Monday, July 16, 2007

The Elephant in the Room

When I was walking down the street in Guatemala city I was hit by a flash of insight. It came in the form of Juan, a street vendor who was trying to sell me some tourist trinkets. I wasn't interested in buying anything, but since there were no other likely buyers around and I spoke Spanish he stopped to chat with me. One of the first questions that I was asked was how many children I had.

I had none. Juan had six.

I have had this conversation many times in my travels and inevitably I would be asked why I didn't have any children. After all, I am married and in my late 30s. In most of the developing world I should be at about half a dozen kids by now. Yet this time, the conversation took a different turn.

"How is it that you stop from having children?" asked Juan.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You are married. How do you prevent children? Do you use condoms?"

I'm sure Juan wasn't the most educated person around. But he certainly wasn't the least. He spoke good Spanish and ran a small business selling souveniers to tourists. He was a typical Guatemalan. And he had no idea how to stop having children. So little of an idea that he was able to overcome huge societal taboos to talk to a total stranger about sex.

I proceeded to teach Juan about birth control. I told him that condoms work OK, but that the pill is much better. I told him that the most effective method would be to get a vasectomy. "It hurts a bit for two days and then you'll never have to worry about children again. You have a completely normal sex life afterwards. I've had it done and I'm very glad."

And then it struck me. None of these methods would work for Juan. He couldn't afford birth control pills or condoms. He certainly couldn't afford vasectomy surgery. And his church was probably telling him that birth control was a sin. In reality, there was nothing that somebody like Juan could do to stop having children.

There are 6.6 billion people on the planet. We all know it's too many. If there were only 500 million all of our environmental problems would vanish. The earth could sustain us by regrowing forests faster than we cut them down, and absorbing carbon faster than we release it. We could farm only the most fertile lands and people would have lots of land to live on. There would be tons of space for wilderness. Parents with smaller families would have more money to invest in the education and feeding of each child.

Yet nearly fifty years after the invention of the pill, the UN reports that 201 million women have no access to any form of birth control. In Mali 58% of women of child bearing age can't name even a single method of birth control. In Sub-Saharan Africa only 14% of married women use a modern method of birth control. (details here) The planet is dying from overpopulation and nobody is talking about population control. How could this be?

The biggest reason for this deplorable state of affairs is religion. I make no bones about being no fan of religion in general, but in few ways has religion done more harm than with it's bronze age attitudes towards family planning. The Catholic church is against birth control completely. In many developing countries it wields enough influence to keep sex education out of public education, and birth control out of public health. The Catholic church also puts strong pressure on followers to have as many children as possible. Each child is a gift from God after all. Part of His grand plan. Too bad that God isn't much interested in feeding, or clothing, or educating all these little gifts. How many young mothers have died in childbirth because the Pope doesn't want them to stop have children? How many children starve because their families can't feed an extra mouth?

Of course it isn't just the Catholics that are at fault. Many religions get completely hung up on the idea of sex before marriage. There is this absurd idea among the faithful that teaching birth control will encourage unwed couples to have more sex. If we don't teach people about sex, goes the logic, they won't have sex. It's idiotic nonsense which flies in the face of thousands of years of human history and numerous studies. It is also the official policy of the US government. The Bush administration has created a global gag order on sex education. Charities that teach anything other than abstinence-only, even if it is only a small part of their program, and even if it is from entirely seperate funding sources, risk having their entire US government funding cut. Congress insists that one third of global AIDS education focus on abstinence-only programs which discourage use of condoms. Yet for all its faults the US is an incredibly generous donor. Most organizations would rather shut down their family planning work than do without such a large source of funds.

Of course we can't just blame religion. A second problem is our obsession with growth. Economic growth is good. We all know that. We live in a society where a business that has profitably employed ten people for twenty years is considered a failure because it hasn't grown. Everything is expected to get bigger.

The easiest economic growth comes from having an increasingly large supply of consumers. If every year there are more people, then every year we need to build more houses, and produce more cars, and build more roads. Unfortunately we also have to cut down more forests and pump more carbon into the atmosphere. Until there are no more forests. Then they will starve.

Most governments are terrified of falling populations. The governments of many developed countries have programs in place specifically to encourage parents to have more children. In Russia and Signapore there are financial incentives. And I have been called selfish for chosing not to add to the problem. I should be the one getting financial incentives. Nobody is going to have to cut down an acre of Brazilian rainforest to grow beef for my little ones. Nobody is going to have to breath the carbon that my children produce. Nobody will swim in their excrement. China, with its one child policy, has probably done more to save the planet than any other single government.

Luckily for us, when people have the choice they generally choose to have smaller families. Despite the mindless policies of the Pope the overwhelming majority of Catholics defy his orders and use contraceptives. Without immigration, populations would already be falling in most of the industrialized world. Financial incentives to have children don't work well for educated populations.

It costs about $500,000 to raise a child in the industrialized world. Think of what that money could do for children in the developing world. It could buy 10,000 Nepalese girls out bonded servitude. How many vacinations could it buy? How many meals?

The world doesn't need more children. We need universal, free, access to contraceptives. There should be visiting vasectomy clinics in rural villages right next to the visiting dentists and doctors. We need to leave behind our inhibitions about sex and teach young children everywhere where babies come from and how to plan them. Our planet is full, and we don't have another one.


Anonymous said...

Been seconding guessing that vasectomy lately? Know why? It's probably your subconscious finally getting to you, confronting you with the blame you deserve for not having children. Because of your selfish ilk, almost all western nations are BELOW replacement level birthrates, and that's why we have immigration problems. Wonderful. The 3rd world engulfs us because asshole here wants to grow old and filthy by himself. Hey folks, HAVE children! The rest of the world isn't going to stop, so why should we? The 3rd world will merely engulf us anyhow because our population will be aged. Let's keep modern civilization going strong. Aren't you glad your mommy's and daddy's gave birth to YOU? Return the favor assholes. You can't take your laptops with you to the grave.

