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Should governments limit population growth?

post #1 of 60
Thread Starter 

Debate of the Day 14


Back in the beginning of April, in our "What's the least green thing you do" thread, there was some conversation about how the least green thing you can do is having children.  As of right now, the world population clock is at 6,663,607,254 (probably increased by at least 100, as I was typing that sentence).


I imagine most of you know about China's one-child policy which was instituted to curb their population growth (although, as we've seen, it's certainly helped in raw numbers...but it's caused other issues, such as China's missing girls and the bare branch phenomenon....and of course, population momentum is another thing).


So what do you think?  Should governments step in and limit population growth?


You can really answer that question with just a yes or no.  Or you can explain your answer.  It's up to you.



Edited by stins - Fri, 25 Apr 2008 15:35:56 GMT
post #2 of 60

I think it's almost becoming a necessity at this point.  I think it's pretty evident by now that we've gone beyond a sustainable population.  We're emitting huge amounts of CO2, consuming vast amounts of oil, cutting down rainforest land at an alarming rate, overfishing is a huge problem, food and water shortages are starting to become an issue, and will become worse as the global temperature continues to rise - and despite all these warning signs, the human population continues to increase rapidly.


I don't really like the idea of a government-imposed limit on reproduction.  Ideally people would limit themselves, but that doesn't appear to be the case.  Recently there was a story in the news about a woman who had decided not to have children because she didn't want to contribute to population growth, and the main response I saw was mockery of her decision.


People certainly wouldn't respond well to such government limitations, because they view having children as a right.  Just like many view driving a gas-guzzler, or owning a dog, or owning an AK-47 as a right.  But sometimes when people put themselves in peril by refusing to regulate their own behavior, the government is forced to step in and take action.  I hope it doesn't come to that.

Edited by dana1981 - Fri, 25 Apr 2008 17:02:18 UTC
post #3 of 60

OOF, that's a heavy one. It really doesn't feel right to have a government telling its citizens whether or not they can have children, but I can absolutely see it coming to that (though not soon.) There are so many issues wrapped inside of this one.


In some nations the issue is around sexual education and embracing contraception (because as we've seen time and time again, celibacy is just too darn hard for humans)...I guess I would just like to see more steps taken there before we ever get to government intervention.

post #4 of 60

sierra club is big on zero population.


my feeling is this: how can you tell a human not to go with their heart. if they truly want a large family. being a mom, myself, if someone told me i couldn't i would just die inside.


i do not personally see the need to have 10 children, and i feel it's a bit ridiculous. however, there are some people that really love a large family. my htought is, have a few for the experience and then adopt the rest. lord knows there are enough kids to be adopted out there.


it's such a touchy subject and one person can have many views on it that don't match.


i think though, look at what happened in china, people were killing babies and abandoning them, so i don't think a mandatory governmental thing will stop people from having sex. i think it's just impossible for a governmetn to mandate something like that and keep it humane.

post #5 of 60


It's interesting that some countries are trying to limit their population, and others are trying hard to increase it- a while back, I was listening to Public Radio and heard about a region in Russia that was giving its citizens a public holiday nine months before Russia's national day of June 12.  Couples giving birth on June 12 were even eligible to win prizes like SUVs, refrigerators, and televisions.


I think that when you consider population growth, you also need to consider lifestyle.  One American baby makes a much greater impact on the environment than a baby born in a developing country.  Some individuals make a conscious effort to live green, and others live extravagant and wasteful lifestyles. 


While population cannot continue growing unchecked indefinitely, I don't think it's fair for the government to implement China-style one child laws.  I think there needs to be more education about contraception, and that adoption needs to be made an easier/less expensive process.


My population control idea-  A ticket system where every person is entitled to have one child.  However, if you have friends or relatives who aren't using their ticket, they can trade it with you so you can have extra children.  (Maybe my situation is unusual, but I am surrounded by people who do not want to have children, so I would feel okay having a couple extra...)  Individuals who don't want to have children can sell their tickets on ebay, or donate them to developing countries where families need to have additional children to get by. 


