Updated Jul 9, 2012 - 2:41 pm
Is God providing for an expanding world population?
What joy there is for a woman in giving birth to her child.
I can only guess her feelings. What a blessing for the family. When I performed my first delivery -- a girl in Guadalajara, Mexico -- I spontaneously cried with joy (I tried my best to hide the tears from my professor and the nurses in the delivery room). It was such an honor to share this miraculous moment with a wonderful lady and her husband -- campesinos, who came to the medical school hospital on foot from a distant village in the state of Jalisco to be assured that their baby would have a good chance at life.
Have you noticed that, almost involuntarily, a woman who sees a cute toddler in a public place, she immediately smiles, the "maternal" instinct filled with happiness?
Part of our genetic code mandates that we promulgate. We are constructed to create more of our species and to populate this world that we live in. Although there have been changes in our society as to how it is constructed (man and wife, wife and wife, man and man, just man, just woman), the family unit is still (or should be), in the industrialized world, the centerpiece for protecting and developing our children in preparation for adulthood so that they can go on to procreate and assure survival of humanity.
Most religions encourage procreation and some frown upon the sexual act (intercourse) without the express intent of conception. I am not going to venture into an argument one way or the other about what God has told these religious leaders because I have never heard from God directly. Communications with God is tricky because each religion seems to think that they are the only ones that speak to God and have heard His/Her word. I have many dear friends and each one, believes that their religion is the only word of God. I admit to being confused -- so many options!
But something has gotten awry in this Circle of Life. Planet Earth has a finite number of resources to support an ever-increasing population, now at about 7 billion souls. Let me say that again: 7 billion lives!
Instead of leveling off at around 9 billion by 2050 as was originally projected just a few years ago, the world population will reach 10.1 billion people by 2100 and keep growing. That conservative projection from the U.N. Population Division reflects revised estimates of fertility, particularly in developing countries.
The United Nations makes projections to the year 2050 every two years, and every four or five years, they make a longer year projection. Throughout the 2000s, there were two reports where they predicted a peaking of world population in the low 9 billions, then a decline. The big news here is that there's no peaking and no decline, and continued increases over the entire century to 10 billion. It's still growing in the year 2099.
The main reasons for the changing projections (and this is very important folks) are that in poor countries, particularly in Africa, the fertility (birth rate) declines that had been expected are not materializing as rapidly as they originally projected.
The U.N. has a set of assumptions about what happens to fertility over time as countries develop. Africa is not following the script as precisely as expected. Fertility in Africa is a little bit higher and mortality (death rate) a little lower. In the '90s, some experts predicted that the population of Africa would decline because of AIDS. That has not happened. There have been a lot of deaths due to AIDS, but population momentum is so strong that we're going to have a billion more people in Africa by 2050 and 3.5 billion people in Africa by 2100.
There are many efforts to control AIDS in Africa and yet further diminish mortality (I doubt that they will be terribly successful, by the way) and there is, with the possible exception of Kenya, almost no family planning to speak of in Africa, which means fertility will remain the same or increase.
Today, 42 percent of the world's population lives in low-fertility countries, defined in the UN report as countries where women are not having enough children to ensure that, on average, each woman is replaced by a daughter who survives to the age of procreation.
Low-fertility countries include all countries in Europe except Iceland and Ireland. Europe is the one region in the world to see its population decline by 2100. In fact, globally, fertility is dropping, but the decline is much less in Africa. The high-fertility countries (more than three kids per women) are mainly in Africa and only have 18 percent of the world's population, or about 1.2 billion people. They are expected to triple their population to 3.6 billion this century!
The low fertility countries are 40 percent of world's population and will decrease their population and the intermediate 40 percent will level off about 2050. The peak size of the world population, therefore, depends on how fast peace, school, basic health care, poverty alleviation and family planning will become accessible to all in Africa and a few other countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So what about China and India? China will hit its peak population in 2027 when it will have over 1.395 billion people, before reducing down to 941 million by the year 2100. India will hit 1.718 billion in 2062, and will come down after that to 1.6 billion by 2100.