Peter said...

You do realize that it's people like you and I (i'm assuming you are a US citizen or at least reside in the states), people who have $$$ and can consume 25% of the world's resources but only make up 5% of the world population , right? So instead of throwing out there that we need to eliminate 5 billion people, why not just eliminate the top consumers? Combined with europe and say the rest of the 1st world nations, we probably consume about 75% of resouces, but only have like 20% of the population... No disrepect, but are you really that ignorant?

The only reason the forests and other consumables are being used is to sustain our current life styles. If you use less, reuse, recycle and educate everyone else to do the same, spread it around the world; think of our environment before we buy a bottle of water, that type of sensless consuming; the world be a better place? Isn't that a novel concept...?!?!

Isn't it also arrogant to think that developing nations want our life style? Like it's so great that everyone should have it? Glued to TV's like mindless automatons. Going to work to support our life styles. Not enjoying their children growing up cause they work all the time, not that you will ever know either way. The developed world is just another society of slaves, we just live a little better.

What the world really needs is better education, starting with the developed nations who are woefully ignorant of how much they really consume and how much damage it does to our planet. We don't need to control the population of the poor countries, we have to control the population of idiotic consumers who exist for the sake of consumption.

Anonymous said...

last paragraph should say contraceptives, not -tion

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, There is no blame for not having children, what a shallow mind you have.

Peter, not every american consumes 25% of the worlds resources. The country as a whole does. Way to stereotype, you'll find the average white trailer trash can out-breed other countries anyway.

The sad part is, he is right, it hurts you to think about the brainwashing your parents and popular media have given you.

Have a cry, go back to church, have babies, beat your wife, don't bother facing the reality that someone better traveled than you can have an informed opinion.

Anonymous said...

u call sex without the possiblility of conception a "normal sex life." Thats the most pathetic statement ive ever heard. why else do you think we are supposed to have sex. Even if u think religion is a hoax, theres no denying the fact that every animal except the human animal (in your case) has sex for procreation. youve got it quite backwards as to the purpose of sex.

ACA said...

"When people have the choice they generally choose to have smaller families."

I grew up in a developing country, where that was true, particularly with people working in knowledge-based sectors. But even with people in agricultural or labor-intense manufacturing areas, they considered a large family as an investment with a steep initial cost and a high risk of poor returns.

Still, public funding for population management comes from taxes, and some people don't want their taxes used that way. It's important to keep in mind that either we fund population management privately, or we get better at convincing other citizens and our local representatives of the seriousness of population issues. This article does the latter better than most, but sadly we still need to get better.

Anonymous said...

Having children is great. You may want to rethink your family planning while you still can.

I cannot believe an educated person could really have fallen for the political propaganda rubbish about overpopulation you've repeated here.

Reinier Zwitserloot said...

This argument ties into the futility of sending aid to imbalanced countries.

What happends if you feed an ethiopian?

You accelerate the coming of the next disaster, be it a murdering dictator, a hunger problem, civil war, war, or a disease epidemic.

It's the only logical conclusion given that Ethiopia and a few other countries produce more children than the country can handle. Once a country is filled to the brim, something is going to budge. If nothing budges, a war for more living space is inevitable, which results in more deaths somewhere.

The only two charity exercises which I consider net positive in eliminating human suffering is A) birth control and B) sustainable economic growth.

B is -extremely- hard to get right (though cutting western agriculture subsidies should help). Years and years of trying have certainly proved that.

A seems simple enough. A charity fund that operates a movable vasectomy clinic in countries suffering from overpopulation sounds like something I'd gladly give a lot of money to.

Re: Peter - Your theory has a flaw. If you eliminate the top consumers, the resulting hole will swiftly be occupied by the new crop of top consumers. You could try your tactic again but you'll keep going until you reach the same 5 billion number in the end. Secondly, your entire argument is solely related to ecological impact. The reason that the west has such a large ecological footprint is because they are rich. If third world countries were prospering and rich, they'd have just as large a footprint. Thus, in order for your low footprint situation to hold, suffering must continue. I'm not prepared to accept that.

Your theory that third world inhabitants that suddenly strike it rich wouldn't become the same TV-watching consumerist zombies is interesting, but without some extraordinary proof, I'm definitely not convinced.

Alejandro said...

great post!
To reply to anonymous #1: the "Return the favor assholes" makes me giggle not only due to the unclear punctuation, but the fact that return the favor would imply: give birth to your parents. Furthermore, if immigrants enter the country and racist jerks like you don't prevent their assimilation, you would effectively keep "modern civilization going strong".
As far as what Peter is saying, I do agree that education is a good idea and from there we should let the people choose their futures, but we should also ensure that their ideal futures are attainable (e.g.: supply good contraceptives at a very affordable price)
As for the person who writes that sex is only for procreation, I am not sure that I understand that idea. I mean, we are the only species to use our fingers for typing... maybe we should cut that out? One of humanity's greatest accomplishments is our ability to change and adapt what we do to new lifestyles. Be it typing, or using a urinal, or having sex for pleasure... I daresay that the argument that except humans, all animals do x, y, or z is not a very strong one.


Ben said...

I agree with you more or less completely, except for your claim that financial incentives don't work for educated populations.

That doesn't appear to be true -- countries that support having children (France, Sweden) seem to have much higher birthrates than ones that don't (Germany, Italy(!), and Spain) for example.

Anonymous said...

Uneducated people have more kids because the governments and religions of the world want more easily manipulated surfs.

l0b0 said...

Interesting points; my two cents is why not consider adopting? You'd have all of the work and happiness of raising a child (unless you're so shallow as to not think of it as your "real" child), while relieving someone incapable of raising the child, and giving the child opportunities it would not otherwise have had.

Anonymous said...

A guy wanders "why else do you think we are supposed to have sex" - of course sex is only for makig kids in his mind.

