Mark Owen

Populate and perish!

The headline says so much - 'Scramble to grab farmland in Africa'. But it's not about rivals in Africa struggling to grab a piece of land. No, it's about foreign nations - China, South Korea, and the the Gulf States - seeking to lay hold of vast tracts of African land - for one good reason: to ensure the feeding of their own people in a world of rapidly rising populations and diminishing resources.

The environmentalists warn us in messages printed on recycled paper: acid rain is falling, rivers are polluted, the seas are being denuded of fish, arable land is scarce, deserts encroach on once fertile countryside, and the relentless destruction of  forests continues apace.  Meanwhile health and aid agencies tell us that millions are starving of living on inferior diets, more millions need medicines, need injections, need clean water to drink.  Many are desperate.
Yet, while the aid agencies of the world and the innumerable friends of the earth wage their campaigns one spectre haunts all, one overriding, horrifying, frightening fact remains. The world's real problem is summed up in a word - babies! Ever more of them are being born

The facts are undeniable. They stare us in the face. Between 6,000 BCE and about 1,600 CE the world's population doubled every thousand years, give or take a bit.  From five million it grew to five hundred million in that time.  Seemed then like a lot of people! But by 1850 - just 250 years later - not one thousand years, the population again doubled. Eighty  years later it had doubled again.

In 1930 world population stood at around two billion. It is currently around 6.8 billion and a United Nations report released recently highlights an alarming situation confronting us, a catastrophic assault on the environment such as has never been known before. 

Recent estimates put the current growth in world population in excess of 1.2 percent, or 80 million people, per year.  At this rate the present huge population of 6.8 billion would double in a little more than fifty years from now.

The world is even now in many places heavily over-populated and the problem is becoming increasingly serious. African countries, whose plight is continually paraded before us, has the highest rate of population growth of any area of the world!

No good worrying about saving the dying animals there; they will be driven to their inevitable deaths through the massive human population increase in coming years.  They already are! In September 1990 figures showed that Africa, with a population then of 550 million, registered a 3.1 percent growth rate, outstripping everyone else in the world! By the year 2020 the continent will have 1.6 billion mouths to feed! That is a threefold increase!

How are these people going to be fed?  Fortunately,  and I use the word advisedly, under these circumstances natural forces assert themselves to a certain extent, and starvation and AIDS (occurring at twice the European rate) will possibly take their toll and act as natural population-reducers, along with droughts and floods and the rest. 

And what of water? Interrelated with the food crisis is the huge problem of water shortage. Many countries, China chief among them, already have insufficient water to provide for their populations. And this problem is growing.

Yet, as food and water scarcity increases, a trend exacerbated by the use of crops to produce fuel substitutes, food prices are rising, and unrest among hungry populations is spreading. But in the face of these alarming facts what does religion do? It continues to encourage unbridled population growth.

Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Mormons and similar cults, and Islamics, through their beliefs and teachings, foster the growth of large families. Eschewing birth control, criminalizing abortion, and encouraging married couples to have many children, they are doing their bit to bring on the disaster we face. And let us not forget, the multiplied babies they produce will in turn become parents of yet more babies. The leaders of these faiths, the Pope prominent among them, stand condemned before the world for their irresponsible attitude to human wellbeing.  Why, even our own government, under John Howard, encouraged people to have more babies!

Dr Brian Roberts of the University of Southern Queensland upset many with some comments he made in 1994 about AIDS. Noting that world population was due to DOUBLE  by the year 2026 - then just 35 years away - he felt that AIDS could be a natural control device. Over the millennia of human occupation of the earth many such natural controls have kept populations in check. Floods, fires, earthquakes and pestilences of all kinds have worked in this way. 

It is a harsh idea to promote when so many people are suffering from this scourge.  But an interesting comment, nevertheless. Dr Roberts drew attention to the fact that increasing numbers of fertile African females were falling victim to this blight. Yet Africa, taken as a whole, cannot support its present millions. Maybe AIDS will help where birth control is rudimentary and abortion clinics almost non-existent.

Around the same time the former World Bank president, Robert McNamara, warned that the world's population could triple within 100 years and wipe out most economic gains if nations did not inaugurate a multi-billion dollar birth control program. At last people are talking sense!  Quite simply, we need fewer babies.

Mark Owen, 1991 -