Think the population explosion is over? Think again
On or about October 12, 1999, human population is expected to reach 6 billion. While it
took until about 1800 to reach the first billion, the trip from 5 billion to 6 will have
required a mere 12 years. Those born in 1930 will have seen humankind triple within their
That makes all the more surprising the strange take of the national media, which over
the past few years have been full of stories like "The Population Explosion Is
Over" (The New York Times Magazine) or "Now the Crisis Is Global
Underpopulation" (Orange County Register). These contrarian stories are based on two
recent demographic trends: fertility in nearly all developed nations has fallen below the
population-stabilizing "replacement" rate (2.1 children per woman, where
mortality is low), and fertility is declining in most of the developing world. These
trends led the United Nations to revise its population projections, reflecting a slower
rate of growth than previously forecast.
"Slower," however, does not mean slow. At the current global growth rate, 1.5
million people-roughly a new metropolitan Milwaukee-are added every week. Despite
fertility declines, birthrates in much of the world remain high. For example, Guatemala's
fertility is 5.1 children per woman, Laos and Pakistan's 5.6, and Iraq's 5.7. And those
are not even the high end of the spectrum: Afghanistan's fertility rate is 6.1. The 43
nations of East, West, and Central Africa average 6.0, 6.2, and 6.3 children per woman,
respectively. Countries that have reduced their birthrate to three or four children per
woman are also growing very rapidly. This is partly because of "population
momentum," in which earlier high fertility yields a large proportion of young people.
Even fertility rates fractionally above replacement can perpetuate rapid growth.
What if every nation's fertility stayed at its present level? Human population would
exceed 50 billion by the year 2100-if the earth could support that many. The UN
"medium" projections (perhaps the most realistic) now assume that fertility in
developing nations will fall to about 2.2 children per woman over roughly the next 30
years. Even so, world population would reach 8.9 billion by 2050. The 2.9 billion gain
would itself equal the world's entire human population in 1957.
Most future growth will occur in the most distressed regions of the earth, many of
which are already experiencing severe deforestation, water shortages, and massive soil
erosion. In the medium projections, sub-Saharan Africa's present population of 630 million
will more than double to 1.5 billion by 2050. By that time, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, and
Pakistan will also more than double, as will Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and
Paraguay. Bangladesh will grow by two-thirds, and India will increase by more than half a
billion persons to 1.5 billion.
These projections presume that many more people will soon have effective access to
family-planning services. That may not happen. One reason is the abysmal failure of most
rich nations to provide family-planning aid at levels like those envisioned at the
population conference at Cairo in 1994. In the United States, such aid to developing
nations has become hostage to the debate over abortion, even though access to
contraceptives reduces abortion rates. Family-planning aid from the United States has been
slashed by at least 30 percent since 1995, and is now a fraction of what it needs to be.
There is still time to attain world population stability through means that respect
human freedom and dignity-and that therefore are conducive to women's equity and
empowerment. "I have the audacity to believe," said Martin Luther King Jr. in
accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, "that peoples everywhere can have three
meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity,
equality, and freedom for their spirit." It will take many steps to reach that dream.
A gentle but early end to the population explosion is one of them.William G.
Bill Hollingsworth wrote Ending the Explosion: Population Policies and Ethics for a
Humane Future (Seven Locks Press, 1996). He teaches at the University of Tulsa College of
Logging in Grand Canyon
Park Service plans to fight fire with chainsaws
When Premier Mike Harris proposed in March that Ontario create 378 new parks, the
announcement seemed to end a fractious two-year debate over the fate of 177,000
square miles of public land in his sprawling province. The expansive plan will
increase protected lands by a third, to 12 percent of Ontario's total public
acreage. Harris also declared that logging companies have agreed to stay out of
several prized old-growth pine forests. "This is Ontario's living legacy," beamed
Within weeks, however, the plan's industry-friendly details emerged, convincing
environmentalists that the forest fight is still on. Under Harris' plan, mineral
exploration will be permitted under a system with the bizarre name "rotating
protection." If a protected area is found to have
high mineral potential, it could be swapped for another site unwanted by
industry. "This means that one criterion for parks in Ontario is that they're not
good for anything else," says Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra
Club of Canada.
The forest industry is equally pampered. In exchange for losing
access to the new parks, loggers will be allowed to cut more intensively on the
province's unprotected lands. That sobering news has prompted the Sierra Club of
Canada to intensify its effort to convince Ontario to protect at least 30 percent
of its public lands, this time without loopholes or exemptions.Reed McManus
For more information about the Sierra Club of Canada's campaign to protect
Ontario forests, contact the Eastern Canada Chapter at 237-517 College St.,
Toronto, Ontario M6G 4A2; (416) 960-9606, or click on www.sierraclub.ca/eastern.
Gene-splicers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have produced what
they're calling the "Enviropig," a porker whose manure is less harmful to rivers
and lakes. This brave new swine is better at digesting phosphorus in its feed,
reducing the amount coming out the far end. "The manure from our animals is
superior," biologist John Phillips boasted to The Boston Globe.
Especially in the United States, manure from supergiant pig-feeding factories is
a serious threat to water quality. But even low-phosphorus manure will be
nitrogen-heavy, contributing to algae blooms in waterways. According to the
Ontario Pork Marketing Board, however, "Sometimes perception is as important as
Regardless, these little piggies won't be going to market any time soon, as it
remains to be seen whether they will pass down their super-pooper characteristics
to their offspring. Oh, and one other drawback: "We haven't eliminated the
smell," admitted researcher Phillips.Paul Rauber
When people commit multiple crimes, they end up in prison. When
corporationspersons under the law, after alldo the same, they post huge
Now a coalition of environmental, human rights, and women's groups are
petitioning California to revoke the corporate charter of Unocal. Dubbing the oil
giant a "dangerous scofflaw corporation," they point to pollution from its
refineries; human-rights abuses by its government partners in Afghanistan and
Burma, including the use of slave labor; and hundreds of violations of workplace
health and safety rules here at home. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer
recently denied the petition; backers are now suing to force him to reconsider.