Ever heard of Kama Sutra, Tantra? - sex can be a spiritual exercise too. He just needs to drop his limited concepts.

What does the church tell us? Sex is sin. Impure. Dirty. Yet God made us with sexual organs and sexual desires. What gives?

Look up over the fence to India where the phallus is God's symbol and the vagina is described as the ultimate creative force - both in making kids and in making one more spiritual.

So yes, there might be another reason for making love.

Anonymous said...

I’m not really interested in making a political statement or stepping on anyone’s toes but there is nothing wrong with having children. They’re beautiful and worth every last ounce of energy or money that you may have to invest in them. No matter what the cost and no matter what the final result.

The fact is that life is unpredictable and too much planning can ruin it. It’s a journey, enjoy it and don’t obsess too much about what’s waiting for you... enjoy the trip.

The thing is that people in developed countries just don’t look at things the same way as those in poor, undeveloped countries. A lot of those people have lots of kids because they know a few will not make it to adulthood... they’re making more in the hopes that at least some will survive long enough to have their own children. That’s normal. It’s called survival and like I said earlier, you never know what life will bring your way. If you “survive” long enough sometimes things get better.

Mark said...

>> Anonymous said...

>> u call sex without the
>> possiblility of conception a
>> "normal sex life." Thats the
>> most pathetic statement ive ever
>> heard. why else do you think we
>> are supposed to have sex. Even
>> if u think religion is a hoax,
>> 'theres no denying the fact that
>> every animal except the human
>> animal (in your case) has sex
>> for procreation. youve got it
>> quite backwards as to the
>> purpose of sex.

Actually you are quite wrong. There are several species known to engage is sexual activity purely for please. In fact there is even quite a bit of homosexual activity (oh no!).

"Homosexual behaviour has been scientifically observed in almost every kind of animal. Worldwide 450 species have been described as engaging in sex with same-sex partners."

Jay said...

Brilliant Post!

[Anonymous said]
> Isn't it also arrogant to
> think that developing nations
> want our life style?

Just watch what's happening in China. They used to live in the middle ages, got an economic boom, now they're quickly taking over western lifestyle (which causes an increase in heart disease, a huge ecologic footprint, etc.)

[Anonymous said]
> You do realize that it's
> people like you and I (i'm
> assuming you are a US citizen
> or at least reside in the
> states), people who have $$$
> and can consume 25% of the
> world's resources but only make
> up 5% of the world population ,
> right?

We are small in numbers, but our influence in the world is big. We are in a unique position to do something about world problems, so why shouldn't we try?

[Anonymous said]
> I cannot believe an educated
> person could really have fallen
> for the political propaganda
> rubbish about overpopulation
> you've repeated here.

So how much more people do you think this planet can handle?

[L0b0 said]
> why not consider adopting?
> You'd have all of the work
> and happiness of raising a
> child

True. But he may have other priorities for spending his time and money. Life is short. As he has chosen to have a vasectomy I suppose he probably doesn't want to dedicate his life to raising kids.

Anyway, anybody can procreate.
Taco clearly has other talents and I'm glad he is using them and some of his precious time for the good of mankind. :-)

Anonymous said...

Here's why I will never have children:

- Too many people want kids like they want pets.

- Too many people want kids so that they will take care of them when they get older (think of it as an insurance policy, an investment).

- Too many people have kids by negligence.

- Personaly, I see the the world SUX and I could not do that (bringing them in this world) to them...

And I agree that sex is about creating life! Humans are just abusing this act for recreational purpose...

Anonymous said...

there was nothing that somebody like Juan could do to stop having children

really? nothing?
now, i'm certainly NOT a proponent of abstinence-only sex ed, but this seems like a viable option. i'm not going to get into the details, but there are MANY things a man and woman could do to "enjoy" themselves other than actual penetration. a little while ago, my girlfriend and i were in a situation where we couldn't have penetration for about 3 months (before this, we were a frequently sexually active couple), and we explored other things that were fun and satisfied us. both of us were content and, because of some creative thinking, didn't feel as though we were missing out on much. we were just as happy as before and didn't have any problems. now things are back to normal, but we both agreed that the actual penetration isn't necessary for satisfaction. so, your statement above, i just don't buy. if he NEEDED to have sex, then he could have at least used the cycle method and pulled out, which would have given them a fighting chance. if they planned the first 2 children, and the next 4 are mistakes, that is ONLY due to carelessness and irresponsibility. i'm sorry, but i'm not going to blame governments and society when this guy could've kept the horse in the barn. no excuse, no sympathy.

Anonymous said...

> why else do you think we are supposed to have sex

To be sociable:-)

Anonymous said...

"there was nothing that somebody like Juan could do to stop having children

really? nothing?
now, i'm certainly NOT a proponent of abstinence-only sex ed, but this seems like a viable option. i'm not going to get into the details, but there are MANY things a man and woman could do to "enjoy" themselves other than actual penetration."

A lot of different Christian religions consider anything other than vaginal intercourse sodomy and therefore a sin. If Juan is to remain in God's good graces he could not do this either (assuming of course Juan is a Christian of one of these sects)
Some people just cannot stop having kids because of their beliefs.

I agree pretty much with what the original author said, and I'm pretty sure that if most families in 3rd world countries had access to contraception they would use it. Children are a wonderful gift, but if you don't want them or can't reasonably support them it's almost like getting a nasty fruitcake you have to feed clothe and shelter for years.
There are just too many people, our planet can't handle this large of a population.
I really think that instead of having incentives for biologically producing children, there should instead be incentives to adopt the children that are already there and in need of loving homes.

Anonymous said...

Sterilize the poor. Problem solved.

np said...

I tend to agree with Lobo. Having felt that there are too many people on our earth (whether they consume a lot or not), and because there are so many children that need care already, I chose to adopt a long time ago, and went ahead with it. All the points raised have counter-points. The reasons for people having children are many and varied, from wanting to pass on genes, to wanting the experience of childbirth, to religion, to wanting to try for a male child etc etc.