I know it's not a very realistic idea, and most couples will still be limited in the number of children they have, but it leaves a little more leeway than the China policy, and I don't think there is going to be an easy answer to this question...


post #6 of 60

Good points, nitedreamer.  Interesting idea with the ticket system.  Sort of a baby cap and trade system.  I like that - it gives more leeway than just limiting everyone to one child.  Of course I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't like it because it would sort of put a price on life - how much a ticket is sold for.  I think it's a cool idea though.

post #7 of 60

I hadn't thought about tickets on ebay as putting a price on a life, but I could see it being seen that way.  I think that because it's not a price for someone actually born, but for the opportunity to give birth, makes it a little better. 


However, the Chinese system also puts a price on a life, by fining families with additional children, and denying parents bonuses at their workplaces. 

post #8 of 60
Thread Starter 

Yeah, the ticketing idea is very interesting.  It definitely would allow for "market forces" to rule population.  It reminds me a little bit of those profit maximizing graphs from Econ 101.  I'm blanking on the term...but they basically looked like this:



While in this case...clearly profit would be more like population - society would maximize the number of children born to the "wanting" parents.  Parents would get their children at the "price" they were willing to pay.  Okay, well, so I guess the analogy doesn't really work given that it would be weird to buy and sell the tickets.  But hopefully you get my meaning.  It basically would just allow the people who want kids to have them in place of the folks that didn't, thereby maximizing the number of children born given the supply and demand curves.


Maybe someone who took econ more recently can make a better graphical analogy than me.  Yeah, I took it back in high school.  And there was definitely a graph that we had to draw like the one above on the AP test.  I got it right back then!  Probably not so much now....

post #9 of 60

Maybe because my original thought was that rather than buying and selling tickets, family and friends who didn't want children could give their tickets to family and friends who do...but I really don't like the buying and selling tickets idea.  It is rather creepy, and probably inevitable with a ticket system.   (Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the "Golden Ticket!")


It would be a good thing if somehow we could level out the birthrate so that we are replacing ourselves, but not continuing to add to the population.  Some people want to have several kids, some people want to have no kids.  You have China, then you have Russia.  It would be nice to somehow bring it all together, but maybe there's no way to do that without things getting weird.

post #10 of 60

Yeah it's a tricky thing because having children is an important thing to a lot of people, and some people really want big families, etc.  It would be very difficult to make a system where you could balance it all out without involving money.  Still, I like the concept.

post #11 of 60

 Wow, very compelling debate.  With respect to the US specifically, I recently read an interesting article suggesting that metropolitan cities like Pittsburgh are experiencing a increasing trend in "natural decrease," i.e. more deaths than births.


One broad statistic cited in the article is that, in the 1990s, only 4 metropolitan areas suffered a net loss of population due to natural decrease; already in this decade, 10 metropolitan areas fit the bill.  Check out the article for more specifics and for musings on what my causally underlie this trend.


At any rate, just food for thought to add to this debate.  :)


Check out this graphic representation of natural decrease in the US:



post #12 of 60

Looks like they're getting a lot of action in Utah and Alaska.  I guess living in those areas, you don't have anything better to do!

post #13 of 60

The Utah and Alaska comment made me laugh- it would be interesting to know what's going on under the covers...I mean surface!...there.


I do remember hearing that net population growth in the Twin Cities/MN was also related to immigration.  


Part of the issue in the US is that women are waiting until they are older to have children, and therefore also having fewer children.  I think a lot of developed nations are experiencing reduced birth rates for this and other reasons.


Maybe we don't need to worry.  Maybe when the developing world catches up to the rest of us, their birth rates will go down on without intervention?  Then the question becomes- can we afford to wait that long?

post #14 of 60


Can you imagine what would happen if the US government started a policy similar to the one-child system in China?


It comes back to how sustainable the standard of living is, and I think we all know that the standard of living in ‘developed’ countries is not particularly sustainable. I know that here in the US, it seems that so many people are addicted to cheap food, cheap fuel, and cheap consumer goods. If (when?) that crashes, it’s going to be painful.


