Sunday, July 24, 2011

Solving Population?

I borrowed R's January 2011 issue of the National Geographic because the cover page is attention grabbing, not for its photo (which is the common assumption) but for the cover blurb. "Population 7 Billion: How your world will change." At first glance, the magazine screams, "Doomsday alert! Control the population or die." When you read what's inside, however, it's another story.

The article, penned by Robert Kunzig, points out that while the number is alarming, the fertility decline poses greater effects than the population itself:

The end of a baby boom can have two big economic effects on a country. The first is the “demographic dividend”—a blissful few decades when the boomers swell the labor force and the number of young and old dependents is relatively small, and there is thus a lot of money for other things. Then the second effect kicks in: The boomers start to retire. What had been considered the enduring demographic order is revealed to be a party that has to end. The sharpening American debate over Social Security and last year’s strikes in France over increasing the retirement age are responses to a problem that exists throughout the developed world: how to support an aging population. “In 2050 will there be enough people working to pay for pensions?” asks Frans Willekens, director of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute in The Hague. “The answer is no.” (p.48)

It's a population implosion, not explosion, and it's happening in most developed countries in the world. Imagine, China's fertility rate went from 6 kids per woman in 1965 to a low of 1.5 per woman today. True, the Chinese people still make up a fifth of the world population, but has anyone paused to consider that their land is equally large too?

But let's forget the numbers--I bet this has been discussed over and over already. Truth is, it isn't the issue on implosion vs explosion that bothers me. It's the attitude most people have over the idea of accommodating more people in the planet that I find disturbing.

Kunzig writes that in India, people have been, for 60 years now, battling with overpopulation. Their weapon? Sterilizations. Can you tell me what's wrong with this picture?

The Indian government tried once before to push vasectomies, in the 1970s, when anxiety about the population bomb was at its height. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay used state-of-emergency powers to force a dramatic increase in sterilizations. From 1976 to 1977 the number of operations tripled, to more than eight million. Over six million of those were vasectomies. Family planning workers were pressured to meet quotas; in a few states, sterilization became a condition for receiving new housing or other government benefits. In some cases the police simply rounded up poor people and hauled them to sterilization camps. (p.60)

In their fear of a number, I think many people forget that the number is made up of people like themselves. You don't round up and haul your fellow men or give them incentives to let you mutilate them (and pretend it's for their health when it's really just for your fear of a number). People deserve to be educated to be independent and productive citizens. I think much of the government money would be put in better use if it is invested in the field of training workers, educating kids and producing better livelihood than it would ever be in vasectomy/tubal ligation factories. Let's not forget the dignity of the individual person--just think: what if it was you?

Almas Ali of the Population Foundation says it better: “The goal should be to make the villages livable.... Whenever we talk of population in India, even today, what comes to our mind is the increasing numbers. And the numbers are looked at with fright. This phobia has penetrated the mind-set so much that all the focus is on reducing the number. The focus on people has been pushed to the background.” (p.61)

I bring up this point because the same fear seems to be creeping into our own shores. You read it in the papers, you see it on TV, you hear it over the radio. Have you heard that radio spiel from the Popcom in which a kid complains, "Ano? Mag-aaral ako pagkatapos pa ni Ate, ni Kuya at ni Junior? 'Nay naman!"

First of all, I agree that we should raise families with prudence; however, when, despite all efforts (even with artificial contraception, conception can happen), a baby is given, is it even logical NOT to try to earn more money to send all the kids to school? It's a misplaced kind of prudence at best; it's just a lazy attitude that is not heroic at all--giving only the minimum you have to give, and taking the easiest solution to a problem, never minding if it isn't the right solution.


We Filipinos have our hearts in the right place TODAY. Let's not allow any of that Western fear creep into them. Tomorrow I'll be at the State of the Soul of the Nation Address, dedicated to commemorating the 43rd Anniversary of the Humanae Vitae. It's also going to be an interfaith event, with people of other religions doing worship services nearby before marching in solidarity with other pro-lifers to Club Filipino. Catholic Mass will be at Sanctuario de San Jose Parish, Greenhills, at 9am.

Hope to see you there!

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