West London Humanists and Secularists

Why Population Matters - A Talk by Simon Ross - Meeting 27/10/2010

Simon Ross is the recently appointed Chief Executive of the Optimum Population Trust, the UK's leading environmental charity raising awareness of the link between population and sustainability. Population is uniquely sensitive, touching on the eternal questions of sexual behaviour, family formation, freedom of movement and individual rights. Simon gave us an excellent summary of the hard facts concerning overpopulation; for example that the population of the world has doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion in just the last 45 years and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and that for every one person alive at the time of Jesus Christ, there are 33,000 alive today.

If we were looking at any other species we would call this a plague and together with the facts that:

  • fresh water is finite and degradable
  • fertile soil is finite and degradable
  • energy at current prices is finite
  • the climate and the seas are degradable
  • plant life and minerals are finite
  • wildlife and sea life are finite and degradable
we are looking at a potentially catastrophic future for mankind.

Ways in which the problem can be tackled can be listed in order of severity as below.
Easy - Should we?
o    For developing countries:
        - Encourage economic development
        - Encourage gender equality
        - Fund reproductive healthcare
o    For the UK:
        - Improve opportunities and education for young women
        - Improve sex education
        - Improve the quality of family planning advice
o    Advertise contraception before the watershed
Hard - Should we?
o    Have balanced migration
o    Pay universal child benefit for only the first two children
Harder - Should we?
o    Provide family planning services to teenagers without their parents' knowledge
o    Require pharmacists to stock the 'morning after' pill
o    Allow abortion on request
Hardest - Should we?
o     Pay people to:
        - delay childbearing
        - be sterilised
o    Impose fines and/or loss of benefits for too many children

It seems there is very wide support for the easy and even the hard measures. OPT goes further by supporting the harder measures while it appeared that those members of WLHS present thought that there could be an acceptable way of implementing even the hardest. Despite the wide support for OPT from such trusted people as David Attenborough, those who disagree are very vocal e.g. "Unequal distribution is the problem. The malthusianists/proto-fascists in the OPT would have you believe otherwise.".- Andy Hewett, Green Party

The ensuing discussion ranged over many topics including the rights and wrongs of Malthus and that eugenics was considered quite respectable until Hitler. Particularly interesting was an examination of where the growth is coming from. There are some parts of the world where population is falling but others where there is a more than compensating rate of increase; for instance, in Africa because there is a common belief that to be a "real man" you must have lots of children, and in the Philippines where the Catholic Church has so much power over the government that contraception is not available to most people. We need to understand how it is that in two strongly Roman Catholic countries, Philippines and Italy, we can see the extremes of increase and decrease respectively. The answer appears to be the degree of influence that the church has over government policy. There is a message for us all here and yet another rallying call for the fight for secular government.

PWV 17 November 2010