Throughout history it was disease, famine and war that kept the world population at bay. These factors were, in essence, birth control by not only killing off large segments of the global population, but decreasing fertility by decreasing the number of women in the optimum ages for child bearing. But, with better public health measures, some very small inroads into fighting AIDS in Africa and little movement globally with regard to a concerted effort for effective family planning policies, these "controls" are vanishing.
In some countries, the military encourages higher birth rates because it wants to populate the its fighting force in the future. By the way, in many of these countries/continents, women are considered a much less desirable product of pregnancy. They may be killed, sold into slavery or brutalized by having their clitorises removed without anesthesia or sterile instruments, so that they will have no pleasure with intercourse, be a more loyal wife as a result and then sold, or at least become, a more desirable spouse -- largely for procreation and possibly a dowry of sorts. Religion plays a role in some countries by discouraging contraception and encouraging procreation. God will provide, right?
The problem is that water is becoming more scarce globally, as is food. Famine is still an issue as a result and will grow. The oceans are being fished out. Why would people desperate for food observe international regulations developed by rich nations to protect sea life? You have to be joking! Do you see why Somali pirates are doing what they do? What do they have to lose?
People who are hungry and without shelter are desperate, and so it is reasonable to see more and more political unrest in regions such as Africa and the increase of terrorism globally. If you were from one of these places on Earth and lived in such poverty with no hope and little or no education, would you not adopt one form or other of political and/or religious extremism?
As the population grows, there are not enough resources and public health programs will buckle from the onslaught of disease, pathogens such as Ebola virus, AIDS and yet unknown others will spread not just in one continent, but globally. This is, as you know already, happening. Desperate to live, the number of illegal immigrants heading to more developed nations will continue to grow.
One answer is global economic development, which is the best way to address all of these issues. That is why the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are so important. That is why we cannot and will not become isolationist. That time is past!
The UN could play a role, but it is mired in petty politics, bureaucracy and inefficiencies which sideline the impact that it could have. The UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities) could and should be a global force to be reckoned with.
I am not impressed.
Economic development is perhaps the best way to conduct family planning. Families tend to be smaller and fertility declines as per capita income increases. The better off the family is, the more they choose to use contraceptive techniques, despite warnings from religious groups and other interested parties and these families do not have the perceived need of having more children to insure their care when they grow older because of better finances. This will be at least part of the reason for declines in China and India, aside from more aggressive policies of family planning, which is an absolute necessity in these countries if they wish to succeed in the future, as well as maintain political and economic stability.
Certainly, the availability of contraception is vital. Here in the United States, while we waste precious time arguing over contraception as if we were on an island isolated from all this happening around us in the world, we should and could be a force to promote economic development and safe and effective family planning. China and Europe can have this role as well.
But, our "developed nation" global economies are failing. Better yet, they have failed. In our country, we can't agree on anything or any way to climb out of our economic pit. Last time it was WWII, but wars now are draining, not rejuvenating, the economy. Europe may drag us down yet further. China is feeling our pain. Japan has collapsed.
Meanwhile, the population continues to grow, resources, like water and petroleum, are getting more scarce. Agriculture cannot keep up with the food demand, at least right now. Oxygen is being depleted as growing populations in search of money and food cut down rain forests, like the Amazon Basin, and pollute rivers and oceans.
All of this is not new. You know about this. You and I, well, we have put it from our minds because it is too scary to ponder and we are all hoping for a miracle.
Well, God, Pope, Ministers, Rabbais, Imans, Mormons, Jews, Christians, Buddhists: it's time!
I am waiting. Please do not make excuses. Do not tell me that we are on a railroad car to annihilation because we deserve it for being "bad", not observant enough, etc So, it's time.
God, will you provide?
Dr. Sam Benjamin, M.D. - Integrative Medicine, weekend show host