Does anyone else find it fascinating that 'developed' nations are experiencing a natural decline in birth rates because of development? Factors such as people postponing having children and difficulties in conceiving because of our lifestyle in 'developed' nations (a huge increase in depression, stress, obesity, environmental pollution etc) are almost like a natural feedback mechanism.

post #15 of 60

Wow, super great point.  I think that declining birth rates are almost assuredly a natural feedback.  Check out this article  on a recent study which indicated that the US has the second worst newborn death rate in the modern world.


"The United States has more neonatologists and neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but its newborn rate is higher than any of those countries," said the annual State of the World's Mothers report.


This is almost assuredly due to these other negative externalities (like those mentioned by Kiwi's post above) that result from our lifestyle as a highly 'developed' nation.  I don't know of studies which pinpoint these factors specifically, but they certainly appear to be likely candidates....



post #16 of 60
Originally Posted by kiwi:


...Factors such as people postponing having children and difficulties in conceiving because of our lifestyle in 'developed' nations (a huge increase in depression, stress, obesity, environmental pollution etc) are almost like a natural feedback mechanism.


And here I was only thinking about how we are postponing childbirth and having fewer children because of our generally greater level of education. 


It's interesting, because those other factors- increased stress, obesity, pollution- reduce our fertility and ability to have children, while also increasing our mortality rate (except for the excellent medical care for those who can afford it- but I heard recently that overall life expectancy in America is on its way down...I can't find my source back though!).  So we're really reducing population growth from both ends.

post #17 of 60

It's hard for me to endorse a "Ticket" program or gov't intervention - education and awareness might be better... and better received.  Reproduction is about as "natural" as you get.  It is a drive in our DNA.  Part of our essence as humans.  I know that there are simply too many people on this Earth now, but knowledge of the problem may curb that as it is shown that the higher your education, the less kids a couple tends to have.  I think creating a carbon trading scenario for kids is creepy - even Orwellian.


Kids are also a huge source of joy in ones life.  You do not realize how much your heart can truely love someone until you are holding your own child... watching them grow... see them waiting on the curb for you when you get home... telling their teacher that "Dad" is their hero.  Being a Dad is the dominating force in my life.


I have 3 kids - was only shoot'n for two, but our second pregnancy was twins!  If we were limited to two, what would the gov't make us do for a multiples birth?  What if our first pregnancy was triplets?


Our twins were born in 1999, and at that time the rate of "multiples" births was at 1 in 40 pregnancies.  Think about that - 1 out of every 40 births is at least twins!  That means that twins are likely being born in any given hospital a few times a week!!!  Lots of reasons for this - new fertility technology, women having children when older, etc.  That ratio may of gone higher.


When I look at my kids - I could not imagine this world without them... I love them with all my being!  ...they are also being raised very green.


...but I also do not wish to have more kids - and have taken steps to insure that, as it was the responsible thing on more than one level to do.

post #18 of 60
Originally Posted by SoCalSolar:


I have 3 kids - was only shoot'n for two, but our second pregnancy was twins!  If we were limited to two, what would the gov't make us do for a multiples birth?  What if our first pregnancy was triplets?




This made me wonder how China (with their one-child policy) deals with multiple births.  Check out this article which suggests that multiple births are exempt from the law and, furthermore, that this loophole is being manipulated...foreshadows the mess that we might encounter were any sort of childbirth trading/ticket program actually implemented:

  "Newly prosperous Chinese couples are exploiting a loophole in the law to produce several babies at once.

   It came after increasing evidence, highlighted in testimony by a senior Bush administration official to the US Congress, that the one-child policy is breaking down.

   There was no provision for sanctions against multiple pregnancies under the original regulations imposed in 1979 when few, if any, Chinese had access to fertility drugs. Now those who can afford it cheat the system — an example of how economic change has outpaced Communist party regulations."


post #19 of 60

I know it's not necessarily the "responsible" thing to do, but I am hoping for 3-4 kids.  (We aren't starting for another year, so maybe I'll change my mind once we get going...but this is the tentative plan.)


