On WorldPopulation Day, should we celebrate the human population or despair that it continues to increase?
Discussing population is a necessary discussion but all too often the debate is neutered before useful insights can be drawn. Many well-intentioned people believe that interfering in people’s choices about having children is off limits to policy makers. This takes us down a route where ballooning population is discussed in terms of how to obtain the resources this growing population will need, such as squeezing yet more output from world agriculture. From a logical viewpoint, this is plainly ridiculous when we should be focussing on the cause by considering policy that holds the population in check.
We should celebrate each human life but we should not celebrate the prospect of a world population of 9 or 10 billion, or more. Of course no one wants to discuss the solution we would use for an animal population. If this was running out of control we would cull with the focus on making it humane and painless. For humans, this is off-limits. However it should be entirely reasonable to consider how to influence the choices parents make with the intention to hold population in check.
It is entirely reasonable to argue that each person should not expect to be able to have more than two children. It is sensible to use tax incentives to support smaller families (and penalise larger families). It is good policy to provide adequate care for the old to eliminate the idea that a large family is needed to ensure you have someone to care for you when you are old. It is manifestly a good idea to improve education and prospects for girls so that they know how to limit their fertility and have other options open to them other than child rearing. It is only my first point that is worthy of debate; the other points should be rolled out around the world as policy without delay.
We should save the celebration until we have brought stability to population, and started to see the numbers decline, to make it feasible to live well within the capacity of the planet.