By Claude Tate
I’ve been thinking lately about the problem of overpopulation.
WARNING: I cannot verify the following story from my sociology professor is true. However, I can verify it got my attention.
My first encounter with the population problem came early in my college career. I had a sociology professor who told us of an effort in a rural village in India to help women use the rhythm method of contraception. The health workers gave each woman of childbearing age an abacus. Each day they were to move another bead to one side. They were told how it was safe to have sex once all the beads of a certain color were on one side. The abacus experiment did work exactly as planned. The women did not move one bead a day as intended. They simply moved all the beads that indicated danger over at once, and went on their merry way. Of course in America we believe in using more reliable methods of birth control…or do we?
Recently, the Obama Administration got into some political hot water in issuing a requirement that birth control pills be covered in the new health reform legislation. Schools, hospitals, and other institutions supported by the Catholic Church felt the government had overstepped its authority in requiring them to offer birth control through the health insurance policies they offered. For many Catholics, this was a matter of faith. But unfortunately for many politicians, it was just an opportunity. President Obama thus sought an accommodation. The accommodation, that the insurance companies that cover the costs of birth control must assume the full cost, took some of the air out of the opposition, but it still may have a political impact. Only time will tell.
And at the time of this writing, a bill is moving through the Arizona legislature that would require employers to ask women who take birth control pills if they are using it for birth control or a medical condition. It will allow an employer to refuse to cover a prescription used for contraception. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the law would make it easier to fire a woman if the employer found out she took birth control medication for the purpose of preventing pregnancy. In other words, the beliefs of the employer would take priority over the beliefs and needs of female employees. It has already been approved by the House, and as of this writing, is in the Senate Rules Committee. If approved there, it will be considered by the full Senate. Whether it will pass or not or what the specifics of the final bill will be is still up in the air, but the fact that it is actually being considered by a state legislature is disturbing. I wonder if those opposed to medicine to prevent unwanted pregnancies would allow insurance companies to buy abacuses. Who knows, maybe they will work this time.
They call the time leading up to elections the silly season. But for this election cycle, we may need some new descriptors. I can see the arguments of the opponents of abortion. But I find it difficult to believe that insurance coverage for medication to prevent pregnancy be denied, especially in a world whose human population has just passed 7 billion people and counting.
Our world is facing many problems. In fact, their number is so daunting it’s simply hard to wrap one’s mind around them. I may deal with some of the others in future contributions, but for this blog I thought I would focus on one problem, that of overpopulation. But as I thought about it, I realized it was simply too broad to deal with in such a limited format as overpopulation is a factor in one way or another in so many of the problems we face today. So, I decided to limit my discussion to only one aspect of the problem, the impact of our increasing population on the future of the biosphere. We are going forth and multiplying at an alarming rate. And for the earth, that means we are running through its resources at exponential rates. Mineral resources are growing more and more scarce, the problem of what to do with waste products is growing worse on land and on sea (there’s a major floating trash dump in the Pacific that we do not know how to deal with), fresh water is being depleted and is already running low in many areas, the demand for food is leading to deforestation on a massive scale, and plant and animal species are disappearing daily as natural habitats are destroyed or altered. And of course, regardless of what some still say, we are changing our climate. If something is not done to rein that growth in, and rein it in soon, we will reach the point where the planet’s biosphere simply will not be able to support any more humans. We will reach its “carrying capacity”. And the entire biosphere will be impacted. Life is tenacious. It will continue. Human life will even probably continue. But it will be different.
As you can see, even introducing the impact of overpopulation of the biosphere is simply too complex to adequately deal with within this space. So I searched for some websites that would introduce this issue to anyone who may be interested in the impact of overpopulation and the environment. So I typed in ‘population growth and the environment’ and received 5,480,000 results. After closely reading 5,479, 999 websites, I settled on an essay from the website, 123helpme, called “The Population Explosion” . It provides a nice, brief overview of some of the major environmental problems associated with the growing human population.
Note: I was just kidding about reading ALL of those sites. I really read only a few hundred thousand or so before deciding on including “The Population Explosion”.
Obviously, we need to bring our population growth under control, but how to do that is still very much open to question. Any solution will involve among other things, something we deal with in the last unit of my BLS class, “Visions of Creation”; how we understand what it means to be human. However, as with any problem, the ‘devil is in the details’. And the details here will have implications for every human on the planet. So any discussions of solutions must wait for another time and another place.
But I do know this… the clock is ticking.