality, which then causes overpopulation, his argument includes lots of support for the idea. Some of his most blatant support is when he discusses the discrepancies of wealth between transnational corporations and the countries that they exploit.
He explains, “The 350 largest nonfinancial transnational corporations [which] account for 30 percent of the output of the world economy… in no small measure, owe their enormous expansion in the past three decades to their advantage in negotiation of the terms under which the developing countries have supplied every commodity—from petroleum to labor. ” (Piel 1995 49) He is arguing that the most well off countries continue to prosper at the expense of the resources and work force of some of the world’s poorest countries, furthering poverty, which goes on to affect population and population control.
If the world binds together, pools their wealth and propels underprivileged countries through the demographic transition, as Piel suggests, it is possible to begin to slow population growth. But this advancement will be negated if the world does not acknowledge that the consumerist appetite of select countries is a major reason behind the population problem. Western countries believe they can continue to shift the blame from themselves to poor women in poor countries, essentially scapegoating the vulnerable.
Eventually, though, it will be realized that this problem can be ignored and hidden, but it will not dissipate until someone faces it. The longer it goes unaddressed, unmentioned by those too embarrassed by their own actions or those whose voices are powerless to make an impact, the worse the global population problem will become. As our population continues to double, triple, quadruple, with no signs of slowing, we need to bind together, implement strategies for population reduction, and face the real issues, no matter how scary, because if not, our worst prognostics will become reality.
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