How to Stop Population Growth—Humanely

an overcrowded beach

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Overpopulation is a controversial subject and usually brings up tough conversations about the ethics of government control of family size. But what if we could limit population growth and create sustainable prosperity without laws that limit freedom?

Here are some ideas how…

Population and Carrying Capacity

What the heck is carrying capacity, you ask?

Carrying capacity is the number of people, animals and crops that a region can support without environmental degradation. (Webster’s Dictionary)

For example, imagine dropping a colony of rabbits onto a small island. As long as there is enough food and water on the island, the rabbits will live well and reproduce, and the colony will get larger. The rabbit population will continue to grow as long as there is enough food and water. However, if in the future there are more rabbits that there is food to feed them, then the rabbit population will start to decline.

This limit is called the carrying capacity. Carrying capacity is not a fixed number; it depends upon factors like how much each rabbit eats, how fast the food grows, and how well the natural systems of the island can handle the waste produced by the rabbits. Obviously, in a drought year, less food would grow and the island would support fewer rabbits. In good years, the island would support more rabbits.

The Earth is our island.

We are smarter than rabbits, and we have developed technology to grow, process, and store food so that we can make it through bad years. We have also developed technologies for handling many of the wastes that we create. However, there is still a carrying capacity that the earth can support. That carrying capacity is a function of the number of people, the amount of resources each person consumes and the ability of the earth to process all the wastes we produce.

Sustainability is about finding the balance point among population, consumption, and waste assimilation. (Which is why composting everything you can is so important!)

Balancing the Equation

Take a moment to think about how rapid population growth affects us and the environment. Think of the forests and grasslands (the planet’s lungs) cut down and plowed under worldwide for agriculture and development, releasing megatons of carbon. Think of the farmlands displaced by Suburbia; the rivers, lakes and oceans choked with our toxic waste.

There are visible signs of gross mismanagement of our resources and reaching or exceeding the carrying capacity of our land all around us. And these problems are only increasing as we increase in numbers.

Rapid changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and well-being, and the environment.

Most experts assume that the world’s population will rise from today’s 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050. It’s hard to fathom that many people competing for dwindling resources. It’s even harder to wrap your head around what we must do to stop it.

The good news?

It is possible that we can prevent humanity from ever reaching 9 billion people—without “child quotas” or violating human or civil rights.

According to Worldwatch Institute President Robert Engelman in his book, Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity, there are at least nine steps we can take to slow or stop population growth, without drastic population control measures.

Most of the reproduction policies he recommends below are relatively inexpensive to implement, yet in many places they are opposed solely on the basis of cultural taboo and political infeasibility. What a travesty! Surely we can demand better of ourselves and our governments.

Engleman recommends that we:

1. Provide universal access to safe and effective contraceptive options for both sexes. With two in five pregnancies reported as mistimed or never wanted, lack of access to good family planning services is among the biggest gaps in assuring that each baby will be wanted and welcomed in advance by its parents.

2. Guarantee education through secondary school for all, especially girls. In every culture surveyed to date, women who have completed at least some secondary school have fewer children on average, and have children later in life, than do women who have less education.

3. Eradicate gender bias from law, economic opportunity, health, and culture. Women who can own, inherit, and manage property; divorce; obtain credit; and participate in civic and political affairs on equal terms with men are more likely to postpone childbearing and to have fewer children compared to women who are deprived of these rights.

4. Offer age-appropriate sexuality education for all students. Data from the United States indicate that exposure to comprehensive programs that detail puberty, intercourse, options of abstinence and birth control, and respecting the sexual rights and decisions of individuals can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and hence reduce birth rates.

5. End all policies that reward parents financially based on the number of children they have. Governments can preserve and even increase tax and other financial benefits aimed at helping parents by linking these not to the number of children they have, but to parenthood status itself.

6. Integrate lessons on population, environment, and development into school curricula at multiple levels. Refraining from advocacy or propaganda, schools should educate students to make well-informed choices about the impacts of their behavior, including childbearing, on the environment.