I have lived in rural areas in India where a village lady (not knowing I adopted) asked whether I have had an "operation" to stop having children, as she felt 2 was enough for me. Other families (many) keep having kids as they want a male child, and some admit to having killed or having wanted to kill their female child. So, it is not that everyone (and these folks would be considered as "poor") is unaware of ways to stop having children. At some point they, even without having operations, do stop having children. Perhaps they are just more careful, I don't know!

I don't fully subscribe to the argument that we should look more at consumption, and which part of the world consumes more. People who cannot feed and clothe their children (forget even educating or giving health care), should stop having them, especially when they know how. I have made a very simplistic statement and am fully aware of the various factors involved in them continuously conceiving. One of these sometimes being that the woman has little choice in the matter.

And, I do feel India does not need any more fertility clinics and conception centres, which can often be seen in cities. My observations suggest that rural women and men don't have as much trouble conceiving as city women and men. But then if one can't conceive, so be it, just choose not to have kids, or go ahead and adopt one. I know this might be a rather controversial viewpoint.

Anyway, as the issue of population is SO huge and complex and crosses boundaries of gender, religion, faith, personal choice etc., I feel, those who are inclined, should start by taking a personal step: adoption. Let's look after whom we already have, and choose not to have our "own". Afterall, having one of our "own", possibly means being able to adopt one less.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. Great stuff. Too bad we don't live in the matrix where our overpopulation simply creates more energy for artificial intelligence and the errors of our ways impact nothing more than an imaginary universe designed specifically to satisfy our collective ego. Sadly, our stunted global intelligence quotient is royally fucking up a real planet and, based on any reflection of much of the feedback here, leaves little hope for improvement. One way or another, an equilibrium shall be reached, be it famine, war, plague or what have you. In intelligent solution is apparently beyond our reach.

Do we not sail on a ship of fools? Indeed.

Anonymous said...

The rate of pop-growth is slowing, and even the most pessimistic projections put the max population at 14-billion.

That's okay, there are sufficient resources to work with, if we just keep innovating and being smarter.

Please don't buy into the Zero-Population movement. Dr. Paul Ehrlich (The Population Bomb) has been wrong so many times, he's had to release new books delaying his vision of apocalypse.

Get over your guilt, learn something, and do something useful for your neighbors. Don't be such a pansy.

CiscoKid said...

Great Post. There is a simple argument for all of the pro-family folks commenting: Time. In less than 20 years, we will outstrip our resources and mass die-offs will begin in third world countries, then second, then...well, you get the idea. As for my fellow all-American resource hogs, you and your 2.5 will suffer the least because you have the resources. Remember, if a Guatemalan HAD the resources, he would consume them too.

Culturally, we American's have fewer children, and therefore more resources to spend, simple equation.

Paraphrasing Smith, other mammals find a balance with their environments, never outstripping their resources. Humans consume all the resources, spread to new location and do it again. Only one other organism on the planet does that: a virus.

Grahor said...

I've read the comments. Hilarious. People, do you know, that most of you are insane? Give people the choice! Children are a personal luxury, not a duty!

As for my religious friends out there, busy making more little uneducated religious nuts, don't worry about "western civilization". You are not a part of it.

Jordan Duckworth said...

I have seldom seen such vitriol in a comment string before. I notice it's mostly by cowards who want to remain anonymous in fear of a logical, well thought out rebuttal. It really strikes a chord in people when you question reproduction in any way. I'm willing to bet you got a religious midwife group sicked on you. Keep on speaking your mind and calling it like you see it. I didn't hear anything unreasonable or hateful in your arguments, that would merit these kinds of attacks.

Anonymous said...

You know, it doesn't have to be that permanent or expensive. To bad more men don't know about it (and a little more research hasn't been done I s'pose.)

Saurabh said...

I dont know about Guatemala but condoms and pills are available for free in many developing nations that matter, eg. India. The problem is not availability but ignorance and suspicion, and only education can help solve it.

Taco is also making the oft repeated fallacy that the planet is dying from overpopulation. This has been extant since the late 1800s probably. The earth is pretty darn big. Economists have maintained that it can sustain a much larger population than we have now. The problem is not production but (a) distribution (b) production without responsibility. Both can be improved, again the main thing is education. Education teaches the common mass to make better decisions, which is what everything is all about.

Anonymous said...

This article doesn't mention the risks of birth control. You should search on John McCarthy computer scientist to find his articles on sustainability, in particular his expose on the extra burden placed on society by NOT having children.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an excellent post. Your points are right on. Religion, consumerism, and politics bare lots of the responsibility for our overpopulation problems. As one half of a married couple that has no children, I run into this 'selfishness' claim quite frequently. The idea that I'm selfish for consuming less and ensuring that less is consumed beyond my life is absurd.

I think a lot of people who are hostile towards my choice to not have children are people who never thought they had a choice. They just did what everybody else does. I don't doubt that they love their kids, but did they really want 3, 4, 5 of them?

Thanks again for writing and please don't take the nasty comments above to heart.

Matt Arnold said...

Taco, great post. I have no children and a vasectomy, and I've never regretted it.

Planet said...

There are a lot of comments here that are way too defensive, and some have said stuff like "overpopulation propaganda." Denying the problem won't make it go away.

The author is correct on this issue- and he is not suggesting that having children is wrong. Having MANY children does contribute to this problem though. I would suggest that if you already have 2-3 kids and still want a larger family, you should consider adoption.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm!! So,one is brain washed to think having many children is not right. Wonder what other RSS like feeds sneak into one's thinking when one isn't looking.

U Penn did a research - the population bogey.

Taco van Ieperen said...

A number of people have been fairly defense about having families. It was not my intention to attack people who have children. I know many fine parents. But I feel that the world would be much better off if people could choose how many children then wanted.

