Can We Talk About Overpopulation?

by Anne Foreman

These days, all the attention about saving the planet is focused on protecting the earth’s natural resources and stopping climate change. Why isn’t attention also focusing on the other side of the equation? For example, how many people can the earth sustain? Why has overpopulation disappeared as a concern? Moreover, it’s no longer a part of  our political conversations. How was this critical issue muzzled?

I heard a lot about overpopulation as a college student. I remember joining the organization ZPG–Zero Population Growth. Paul Ehrlich at Stanford wrote The Population Bomb, a seminal work that raised awareness of the dangers of overpopulation. Similarly, we saw documentaries that explained the phenomenon of exponential growth in our human population. For instance, the global population increased by billions in just the 20th century. The facts are staggering. For example, in 1900 the world’s population was 1.2 billion and, in 2018, it is 7.6 billion!

Xiamen slum dwellers street
Overpopulation – from Concern to a Blind Eye

What changed? Why don’t we hear about population issues now? Unfortunately, I believe the role of conservative religion played a part in suppressing this important issue. That is to say, the idea of controlling population through birth control measures got mixed up with the controversy over abortion–a very toxic subject. In the interests of transparency, I confess I believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion if she really doesn’t want the child. But putting the abortion issue aside for the moment, we should, at the very least, be addressing the challenge of overpopulation.  Contraceptives need to widely available–in the United States and abroad. Yet they aren’t. Why?

Here again, religion looms large. The dogma of the Catholic Church maintains birth control is a sin. Similarly, Islam teaches birth control is a sin. Moreover, many religious conservatives of all faiths share this belief. The U.S. government once provided contraceptives through its international aid programs, such as USAID. Unfortunately, the Bush administration reversed this initiative under the Global Gag Rule (see Population Action International below).

Even here, in the United States, access to modern birth control is now curtailed. For example, employers no longer have to provide contraceptives to women in their insurance coverage if they object to contraception for “moral” reasons. Furthermore, evangelical groups and organizations are trying to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics. Such is the power of the religious right.

Urban Slum, Favela, in Brazil
Overpopulation Statistics

The nonprofit organization Population Connection (formerly ZPG) reports:

• Worldwide, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintentional

• Not surprisingly, an estimated 214 million women want to avoid pregnancy, but lack access to modern contraception

• Every second of every day, our global population grows by 2.6 people

• At the current rate, the population of the least-developed countries will double in the next 30 years

In short, we ignore the danger of overpopulation at our peril. Controlling our population is one piece of the puzzle in our quest for a sustainable world. We need to separate the issues of contraception and abortion, push back on religious conservatives and reestablish the issue of overpopulation as a critical issue of our time.

In my college days, there was a slogan/bumper sticker that I thought said it all–“Every child a wanted child.” What a different world this would be, if only that were true.

For more information from Population Connection, click here:

See Population Action International for more information:

For information from Negative Population Growth, click here:

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, October 17, 2018. Email Anne Foreman

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