7. Put prices on environmental costs and impacts. In quantifying the cost of an additional family member by calculating taxes and increased food costs, couples may decide that the cost of having an additional child is too high. Such decisions, freely made by women and couples, can decrease birth rates without any involvement by non-parents in reproduction.

8. Adjust to an aging population instead of boosting childbearing through government incentives and programs. Population aging must be met with the needed societal adjustments, such as increased labor participation or immigration, rather than by offering incentives to women to have more children.

9. Convince leaders to commit to stabilizing population through the exercise of human rights and human development. By educating themselves on rights-based population policies, policymakers can ethically and effectively address population-related challenges by empowering women to make their own reproductive choices.”

Engelman argues that if most or all of these strategies were put into effect soon, global population likely would peak and subsequently begin a gradual decline before 2050, thereby ensuring sustainable development of natural resources and global stability into the future.

The Benefit of Education and Equal Rights

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy, a startling 43% of university-educated women born between 1965 and 1978 (Generation X) do not have children. The study pointed out, though, that most of the women in this childless group were in long-term relationships and lived with their partners. This means that, as a generation, Generation X barely replaced itself.

Generation X was the first generation of American women strongly encouraged to become educated, ambitious, self-determining people, unconfined by gender-based cultural norms the way our mothers and grandmothers were. We are also a generation that has had a lot more difficulty finding good jobs and economic security the way our parents did—and you can see both factors reflected in our low parenting rates.

The trend that began with Generation X shows no sign of abating either, even if the economy improves. Demographics show that the American population is stabilizing and in time will begin shrinking. In fact, fertility rates are way down all over the developed world as women gain more control over the course of their own lives and better access to education and birth control. Indeed, Japan’s population is shrinking very rapidly because, today, families there typically have only one child—by choice.

What is clear is that as a culture becomes wealthier and healthier, and men and women alike are increasingly and equally able to meet all their basic needs, they become free to pursue dreams, desires and passions—to the great betterment of society. And in doing so, they often freely choose to delay childbearing, have fewer children, or not have children at all.

No coercion, no quotas. No forced sterilization or abortion nightmares like are thought to happen in China. Just plenty of positive, life-affirming and practical incentives to have few children, or none.

The more people are educated and helped to prosper—especially women (who have the babies after all)—the happier and more fulfilled we can all become and the less we strain the carrying capacity of our precious planet. This is the force of progress.

What do you think?

29 thoughts on “How to Stop Population Growth—Humanely”

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  1. Adding to the troubles facing the human race is climate change and the melting of the polar caps. Look at Greenland today…..its ice sheet is melting and the more it melts the faster it melts. Sea levels will rise and there will be a mass exodus of people heading for the high land. The impact of which will exasperate the issues of sustainability and quality of life for the future. (ie) new order economics and land ownership and land management. The rich will not give up their illusions of entitlement easily. Those who inherit the future will have to work together to save themselves.

  2. I really like the 9 steps, but do you think people would actual do any of that. some people yes would happily do this but, what about the religious people? Some of the religious believe that its really good to have kids and end up having 10 or more. With our country now most of the really religious people would not do this and then it could possibly start some conflict between people.

  3. There is nothing life-affirming about contraception. Neither do you address the elephant in the room: people expecting to retire with pensions in their 60’s. You cannot have a fertility rate in the low 1’s and support people for 20 years in retirement off of pensions. It could be done if they would save a large chunk of their income during their working years and invest in automation, but not by taxing the youth.

  4. what about the gases in mines it is severely damaging our environment and what are we doing… sitting around doing nothing about these big piece of plan bad. Why couldn’t we just use solar.

  5. Brilliant approach to the Earth’s malignant form of cancerI’E’ over population. Unfortunately “religion” is the main obstical to overcome, this makes it as hard to resolve as mass hypnotism, self reinforced, which is the main principle of all religions . So enlightenment that “god ” isn’t doing it you are doing it to yourself needs to be subtly promoted so it alters people’s behaviour

  6. How and why are you talking about human rights when it comes to reducing population? If we really want to save this planet from destruction by overpopulation, in the longterm we would also enhancing the survival of the human race, no? Survival is the ultimate “human right”. In that perspective is see no problem with 1 child policy for a hundred years for the whole planet… Religious considerations and business growth must have secondary considerations when it comes to our survival.