A number of people also say that the idea of population control is a lie that you somehow buy into. My argument is simply that the population can't keep growing forever. Nobody would argue that we could fit a 100 billion people on the planet, so why not stop growing now? We have reached the capacity of our planet on many different fronts and we continue to add people at our own peril.

As for adoption- it's a great option. And so is fostering for people who don't want to commit 18 years. There are a lot of kids out there who need help.

Sean said...

I've always wondered why many people who have the least reason to keep having children continue to do so. Your post illuminates this reason in a practical, clear way that I hadn't considered. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"There's nothing Juan could do to stop having children"

The Catholic Church actually teaches a free method of birth control (but they also teach that it is to be used for "serious reasons" only, etc. They call it Natural Family Planning.

Google "sympto thermal method" if you want the religion-free explanation of how it's done. You learn a bit of basic biology of how the female body works, and you learn how to tell when you're fertile. If you follow the rules, it's safer than condoms. Of course, it doesn't prevent STD's, only pregnancy.

This is NOT the same as the rhythm method, which is NOT reliable.

All you need is a thermometer and some paper. (I assume Juan could buy those.)

Marc said...

Great post.

The overwhelming majority of humans do very little, if anything, of any real significance with their lives. But by God, they have kids! I guess nobody wants to be completely shut out.

Creating life is, of course, an amazing thing... but as my Mom used to say, pigs do it all the time. I am so sick of hearing people yammer about having kids as if they had just discovered a cure for cancer.

Congratulations to those who choose to have children after figuring out how to be happy and successful individuals first. To all those who blindly breed without a clue, this post is right on the money.

Perhaps we will one day evolve to a point where our physical, reproductive development is tied to our emotional maturity. What a day that would be -- no more children having children!

Any species that can't adequately prepare its young for survival is clearly doomed. If we had to really grow up before we became parents ourselves, each new generation would have a much better chance.

mariajuanita said...

Bravo to the author! I am a mid-thirties US citizen living in a major metropolitan area who is constantly put under intense questioning by people for my choice not to pro-create. The author quite beautifully underlines the very real and motivating reasons NOT to pro-create. And in response to Anonymous and all people out there who feel it is there duty to pro-create: your children are going to suffer and have to make huge sacrifices in the future for your selfish act of procreation. We cannot survive as a species with the current population growth. What is the most likely outcome of this and what is the likely future of your children or your children's children: war (duh), incurable disease (multiple drug resistant strains of disease much deadlier than TB), food shortages, infertile and diseased soil (thanks GMO farm subsidies), more war, and ultimately huge numbers of people starving to death (and if you think I'm only talking about the "developing world", you are wrong). Also, as has been documented by numerous environmental groups, aside from the impending devastation of global warming - there will not be enough water for people, even in developed nations like the US. This is real folks. Think about it.

That said, if you want a kid, adopt one. There are a plenty that need good homes. Many, in fact, here in the US.

buggin said...

I have one child and it will stay that way. The world IS overpopulated. We don't have enough anything to sustain. All of you who promote abstinence are clearly the most naive people ever produced. Uneducated humans have been reproducing for years or else we wouldn't still be here. If the simplest of creatures on the planet can stumble their way into reproduction so can the most idiotic of humans. The only reason I have one child is because I hope that somehow my legacy of reason and realism can live on to save us from ourselves. If we don't do something now we can forget about global warming because it won't matter how hot it is when we have no more trees and nothing to eat or breathe.
To tell the honest truth, if I were a religious man I'd PRAY, every day, for a natural disaster of a monumental order. Because, if you are truly being honest with yourself, the only thing that will save any of us is if most of us go away. Nobody likes to say it but either most of us die or we all die together. Nobody wants to be the ones to go but it doesn't change the fact that somebody has still got to.

Juan said...

I am 32yr old succesfull Guatemalan tech entrepenour. Let me try to explain what really happens with poor families, at least in Guatemala.

1. Insurance and the Future. Poor people have no insurance, and almost no health benefits. Their only insurance for the future is their children. The more they have, the easier lives they will live when they grow old. They don´t have pension plans, or retirement funds, so if they have 8 children each giving them at least Q300 (about $38) a month. At least the can have food and a very basic lifestyle.

2. The NOW factor. Unfortunately, child labor in Guatemala is very common. Children as young as 4 years old start helping their parents. The more help for the "family bussiness" the better.

3. The MACHO factor. In the lower class population the Macho factor is very strong. Most men would never dream of getting a vasectomy. There are a lot of places that would give men a vasectomy but according to them that makes them "less of a man".

4. Religion. Catholics and Christians have what they preach here as "El Ritmo". Which is their only accepted form of birth control. It consists of learning to read the women´s "vaginal mucus" and that would tell you if it is "safe" to have children or not. As you can imagine it is NOT at all accurate.

5. Sex. Many times the young children (especially females) are used for sex, and sadly they get molested by their own family (fathers, uncles, etc.)

So that is the sad truth about why poor people (at least in my country) have lots and lots of children. I do charity work and hel p a special non profit organization that helps kids on the streets that are a product of these factors, so we have UNICEF studies and our own research.

What can be done: Education. At home, at schools, and at church. But the problem is that if the kids don´t go to school, don´t get the RIGHT religious formation and don´t have a stable home. Things will never change.

P.S. My name is also Juan

Anonymous said...

I am a white, 30 something, Catholic American who grew up in the heartland. I am successful by my own definition, great job, and a couple of houses, great spouse. I’m content and thankful. Where I grew up it was not uncommon for a family to have more than seven children. One might believe by that statement that I am going start flaming the author for his “narrow” minded views. That is not the case. I have four children of my own. I love them more than anything. I got my vasectomy when I was 25.