I don't have a lot of guilt about it, because Matt's an only child, and my two sisters will not be having kids for different reasons.  Our children will have no cousins!  I want them to have at least a few siblings...and we could have 5 children and still only replace our parents / the children that our parents had.   Not to mention the several friends we have that do not plan on having kids.  (Which is where the whole ticket idea came from.)


I apologize to any conservatives* here, but I joke with my husband that we need to raise our own little liberal army to counteract the children of some of my more conservative cousins.  It seems like liberals are really worried about overpopulation, and limiting how many kids they have, while conservatives have more children, perhaps because of reasons like their religion is against birth control.  It seems like the population will slowly shift to being more and more conservative. 


I plan to bring my children up to be eco-minded, and to minimize their impact on the Earth.  I think it’s really important that we spread these values to our children, but also that these values make it into the mainstream, so that we can turn this sinking ship around… 


 * In my family, conservative often means I drive an SUV, global warming doesn't exist, damn Al Gore messed with my toliets!, amongst other things.

Edited by nitedreamer - Tue, 03 Jun 2008 10:59:09 GMT
post #20 of 60

Yeah I've read that in recent years conservatives have been having a lot more children than liberals.


One option to consider is adoption.  That way you're not increasing the population, but you are raising a kid to be eco-minded, etc.

post #21 of 60

I agree that adoption is a wonderful thing, especially if you adopt a child with a disability or a child who is a bit older.  Those are the kids especially in need of homes.  It's something that we might consider too, but further down the road.

post #22 of 60

I don't know if I support necessarily a one child policy, but I do think it is kind of not necessary when I hear about families having 15 kids in the U.S.  It is a touchy subject.


Not to be morbid, but my History degree inclines me to be at times.  Throughout history nature has had a way of controlling population growth.  Populations suddenly rise due to an abundence of food, better hygiene, etc. however then famines, natural disasters, war, and disease run there course keeping the population in check.  I think part of the problem is that we are so adamant about keeping everyone alive for forever if possible.  We are continually trying to find ways to increase people's age, make them live into there 100s, and even freeze them so that we can cure them at a later time.  I know this is far fetched and off the beaten path a little bit.


However, my point is that we have become so obsessed with immortality or as close to immortality as we can reach that we are in fact having a negative impact.  I think eventually nature will do what she has always done and rectify the problem, however, she has to contend with us fighting her harder now to get our way.  It is kind of like we are pushing on her not to come after us, but eventually she will overtake us.


When you think about it nature is already fighting back.  We have antiobiotic resistant diseases, plant diseases that we can't seem to destroy (such as with wheat crops around the world), food shortages, higher gas prices due to less oil (and having to drill farther to find oil which is costlier), and major natural disasters.


I am not sure yet if a population cap needs to be set, but this just gives an alternative way of thinking about the population problem.

Edited by jennifer - Tue, 03 Jun 2008 02:00:09 GMT
post #23 of 60

There's no doubt that nature will hold our population in check if it comes to that.  We can only stretch our food supply so far, we're pushing the limits of catastrophic climate change, encroaching on other species' habitats, etc. etc.


The idea with governments limiting population growth is to try and self-regulate so that nature doesn't kick our a**.  I'd definitely prefer not to get killed because humans were too stubborn to keep our population growth in check.


After all, I intend to live forever!

Edited by stins - Wed, 20 Aug 2008 17:25:24 GMT
post #24 of 60
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dana1981:

There's no doubt that nature will hold our population in check if it comes to that.  We can only stretch our food supply so far, we're pushing the limits of catastrophic climate change, encroaching on other species' habitats, etc. etc.



Hah, so that was actually on the list for a future debate topic.  But I suppose it goes pretty hand in hand with this topic.  Does everyone agree that the earth has a carrying capacity?  Are we going to see something happen like those deer population graphs:



Or will human ingenuity save the day?

