Monday, March 25, 2013

Population Control

I'm the oldest of a very large family, and I always wanted my own large family as well. I've also always been interested in learning about animals and conservation. As a child I never thought that the two might be considered at odds with each other. I read descriptions of habitat loss and ZooBooks' not-so-subtle hints that we have a human overpopulation problem without taking much notice. In high school my English teacher constantly liked to talk about our population problems and joked about programs to limit the number of children one can have. I felt that was wrong, and I knew my religion encouraged having children, but until college I didn't really have a solid position on the subject.

Lessons From Religion

The first concept I learned came from religion. The Doctrine and Covenants 104:17-18 states:

17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
 18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

It made plenty of sense to me. The Lord created the earth and made sure there were plenty of resources to care for the people he created. The problem lies with people who hog all of the resources instead of allowing others to take care of themselves. It reminds me of the agricultural fields around the city where I live--gleaning was banned because people would hoard all of the food and then open vegetable stands to sell what was intended to help everyone.

Another concept I came upon while in college was the idea that Satan, the enemy of all mankind, was fighting to destroy the place where we live. His goal is to make men miserable and to hinder the work of the Lord, and it makes a lot of sense that one of his targets is to make the earth uninhabitable or at least less beautiful. But I think there's enough information out there on this subject, and our culture seems to be erring from caring too much about the earth instead of the other way around, so I'll move on.

History and Innovation

People have been worried about over population for a long time. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich stated:

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

If you look at the information he had available, you might be tempted to agree with him. In fact, the technology and practices available at the time were not enough to feed the world's growing population.

Obviously, the world did not collapse in massive famine forty years ago. What happened? At the same time Ehrlich was prophesying , a global movement called the Green Revolution was beginning.People made new discoveries and inventions which allowed farming to be much more productive.For example, Norman Borlaug bred new types of wheat. While "corn... as high as an elephant's eye" is poetic, it's not really that helpful: we don't eat corn stalks. Borlaug began breeding wheat that grows the same amount of food on a smaller plant, resulting in less nutrient and space requirements. While some of the effects of this were negative (widespread pesticide use and the crippling of the family farm, for instance), it also allowed us to support a larger population. More people means more innovators, and innovators help us to live better.


In order for a population to stay static, each woman needs to have two children survive to adulthood (one to replace her and one for her husband). Currently in the United States the birth rate is about 1.93 children per woman. Most developed countries are below, sometimes far below, this rate. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article claiming that America's baby bust will be the greatest threat to our economic standing ( The number of children being born cannot support the number of people retiring from the baby boom of the 50's.

The City Mouse and the Country Mouse

Open a map on your computer, zoomed out so you can see the whole United States-- google maps works well. Close your eyes and point to a spot on the map. Now zoom in on your spot. When I did it, I pointed to a spot just east of the Gulf of California in Mexico. As far as I can tell, it's about forty miles from any human habitation. My second try hit the Halfbreed Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, about thirty miles from Billings. Chances are pretty good that you didn't hit any human habitations either.

National Geographic recently came out with an issue that highlighted the importance of cities. They explained that having people in a more centralized location lessens the effect on the earth overall. It uses less wildlife habitat, and less gas as people don't need to travel as far. My husband visited a place in Korea where the people living in the "country" live in high-rise buildings with their fields stretched out in all directions around them.

Beatrix Potter says in her retelling of The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, "One place suits one person, and another place suits another. As for me, I prefer to live in the country." I completely agree with her. I'd rather be in the country, but within a short drive of a larger city. In fact, when I was younger I suggested that the entire earth should be divided equally among all of the people, and each should manage and take care of the section they'd been given. I'm old enough to know this wouldn't work, but the principle holds true--no matter where we live, we need to care for what we have.

One way of solving problems on a personal level is the principle of homesteading, which is that each person should try to be as self-reliant as possible, especially in providing food and other goods for their family. On a city, this might mean a pot of herbs in the window. On fact, the best garden I've had yet was a tiny plot in front of our rented duplex, barely big enough for three tomatoes and a zucchini plant smashed between the owner's mandatory rose bush. In the country, this might mean goats, chickens, and a large garden (my eventual goal). The principle remains the same no matter where you live.

Effects of Overpopulation Fears

One of the biggest problems of fearing overpopulation is that almost every solution to the "problem" involve violating the rights of others. Some people do decide not to have children in order to keep from "adding to the problem", but others see fit to force their opinions on others. This includes the murdering of unborn children, forced sterilization, one-child policies, and eugenics. Eugenetics means that someone in authority will decide for the rest of the population who is fit and who is not, and remove those who are not from the population. Hitler's extermination methods are a very extreme, well-known example. Abortion clinics targeting minority races and doctors suggesting abortion for "disabled" babies are less-known examples.

Quality and Quantity

My favorite story came from a college friend. She was attending an event in high school and was assigned a roommate with very different views from her own. The roommate explained that she did not want to have children because of overpopulation. Then she paused and said to my friend, "I'm glad you want to have children, though. The world needs more people like you."

Raise the change you want to see in the world. This is what makes the most sense to me. I for one believe that there are a lot of problems in our culture. I can't change everything, but I can teach my children right from wrong. I can teach my children how to live a good life. And they will go out into the world and interact with others. I will do my bit, and they can do theirs, and goodness will spread, little by little, person by person. Lasting change for the better is never successful when crammed down people's throats. It happens on an individual level, one by one, person by person. And that's how I hope to make a difference.


I highly recommend looking at the "Overpolulation is a Myth" video series, available on Youtube or They explain some of the science behind population in a simple, entertaining way.