I do not believe in what the church has to offer in the way birth control – as in abstinence. This policy has obviously failed. The Catholic Church has incredible power in Latin America. I fault this problem to the intolerance of old men, old men who I question on their connection to the daily realities of millions lives who will perpetuate a cycle of poverty. Like the author I cannot limit this condemnation to just Catholics, this problem is just as bad in areas where other religions are prominent. To believe that sex is only for the procreation of children is archaic. To believe so is to steal one of the greatest gifts mankind has to enjoy. If god has created it, how can it be bad? In my humble opinion, to force this “Victorian” view of sex on others is in itself more shameful than any perverse act it set out to prevent.

For those who say that having children is the duty and right of a good “insert religious factions name here” devotee I would like to put the concept forward that every right has an equal or greater responsibility. If you cannot or will not take the actions necessary to live up to that responsibility it is beyond me to imagine why any expectation of assistance exists. I believe in a hand up and not a hand out. We are a generous nation, but its time to teach people how to fish and stop sending aid. This investment of a self-sustaining nation is difficult but worth the process.

Although I agree with the author greatly, I have a hard time believing the generalizations in the post. I do not inherently agree that we are destroying the world. We are taxing the system, but I believe that the system would ensure controls that effect our population long before it was destroyed. Areas of destruction from man-made events, such as Russia and Alaska, have shown incredible habitat restoration. I also have become extremely jaded on sources off of “studies”. Nothing lies like a statistic, except party oriented political root cause analysis, which is so bad; we’d have to make up a new word for meaning of lie. For every Bush folly I can recall one for Clinton. Just for the record I believe both are equally incompetent as well as their respective parties. Show me in writing the Agencies or Bill’s (law) specific from the original source and then we’ll talk.

Where I absolutely part ways with the author is putting forward that China has done anything to help the environment. Limiting children could not come close to a trade off for the current environmental state they are in. While the limitations on population growth are admirable, regardless of the motive behind it, the rest of the track record is horrible. Here I have to agree to disagree with you.

I honestly love the idea of a visiting vasectomy clinic, but it doesn’t solve issues like rampant spread of sexually transmittable diseases – so I’d opt for voluntary surgical sterilization and condoms. Perhaps we could get the Wienermobile to house the clinic and afterwards give them years worth of rubbers. Honestly, does anybody know how much it costs to make a condom? Even with a reliable distribution method I’d wager the whole cost to maintain this in a country would be a thousandth of the cost of the population growth it would avoid.

Last point, the world does need new children, it just doesn’t need as many. Each child is the embodiment for hope. That child could be the one who brings us into a new age, a new possibility of peace. I commend you on your decision to not have children. Not because you’re not having children but because you are doing something you believe. You point out some really interesting and great opportunities that exist for about the same cost of raising a child; I wonder how many who have decided to forgo having a child have taken the step to execute on these ideas? Thanks for the post.

stcredzero said...

Faster than, not faster then.

Knack said...

There are so many people there who disagree with you, I find it both sad and frightening.

I'm with you 100%, even though it is educated people who SHOULD be reproducing, but because of the ridiculous growth of the poor and/or uneducated populations we have to sacrifice bringing a useful (i.e. product of two intelligent, healthy people) into this world. It's sad we're the only ones who know when to stop, and 6.5 Billion is far past that point. That number alone should prove that birth is no longer "miraculous" or a "gift," which destroys the religious arguement. It's just what happens when to people have sex (usually without thinking).

That may sound harsh, but look around...I've been many places and the largest families are too poor and (probably) stupid to raise them.

I can somewhat understand the push in third worlds for large families, seeing as most of the kids end up dying, not that that's any excuse, really. Here in the US it seems lots of kids + welfare eligibility = $$$ for the parents. It's sad, but the truth is everywhere my friends.

When the population of any other animal (yes, that means we're animals, not special because we happened to evolve a bit) swells beyond what the environment can support starvation and disease run rampant, but only until the population reaches a sustainable number. What do you people think AIDS, cancer, and other such diseases are there for(though sometimes I see them as a blessing for our species), it's nature saying, "Wake up and stop having so many damn kids!"

It's the people whose comments I read (and there were so many I only browsed through a few, all negative) who are the selfish ones, who don't realize that as a species we cannot sustain this (growing) population much longer.

TBone said...

I can't believe how many people commenting here seem to think that overpopulation is a hoax. Maybe all the starving children are in on it.

Or maybe they don't believe that children really are starving. Or maybe they don't care.

But seriously, the math is very very simple. There's a really wonderful and clear explanation here:

At the current rate of world population growth (1.3%) the world population will double in only 53 years. That's simple, factual math.

Zero population growth is going to happen. There are two ways that can occur. Either the rate of people dying will catch up with the birth rate (through starvation) or we can choose to lower the birth rate.

Anonymous said...

The "uneducated" man who doesn't know about birth control is smarter than the author of the post. His future generations will vindicate him. I met a 30 year old man with no children who had a vasectomy. I felt sorry for him when he told me. What a fool. I respect his right not to have children, and I hear the procedure is reversable so he can still change his mind. Still, it seems foolish to me. Our purpose for existing is to reproduce. No one was born of a virgin. We all sit atop an unbroken line that goes back to the first humans and beyond. Choosing not to have any children at all is killing your line. It's a form of suicide. That's my opinion as an athiest. Birth control is useful. It is definitely good to have control of when you have children. I am thankful for having this control. The Catholic Church and other religions may be based on lies and myths, however there is great wisdom behind their do-not-interfere-with-sexual-reproduction policy. They recognised the inherent danger of birth control technology. You can believe that there is a God and he wants you to have children, or you can read Darwin, Dawkins, and Ridley for a scientific perspective. Choose a myth or choose evolution, the outcome is the same. You exist to reproduce. Birth control is better understood these days and so taking a hard line abstinence only stance is outdated. A father of four ought to be able to f- his wife without getting her pregnant again. Teenagers ought to be able to have sex without creating a child that won't be as loved as one born to willing parents. Just keep in mind that meddling with reproduction has serious consequences. See those TV commercials trying to find people to include in a mass tort against Ortho Evra patch producer J&J? Think China's one child policy is good? There are now more men than women in that country because if you can only have one child it's better that it be male. I don't know about the rest of you gentlemen, but if there were not enough women to go around I'd be eager for a war and not the least bit afriad of being killed. As for saving the environment by making myself sterile... FORGET IT. And as for my children having less or inferior material things than me... FORGET THAT TOO! I wish for my great grandchildren to consume a million times more energy than I do. Instead of squabbling over resources we have now we should find more. We should spread beyond this planet and create as many new humans as we can. The whole damned universe is ours for the taking.