Edited by stins - Tue, 03 Jun 2008 16:56:10 GMT
post #25 of 60

Sure.  I mean, we can increase the planet's carrying capacity by using human ingenuity to live more efficiently (i.e. making our agricultural land produce more food, recycling water, etc.), but there's obviously a limit, and at a certain point our population becomes unsustainable.


I certainly hope we don't see a big population crash like in your deer graph though.  Again, that's the idea with limiting population growth ourselves - to avoid that sort of thing.  Deer don't know that their population is getting too large, but we do.  That's why we've got the big brains!

post #26 of 60

I guess how our population eventually levels off will probably depend on what causes the level off- something drastic like famine, war, and disease, or something we choose ourselves, like limiting our reproduction.


I guess if we successfully colonize other planets, we might not have a carrying capacity...


I'm curious in the deer graph what happened to cause such a sharp decline?  I can't quite make out what the two different lines represent, but they also seem to be re-growing at a slower rate than they were before the drop.

post #27 of 60

Not to turn this into a prolife/prochoice debate, but purely to play devil's advocate:


What about all the abortions that have happened since Roe v. Wade?  The National Right To Life people estimate that there have been almost 50,000,000 abortions since 1973.  With a US population of about 301,000,000, that's about 16% of our current population.


Can you imagine what would have happened if all those babies had been born?


With about 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in abortion, and 1 in 2 pregnancies unplanned, we clearly need to do a better job of providing sex ed in schools, and making birth control methods more easily accessible. 


Maybe free condoms randomly attached to consumer goods.  Like how sometimes you see lotion or mouthwash with a free travel size...

post #28 of 60

I do think available birth control is part of the answer.  I am not sure if I agree with condoms on consumer goods.  People can get free condoms without question from their local DHEC office.  They can also get birth control pills, etc.  Making them aware of this would be a good step.  However, I also think that more research needs to be done in male birth control methods.  So much of the responsibility is put on the females who are often times younger and naive in there thinking.  I think we need to provide methods of birth control for both sides.  I know that men have condoms, and supposedly they will have a pill eventually.  However, the thinking is still that it is mainly the woman's responsibility to not get pregnant.  The availability and education on birth control methods is important for both sexes.  I think this would help hopefully somewhat with some of those unplanned pregnancies.


The idea of a state mandated population cap is something somewhat scary to me.  I am not saying it won't be necessary, but it seems so 1984ish in the sense of the state controlling the most basic of human freedoms.  Population increase is higher in developing countries.  If we look at Asia, Latin America, and Africa, these have some of the highest population increases compared to North America, Europe, and Australia.  I do think we need to educate, but we need to reach these people in the developing world who don't have access to birth control or sex education.  Often times it is also a matter of survival.  They need the extra hands in order to take care of there land and help their family.

post #29 of 60

I was joking (mostly!) about condoms and mouthwash.  I know there are places that do give them out for free, but they aren't convenient.  It's not like you regularly stop into a DHEC office, or Planned Parenthood.  I think they need to be available at a lot more locations.  

 As for the developing world- it would be nice if the Pope/other religious leaders got on board!  You hear about how in Africa, a lot of people don't want to use condoms because it's against their religion.  We need a way to spread the word about safe sex and birth control in developing countries, and missionaries would be a great way to do this.

post #30 of 60

lol I do agree that it is inconvenient to go to DHEC or Planned Parenthood.  You are right it should be more easily available.  We need to make people aware of their options.  So many don't even know they are available at all at these places.


It would help a lot to get leaders on board, both religious and political.


I think someone mentioned earlier that people are having less children in the US and elsewhere as they are seeking careers.  It is a type of population controller here.  People don't feel as pressured anymore to have children, they are striving for careers, and it is so expensive now for childcare.  I know many people who aren't planning to have any children.  A few that do only have one (maybe two) because child care is too expensive for more than that.


So instead of focusing on a population cap here perhaps we should be focusing on population control in these developing countries.  Nitedreamer has a point that a lot of times they have religious reasons for not using birth control, sometimes cultural reasons as well, and then their is also the lack of education and contreception available in these areas.

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