    Otherwise, we are commiting planetary suicide.

    1. Population is already severely declining wherever birth control and economic opportunities for women exist. Many Western nations aren’t even reproducing at replacement rates lately. In contrast, one-child policies have the tendency to lead to forced sterilizations, forced abortions, eugenics, and other things that DO indeed compromise human rights. A world where this kind of abuse exists in the name of the “greater good” is not one I am working toward, personally.

  7. Why do politicians and religious leaders worldwide seem so unwilling to address this subject? Could it be greed and the lust for power? A huge part of the problem!(IMHO)

    1. The more miserable people are the likelier they are to fall for malignant religious and political manipulations. On the other hand, as Dawn puts it, happy, healthy and self-sufficient individuals of both sexes, with high IQ and plenty of creative and meaningful interests will, first of all, form a much juster, more equitable society with a sensible and sustainable approach to reproduction, where children are few but wanted and loved and with happy and fulfilling lives ahead of them. The herds of sick stupid and wretched on the other hand are ideal food source for all sorts of religious and dictatorial vultures.

  8. Personally I’m childless by choice and sterilized by science. I leave the world with something of ever increasing value, my space.

  9. I was reading your article and I ask what has prompt the population growth in the past 20 to 30 years in the world?
    I dont think it will be stopped. I don;t know myself if I bring a child into the world. I might though.
    in 1900 there were roughly only 2 billion on the planet now theres over 7 billion people.
    Pretty interesting how things keep going like this. What about building , ?There is going to be no more empty lands.
    As well as polution. I don;t think things will slow down. As well I see alot of early twenties year olds having children. IS this a new trend?
    Just a though about your article, I have come across many articles on the web like this one, I don’t know why, Are people writing about this topic , are they in fear of something?

  10. Hi Dawn,

    With habitat loss being the greatest threat to biodiversity and habitat loss being a function of human population size and activity, you might be interested in supporting this initiative seeking to compel the United Nations to establish a Framework Convention on Population Growth: This article also references Bob Engelman’s nine steps to slow or stop population growth.

    I’m spearheading the campaign in the U.S. which so far has support from about 30 organizations and hundreds of individuals representing 15 countries across 5 continents. One positive development worth highlighting is that this initiative was recently nominated for an EXCELL Award which is the award program associated with the upcoming 2018 International Conference on Family Planning.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

    Kind regards,

  11. chetan chauhan

    I agree with you totally but instead, to have two or one own children it will be better to adopt them but why we adopt others children when we can stop parents from leaving their children in hospitals and others places. Why people do this are they fools or they don’t have the mind, I don’t know anything about them what they think but I am the person who can not see this type of thing and for stopping it I will do whatever I can, want to. Now I can just request to the persons to please think about it or not nothing will be left to think.

  12. I am so happy that I am not the only one who thinks about worlds population growth and tries to change something about it. It is very important to make people aware of world population’s growth, to help them understand how bad it is to have more than two children. I know that I am going to have no more than 1 child! One child is okay for the earth, cause it reduces population’s growth, but still it is better not to have children at all and instead of having your own child it is better to adopt one, cause EVERY human being is a great contributor to the destruction of the world .

  13. I think people around the world should encouraged for adoption.
    Growing population will only result in less space , less resources and less luxury for them. All want their children to be happy but nobody thinks that what the couple get would be divided into four or more parts (As they will have 1,2 or more children). People, especially women should be made aware of family planning plans . If the population grows like this , the economic condition will decline and people will starve . The carrying capacity of our mother nature will be destroyed.

  14. Why are so many people so ignorant to the fact that they will be the cause of their own children’s own extinction? Our planet is no different than a petri dish that started with two bacteria (Adam and Eve). In the beginning, the Petri dish also contained a plentiful food source. But once the bacteria begin to enjoy the food, Adam and Eve began to breed. Their offspring were encouraged to breed to farm and fight off wild predators and find resources. The strategy was successful. The population became reasonable and sustainable. Wars and plague and influenza pandemics kept the population in check.