Anonymous said...

"And then it struck me. None of these methods would work for Juan."

Actually, there is one method not listed that is available to all men: testicular heating. This method has been used effectively since the 50s. Check out:

- Chris

Anonymous said...

If you are really serious about what you say then practice what you preach and commit suicide. The future of the species depends on it.

Why don't we just put something in the water to sterilize the poor. While we are at it, why don't we kill all the handicapped too?

Selfish people like you make me sick. You are not concerned for the welfare of the poor you are concerned that they will share in your resources.

The problem is not overpopulation -- it is overconsumption and poverty. We are greedy and rich and they don't have the money and/or education for birth control.

Don't give me that "world is a terrible place" crap with your iPod and HDTV. Yeah so freakin terrible while you post comments at work surfin the internet. Jerks.

For all those who compare humans to animals, please lick your asshole clean the next time you take a shit.

Smitty said...

The church will never change its policy. The more miserable and poverty stricken the populace is, the more relevant religion becomes.

Heaven becomes much more appealing when one is going through hell on earth...

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had a vasectomy too, you pompous, self-important prick.

dankfreedomfighter said...

Curious how the author of this article thinks 90% of humans should die. China's one child policy is good? Does he even know how the one child policy is enforced? Let me clue you in, if you have more than one child they kill it. The author apparently wants mass genocide and sterilization to "save the earth". Of course this viewpoint is nothing new, it's called eugenics and has been around for awhile. The elite of this planet want the entire planet to themselves without the rest of us peons being able to share in the joy of life. I have lived in a 3rd world country, and while the poverty is shocking to see, most of the people I met were still happy to be alive. I have a message to deliver to this author: Your disgusting plan for world government and population reduction IS GOING TO FAIL. We know about your plans, and free humanity and the human spirit will prevail.

Anonymous said...


GP said...

Globalist United Nations propaganda.

This magic "500 million" depopulation speech is carved into the anonymous Georgia Guidestones:

Nossie said...

I think it's nobody's business who has kids and who hasn't. If you want to have 7 kids, great! If you want to have zero, go ahead. Reproduction, even though it might have social consequences, is mostly a personal decision. You do what you want with your body. The Chinese government is typically totalitarian in forcing people to have only one kid. Still, that sort of stance is far more logical than promoting reproduction. Either way, the State should have nothing to do with personal choices like that. It's my body and my life, I do what I want. Using my body's reproductive system to fulfill some sort of social duty is typical of totalitarian societies. I am not a communist nor am I a (national-)socialist.

I'm apalled at story of the guy who said he always had people questioning his lack of desire to have children. I suspect this is typical of the US. Believe me, you would rarely hear that sort of question in Europe.

As for the poor and their plight, I believe information should be freely available to anyone who wants to know. Censorship is inexcusable, no matter what. But it's up to people to decide for themselves. If they want to pray and procreate, so be it. The same way it's not my duty to raise your kids or feed them, it's not my duty to tell you what to believe in or not to do. I am agnostic and will not allow anyone forcing me to believe otherwise. Be happy in your own way, kids or not.

Sylvain said...

This piece by Taco Van Ieperen is excellent - cogent...This is indeed the Elephant in the Room as far as humanity is concerned -- the TRUE great taboo subject of our day -- yet, human beings are not able to face up to it -- Just reading the majority of the comments on this page demonstrates the immensity of the task ahead. Human denial is colossal here; overpopulation is the single most urgent problem facing the globe - Everything else stems from this... Would humanity and the rest of life be worse off if human population could be reduced down to a quarter of its present size? of course not... We are insane! Our crazed mythological systems have failed us by feeding our ethnocentric views of human superiority, and divine design -- What's worse: the people who are most aware of this have to pass for lunatics, while the rest of humanity continues to bloat-out gleefully... This isn't about nationalities - it isn't about the 3rd World, it is strictly about all of us individually figuring out that this expansion of human protoplasm with its urges has got to stop and come down -- that means "Everyone"...Media outlets are terrified of this issue because it is seen as anti-consumerist, anti-nationalist, and anti-religious -- ultimately, it is down to intelligent folks to shed the light. It isn't about Global Warming, Bio-Fuels, or holding your farts: it is about realizing that we are crazy with our urges to reproduce -- Get over yourselves people, else the awakening will be very rude! (Recommended reading for anyone in need of a great mythological tale: ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn.)

Sylvain said...

This piece by Taco Van Ieperen is excellent - cogent...This is indeed the Elephant in the Room as far as humanity is concerned -- the TRUE great taboo subject of our day -- yet, human beings are not able to face up to it -- Just reading the majority of the comments on this page demonstrates the immensity of the task ahead. Human denial is colossal here; overpopulation is the single most urgent problem facing the globe - Everything else stems from this... Would humanity and the rest of life be worse off if human population could be reduced down to a quarter of its present size? of course not... We are insane! Our crazed mythological systems have failed us by feeding our ethnocentric views of human superiority, and divine design -- What's worse: the people who are most aware of this have to pass for lunatics, while the rest of humanity continues to bloat-out gleefully... This isn't about nationalities - it isn't about the 3rd World, it is strictly about all of us individually figuring out that this expansion of human protoplasm with its urges has got to stop and come down -- that means "Everyone"...Media outlets are terrified of this issue because it is seen as anti-consumerist, anti-nationalist, and anti-religious -- ultimately, it is down to intelligent folks to shed the light. It isn't about Global Warming, Bio-Fuels, or holding your farts: it is about realizing that we are crazy with our urges to reproduce -- Get over yourselves people, else the awakening will be very rude! (Recommended reading for anyone in need of a great mythological tale: ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn.)

