Endless growth is planetary suicide

By Donald A. Collins | 17 April 2020
Church and State

(Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash)

To those of you who have been kind enough to read my last two op ed offerings (1, 2) and even better have made many helpful comments I am especially appreciative.

None of those many who were kind enough to respond cited disagreement with my obvious point that endless growth on a finite planet will not be possible.

However, noting that possibility, anyone who has followed the population growth issue knows that calls from the rich for the poor to have fewer children have been largely ineffective based on the simple demographic growth record.

The world population at the time of the famous 1972 Club of Rome report calling for population limitation was about half of the 8 billion population level projected by 2025.

And, of course, while many developed nations achieved even lower than replacement birth rates, massive immigration legal and illegal to the US kept our numbers above replacement which caused continuing bitter controversy over how many immigrants legally or illegally should be allowed here.

One of the commentators to my April 15th Biden op ed is a family member of mine who like me is a veteran third world traveler and family planning advocate. He has served long and well long on the board of Pathfinder International, a distinguished NGO with a laudable record of helping women achieve their fertility goals since its founding in 1956.

His comment repeats arguments with which I have great personal affinity! Here is what he emailed me and to which I replied.

I have to admit that I actually never think that it is a good time to push the population issue. Actually ever. Rich white Westerners have a long history of telling others not to reproduce. It is a really ugly history. Currently, the places where there is a higher fertility rate are lower income non-white countries. Currently, the countries that are consuming far more resources and causing a strain on the earth’s resources are richer, lower fertility countries such as ours.

I think that a much better message, that may well have the same result, is to say that women should have control over their own future, with respect to their fertility, education, and anything else. When they do, fertility naturally drops. It happens time and again.

If I as a western older male go to a place like Tanzania and say, “stop having so many babies” they will say get out. If I say, women’s health is critical to families and women’s health is critical to a larger society, they’ll be far more welcoming. Different message, very similar result.

I replied:

Great reply. Thoughtful. Negative Population Growth and many other voices have also had limited success in reducing human numbers for the reasons you note!

I agree with you in part, but perhaps by raising the population growth issue we can add impetus to more serious action on climate change (which is certainly related) and women’s rights.

However, the bottom line is that human numbers can’t continue to grow indefinitely on a finite planet! Keep advocating!

Likewise it can be argued, as my commentator notes, that the provision of such family planning options since the 1950’s has reduced human numbers in developed countries, but not stopped the major population growth cited above and the total world number of humans is now projected to be 10 billion by 2050.

That 10 billion projected number might arrive if the kind of earthly catastrophes like the current virus aren’t repeated more severely or the likely elevated conflict between overcrowded countries doesn’t lead to war on a scale which ends in massive population reduction—that indeed could be one way to achieve a really coercive birth control program!

As we watch the numerous powerful and often heart rending conservation films on TV about the decline, for example, in African elephants, we decry this situation and send a check to some NGO, but this seems to make no change in our own lifestyle or conservation. For example, ivory importation by the US and China has been prohibited, but those laws have not stopped the poaching, leading to major declines in elephant numbers in recent years.

Growing human numbers have meant we need to cultivate more and more land for food supplies to feed the gigantic maw of growing human appetites! The fauna and flora displaced are not considered.

Now with Coronavirus we see even in the world’s richest nation what is happening as the many poorer citizens here suffer marginal lifestyles while those more fortunate calculate how to manage their portfolios in the current chaotic stock swings.

We learn how so many marginal jobs here at home keep people alive paycheck to paycheck are now awaiting checks.

But don’t expect that when the Coronavirus vaccines arrive the world will go back to “normal” because normal does not mean the continued mad pursuit of sustainable growth on our finite planet.

Coronavirus has given us Mother Nature’s verdict and we better embrace it or face even worse continuing situations in future.

What a gift—excuse my irony—as we find ourselves confined to our homes watching many of our tv broadcasters also working from home!

Another ironic gift? Yes, this week the Mayor of LA told CNN that there would likely be no major crowds for sporting events until 2021!

We are now a large US captive audience who may finally be ready to listen to reason vs the daily ramblings from Trump.

Normal is gone. A positive thought would project Biden as our next President who could if he would be the world leader who makes the urgent case for global stability.

Will he? Let’s find out as it truly has become a matter of life and death because these viral events are a future certainty!

Citing the uncertain time when the US does get back to normal operation we will be as Governor Andrew Cuomo says in “a new normal”! Governor Cuomo has just delivered a report on his efforts to contain the Coronavirus which should be mandatory reading for us all. Without restraint and honorable citizen behavior he says the virus will keep coming back.

The same holds true for a continued control of human numbers and the balance of nature on our crowded planet.

People who continue to argue that calling for lower human population can’t be advocated are only putting off the day of increasing international distress of which the Coronavirus is likely only a moderate example.

As Governor Cuomo tells us we and he have never encountered a situation like this before and only a serious change in our behavior will keep it from continuing to happen in the future!

Coronavirus shows there are limits to growth which we could now see if we thought about it. The new normal view would allow all of us to advocate and more importantly to provide help where we can everywhere to effect change. It would be akin on a large scale to NY State’s present sharing of ventilators to New Jersey after some of its NY patients have safely used them to get better.

The argument offered by those who say the population growth discussion issue is off the table are not hearing the cries for help of the many distinguished developing country experts I have known over the decades.

So, “Mrs Lincoln, except for that how was the play?”

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
Kindle Store

Jane Goodall @ Population Matters Conference 2019

Sir David Attenborough on Overpopulation

The Threat of Overpopulation

How the world went from 170 million people to 7.3 billion, in one map

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here