What if there were a solution to many of the global problems that confront us, from climate change to poverty to civil wars? There is, but it is starved of resources. It’s called family planning, and it has been a victim of America’s religious wars. Damon Winter/The New York Times Nicholas D. Kristin On the Ground Nicholas Kristin addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels. Go to Blob В?? Go to Columnist Page В?? Related News U. N. Says 7 Billion Now Share the World (November 1, 201 1) Related in Opinion Room for Debate: Fewer Babies, for Better or Worse (October 16, 2011) Readers’ Comments
Readers shared their thoughts on this article. Read All Comments (228) В?? partly for that reason, the world’s population just raced past the seven billion mark this week, at least according to the fuzzy calculations of United Nations demographers. It took humans hundreds of thousands of years, until the year 1804, to reach the first billion. It took another 123 years to reach two billion, in 1927. Since then, we’ve been passing these milestones like billboards along a highway. The latest billion took just a dozen years.
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In 1 999, the United Nations’ best projection was that the world wouldn’t pass even billion until 201 3, but we reached it two years early. Likewise, in 1999, the U. N. Estimated that the world population in 2050 would be 8. 9 billion, but now it projects 9. 3 billion. What the impact of overpopulation? One is that youth bulges in rapidly growing countries like Afghanistan and Yemen makes them more prone to conflict and terrorism. Booming populations also contribute to global poverty and make it impossible to protect virgin forests or fend off climate change.
Some studies have suggested that a simple way to reduce carbon emissions in the year 2100 is to curb population growth today. Moreover, we’ve seen that family planning works. Women in India average 2. 6 children, down from 6 in 1950. As recently as 1965, Mexican women averaged more than seven children, but that has now dropped to 2. 2. But some countries have escaped this demographic revolution. Women in Afghanistan, Chad, Congo, Somalia, East Timer and Uganda all have six or more children each, the U. N. Says. In rural Africa, I’ve come across women who have never heard of birth control.
According to estimates from the Stomacher Institute, a respected research group, 215 million women want to avoid getting pregnant but have no access to contraception. What’s needed isn’t just birth-control pills or Duds. It’s also girls’ education and women’s rights ?? starting with an end to child marriages ?? for educated women mostly have fewer children. “In times past, the biggest barrier to reducing birth rates has been a lack of access to contraceptives,” the Population Institute notes in a new report. Today, the biggest barrier is gender inequality. ” The seven billion population milestone is also a reminder that we need more research for better contraceptives. One breakthrough is an inexpensive vaginal ring that releases hormones, lasts a year and should not require a actor. Developed by the Population Council, it has completed Phase 3 trials and seems highly effective. It could even contain medication to reduce the risk of an infection with the AIDS virus. Traditionally, support for birth control was bipartisan.
The Roman Catholic hierarchy was opposed, but Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush provided strong support. Then family planning became tarnished by overzealous and coercive programs in China and India, and contraception became entangled in America’s abortion wars. Many well- meaning religious conservatives turned against it, and funding lagged. The result was, paradoxically, more abortions. When contraception is unavailable, the likely consequence is not less sex, but more pregnancy.
Contraception already prevents 1 12 million abortions a year, by U. N. Estimates. The United Nations Population Fund is a b??et noir for conservatives, but its promotion of contraception means that it may have reduced abortions more than any organization in the world. Republicans are seeking to cut more money from global family planning which, in poor countries, would mean more abortions and more women dying in childbirth. Conservatives have also sought to slash Title X Family Planning programs within the United States.
The Stomacher Institute estimates that in a year these domestic programs avert 973,000 unintended pregnancies, of which 406,000 would end In abortions. Stomacher calculates that these family-planning centers in the United States actually save taxpayers roughly $3. 4 billion annually that would otherwise be spent on pregnancies and babies. Finally, a ray of hope: A group of evangelical Christians, led by Richard Kick of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, is drafting a broad statement of support for family planning. It emphasizes that family planning educes abortion and lives lost in childbirth. Family planning is morally laudable in Christian terms because of its contribution to family well-being, women’s health, and the prevention of abortion,” the draft says. Amen! Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain. So as we greet the seven-billionth human, let’s try to delay the arrival of the eight billionth. We should all be able to agree on voluntary family planning as a cost-effective strategy to reduce poverty, conflict and environmental damage. If you think family planning is expensive, you haven’t priced babies.