Today is the UN-sponsored World Population Day, which most of us have never heard of, I’m sure. From the name, I cynically (and rightly) assumed that rather than celebrating human life, this day would instead address many of the spurious “crowded planet” concerns put forth most popularly in Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (first edition 1968).
You won’t see Ehrlich’s name plastered all over World Population Day materials, but I’m convinced that his thesis is what underlies the effort. Instead, the campaign has cloaked itself in the language of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Are we having too many children? One way to address the problem is to acknowledge that “reproductive health and rights – such as the right to decide on the number, timing and spacing of children – are central to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and to women’s enjoyment of other human rights.”
A surface reading of such a statement should be non-controversial. If it means that we are all against forcing women to bear children against their will, so be it. But somehow I think there’s a more insidious meaning behind the “right to decide.”
World Population Day 2005 is a day of measured celebration for those opposed to the expansion of human population. A UN report released in 2004 shows that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050” For developed nations, “The primary consequence of fertility decline, especially if combined with increases in life expectancy, is population ageing, whereby the share of older persons in a population increases relative to that of younger persons.”
And there are signs of success even in the developing world, since “in the least developed countries, fertility is 5 children per woman and is expected to drop by about half, to 2.57 children per woman by 2045-2050. In the rest of the developing world, fertility is already moderately low at 2.58 children per woman and is expected to decline further to 1.92 children per woman by mid-century, thus nearly converging to the fertility levels by then typical of the developed world.” (More at the aptly named unpopulation.org)
So if the goal of the UN project is to get the world birth rates to fall below replacement levels (usually averaging 2.1 children per woman), they are well on their way. Developed nations continue to set the pace for non-replacement, where “fertility is currently 1.56 children per woman and is projected to increase slowly to 1.84 children per woman in 2045-2050.”