    In this Petri dish, however, scientists introduced have introduced antibiotics, radiation therapy, vaccines, antidepressants, dialysis, factory farming and other wonders to ensure human survival [where it did not need to be ensured].

    And beginning in the mid to late ’50s, in a suddenly clean and safe environment with no natural threats, the population suddenly began to rise. Now our population has surpassed all reality and common sense.

    Now back to that Petri dish. The bacteria had begun with a population of two. The bacteria bred and bred, eating all of the food source in the evolutions. The population peaked, then almost overnight, the enormous population of bacteria died overnight, leaving a zero population, and a Petri dish with no food at all. This is exactly where we are headed as a species.

    It saddens me knowing some people feel a need to, or are forced through oppressive religious doctrines and lack of access to abortions and safe contraception, to have children they do not want, that they cannot support, and in some cases, fat more than they can support. I think of the show that celebrates the gluttonous Duggers and their “20 kids and counting” where even biology intervened, and where one of the offspring was a child sexual predator. People engage in this level of gluttony claiming a sense of moral or patriotic duty, or thoughtlessly victims sheer caprice, at a time when we already have significant resource problems, and when we do not rely on agriculture and large families to farm the land, and where people are starving and living riddled with diseases that do not kill but impede and undermine quality of life, the very reason people claim they need to live an extra 10 or 20 years.

    This incomprehensible. We are *not* bacteria in a Petri dish. We claim to be more intelligent than the germs we eradicate with disinfectant wipes, and yet we keep breeding like the cultures in our own guts. We know better.

    Can we begin to focus on a sustainable future for a sustainable number of people? I hope so. Our children are depending on us in more ways than we may realize.

    1. right!!! who cares.only comman lives suffer.There is no values to human life.In future robots and AI are ready for serving so no need of overpopulated humans.

    2. Eleena Bishop

      Wow Lucy, Well said. I concur and through this plan hopefully we shall conquer! You’re an intelligent one for sure. If only more people thought like you.

  15. Thank you, somebody said what I was thinking long time. Sadly the majority of people are to stupid and narrow minded to understand this. We have no right to take away living habitats from other species. Everybody wants to have a high living standard, but this is going on the nature expense. I love people but their greediness makes me pray for a sharp decline in human population. We are like a cancer in the body of Earth.

  16. I care about Earth

    I am personally making the commitment to have 2 or fewer children (currently, adoption is sounding like the best option for me, actually) and I encourage others to do the same!

    If we all make the smart decision to have a sustainable-sized family, then our children will not have to literally fight and start wars over resources.

    2 children per couple = 0 population growth
    1 child per couple = population reduction & better quality of life for all
    Adoption = population reduction & better quality of life for all

    We all want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the luxuries we have in our lives, and the only way for this to happen is to halt and reverse population growth to get our population down to a sustainable level.

    Please join me in making this commitment!

    1. I think what you are saying is great but just want to add one correction. 2 children per couple does not equal 0 population growth. It also depends on when couples have children. If one family has children starting at the age of 20 as do their offspring, in 80 years that family will be larger than the family that waits until they are 30 years old to start having children. And with life expectancy increasing (for now), more people are living in families with great-grandparents. I agree the best thing we can do is have smaller families and consider adopting over having biological children, but the rate at which we have children is also very important.

  17. I enjoyed this page. I am trying to convince all people around me to stop population growth. I think the most important of all is to make politicians help stopping population growth.

  18. The world is overpopulated?
    maybe from the confines of an economic system that requires infinite growth on a finite planet in order to sustain itself, which is unsustainable.
    The population limit for a society that consumes and throws away materialistic garbage at the rate we do vs. a a society that is intelligent about production and distribution are two very different things.
    I agree in the short term we will need to make many of the changes you have listed, but when we begin to think outside the box we find that ultimately we need to make fundamental changes to our economy.

    1. AMEN!!!! Indeed, I think empowering women politically, educationally and economically, (thereby naturally reducing the population) is a necessary prerequisite to making those fundamental changes to the economy.

      1. Educate and empower women to serve as religious leaders. We are changing the world for the better!

        I love everything about your post!



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