Anonymous said...

Cut the crap, you freak!
Either we cut the numbers or we will be cutting heads off as we did every time civilizations collapsed.
If the numbers are not controlled we'll be at that stage within a single generation.
And for the rest of you - it's not OUR numbers that matter. It's THEIR numbers that should be regulated.
Just as they don't support our efforts to stop nice things like clitorectomy they won't support any family planning.
Get real - there should be economic interest for small families out there. No immigration from 3rd world. And no support for their "independence".
Independence implies no need for any kind of support. So let's cut these umbilical cords.

Anonymous said...

In reply to the anon poster on July 23rd @ 12:34 AM:

What the hell is wrong with you? It is his right to NOT have children if he doesn't want to. Maybe he doesn't like children. Maybe he doesn't have the patience for them, maybe he doesn't think he'd be a very good parent, or maybe he just doesn't feel the need to have a child.

Would you rather he bring children into the world that he didn't want or care about and then abuse or neglect them? Would that be better?

Regardless of his reasons, he has the right to choose and his point is that he has made a very education decision not to have children and that should be every persons right. Unfortunately, ignorant people such as yourself find it necessary to make sure that many people are not informed of their options so they can't make a decision that could possibly be the opposite of what you would do.

No doubt you are a religious zealot who doesn't have the strength and wisdom to put their faith in yourself, so you find it necessary to allow a bunch of fictitious stories control your thoughts and actions.

Louise Lacey said...

Louise Lacey said

You very seldom hear from me, but now that Nicholas and Kayaker have
raised this subject, I feel a need to speak up.

The fact is that almost all fertile women can know, ahead of time, when
they will ovulate. Then they can decide what to do about it. We need to
learn it again, but it isn't hard. Nature has set it up that way, and
before we got so arrogant, and divided people into levels of arrogance
(putting medical doctors near the top), most women knew that about their
bodies. But now they have to pay to put their feet into metal stirrups and
let the medical doctors violate them to learn what they should already

I discovered this and many other things more than 30 years ago, and wrote
a book about it. It is still for sale, and what do you know -- women
seldom have more than 2 children when THEY choose the timing.


The other thing is, of course, as Kayaker said, education, education,
education. Some women who are not educated and/or are intimidated by
husbands or religion, or are paid to have serial babies, have more. Even
in Latin America, women with an education rarely have more than two


Anonymous said...

"If there were only 500 Million..."

Wiskey, Tango, Foxtrot. To even offer that as plausible number seems to paint you as a xenophobic, genocidal maniac. We have about 300 Million Americans and they all have access to birth control, so clearly 500M is NOT the number to shoot for. Why even mention such a low number?

Anonymous said...

It seems you have a lot of those under-educated, gullible, and easily misguided by the government and religion people reading your posts. Which is in one way hopeful, because you would hope that they would learn a thing or two. But ultimately it is downright depressing, because one can clearly see that even when intelligent argument and facts are laid out plainly for them, they STILL don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I'm only 22 years old, but already feel completely dedicated to a decision that is perhaps years in the future. I will not have any kids. I will adopt. I feel so strongly about it because, unfortunately, there is no room for any of my children on this earth. There are square miles, but not enough resources. It would not be fair to anyone, including that kid, to be brought into the world. I resent people who have more than a couple of kids because it is completely irresponsible and selfish. But I feel conflicted about this attitude because I'm sure I will go through an "I really want a baby" phase, and it will be painful and truly crippling to have to ignore such a strong force. It's strange to live during a time when I should have to question something that is biologically ingrained in me. It is unacceptable. And for that, I feel anger towards those who played a major part in the deterioration of the world. I am still so youthful, yet my thoughts are consumed by something much larger than I have any control over, and I find it hard to be present and content because of it. As frustrating as it is to attempt to thrive in this state, I understand what I have control over and how I may help, if even slightly. I know that my positive energy and influence will help an amazing person grow and live an enriching life, even if he or she doesn't come from my gene pool. Anyone having kids for that reason alone is thinking like a pre-historic ape because that was the dominant drive to have kids thousands of years ago. it's time to catch up and make a fucking change. I'm desperate for a sign that we can, and a few of these comments are healthy, but others very disturbing indeed. That's all for now. By the way, the only reason I'm posting as "anonymous" is because I don't have an open ID url, whatever that is.

Zoe said...

I thought the point of Taco's writing was to say that there are people out there in the poorer Countries that would like to use contraception to control the growth of their families but did not have access to it or even in some cases any knowledge of how to go about it.
They don't therefore need to be educated by the people of our 'civilization' (who don't seem to be as civilized as they'd like to think), it's not a missionary job that's needed here. For the ones Taco is referring to , they have already made their decision and just need a leg up -as it were- with facilitating that choice.
There are clearly problems of different cultural beliefs to overcome before they can have the contraception that they require, but I'm sure if it is possible to distribute such alot of illegal drugs around the world , distribution of condoms where they are wanted and needed by people, whatever their societies' current beliefs, must be possible.
To those that say intercourse without the exchange of fluids is evil , I say what about 'spiritually enlightened' persons who can do the business but prevent any fluid loss at all? Are they then outwitting God?
If God puts us here , then surely he puts everything else here too and to keep on encouraging reproduction of our species to the expense of everything else on the planet cannot really make sense from any twist of any religious scripture can it?

We Care India said...

There are no two ways that India is the world leader in attracting patients from across the borders for medical treatment in India like Kidney hospital Kolkata, Global hospital India, Escorts hospital, max super speciality hospital, apollo hospital delhi, Apollo goa, brain surgery at best hospitals in India.