June 24, 2018
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Making condoms more ubiquitous than Cokes

The world’s population reached 7 billion Monday. That figure has great implications for those of us alive today and those who will be living at the end of this century. Though the consensus among international policy analysts is that population growth threatens the world on many fronts, not all agree that it is a problem.

And if you do agree it is a problem, there is controversy on how to address population growth. That controversy cuts to the core of closely held beliefs about family, sexuality and economic equity. Join us here 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday to discuss these issues and more.

The world’s population growth must be understood in context.

The world’s population hit the 1 billion mark in 1804. In 1927, the world population had doubled to 2 billion. By 1959, population reached 3 billion. And just 25 years later in 1974 it hit the 4 billion mark. By 1987, just 13 years later, it hit 5 billion.

By 1999 — just 12 years later — another billion were added and then after 12 more years, the world hit the 7 billion mark.

The accelerated growth is attributed to the lack of disease and famine throughout much — though not all — of the world. Infant survival rates have increased, as has longevity.

The question that makes population more than a numbers game is: How many is too many? A BBC analysis notes that space is not the problem. If all 7 billion people were to live in a city of the density of Paris, they could all fit in France with some left over. But of course, as we well know, population densities vary widely. Maine’s far-flung population has cursed it in many ways, making it difficult to distribute resources and wealth.

Parts of the world have suffered shortages of food and clean water. Other parts waste plenty of both. So the case can be made that there is no population problem, but rather a distribution problem. Still, the UN predicts continued steep population increases: 8 billion by 2025, 9 billion by 2050 and 10 billion by 2100. A worse-case scenario predicts as many as 16 billion by 2100.

If we agree birth rates must be reduced, moral and ethical questions arise. Those opposed to abortion point to China’s 30-year-old one-child policy, and stories of women who are eight-months pregnant being ordered to have abortions. These critics of such measures note that China’s government boasts of reducing its population by 400 million, and wonder whether those unborn people might have made significant contributions to China and the world.

There is a middle ground.

A UN report notes that more than 200 million women have no access to family planning advice.

“Sex education has an impact in delaying the age at the first sexual intercourse, in increasing the use of contraception methods and condoms,” Gabriela Rivera from the Mexico City offices of the UN’s population agency told the BBC.

An aid worker in Africa noted that she could find a Coca-Cola to drink just about everywhere in her travels on the continent yet condoms were rarely seen. Many women wanted fewer children but were unable to get any contraception.

Still, the population explosion may not come. Another UN projection has the world population dropping to 6 billion by the end of the century. The average fertility rate of women in 1950 was five children; today, it’s 2.5 children.

Are humans close to maxing out the planet’s resources? If so, what can be done? Or are these wealth distribution problems the same that have always plagued humanity? Join us Tuesday at The Maine Debate.

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