Is it easier to tackle a vast global population problem than it is to save a suburb from overpopulation or a city from population induced water shortages?
Global vs Local
"My concern is the global issue of population" the international aid worker declared in a somewhat self righteous manner. "Australia is nothing," she continued, "Our population is nothing at only 22 million, it is the world that matters!"
The activist she was addressing had been aware of the global population issue since his late teens when he was one of just over 3 billion people on the planet. Now he is one of nearly 7 billion people. He has no children of his own and is unlikely to have any, nor grandchildren.
What more can he do about global population? Presented with a problem as vast as all of global humanity, the problem could seem overwhelming and he could feel tempted to give up. The aid worker's tone was accusatory with the smugness of one who has claimed the moral high ground. The activist was left to contemplate his selfishness in having turned his attention that afternoon to his own sphere of influence.
A medical doctor joined in . "Population is a global issue" he announced as a small audience gathered around. It was as though he were alerting the gathering to something of which they had no idea hitherto. Was he in the midst of an unread, untraveled, insular, unsophisticated self interested, self selected group of NIMBYs ? Well probably not. They were a group of environmentalists, thinkers and activists with an intelligence quotient at least as high as the average in the community. Several were academics and widely read on the subject of population.
Australia in 1971: Melbourne activists try to protect local environment and quality of life by campaigning against overpopulation
In both cases the assertions were a sort of reprimand for anyone concerning themselves with local issues or even one's own country.
I would argue that adopting an international concern to the exclusion of attending to local issues is the line of least resistance in the population "debate" and could well be the easiest option for anyone claiming to be trying to change the world's terrifying population trajectory!
One can take it either way- the population problem as we hurtle to 9 or 10 billion within the lifetimes of many of us here now is overwhelming if one actually aims to have an effect or on the other hand it is easy if one accepts that little will be achieved. With an international focus one does not often have to identify and face the enemy, so no-one is really threatened. The problem is always elsewhere, amongst people we don't know personally. There is status in this position, which can also become an expensive habit as it involves traveling and mixing with other global representatives. Global population activism has an aura of sophistication, internationalism and ministering aid.
Local population concerns tend to be demoted in the population activism fraternity, with international concerns taken more seriously, as the sphere of the big guys and girls. What's more, global actions are more easily digested by the "intelligentsia" and well off of our society than are attempts to rectify the more direct and local effects of damaging and undemocratic forced population growth on oneself and one's descendants at home.
There is a belief amongst the cognoscenti that modern western medical science can come to the rescue internationally. They believe that it is a matter of being given the go ahead to distribute throughout the world the fruits of modern technology- the contraceptive pill, I.U.D.s and condoms to the people in far away countries who so badly need them. The cognoscenti have the solution to our woes, if only they could find the way through the layers of International governance to distribute them !
The global position is safer
The safest position to take in the area of population is to ignore local population related issues, cast your eyes towards the horizon and say it's a global issue.
Why is this safe?
"Safe" is a relative term when we are talking about probably the greatest challenge facing life on this planet since the dinosaurs went extinct: The prospect of most other animal species becoming extinct or just lonely exhibits in zoos. that is, unless they are employed directly for human benefit or enjoyment and the suffering of other creatures in the service of humans are dismaying. Equally dismaying is the prospect of ever increasing numbers of humans facing starvation as their massive populations collide with the depletion of fossil energy, the fire under the massive growth of humanity over the last 200 years.
There is a perception that the "third world " needs to be brought up to the present day; to start on the road to progress that "we" are on. Almost counter-intuitively the credo is that as modern life comes to the third world, and people no longer live in fear of starvation, lack of water and other basic necessities, their populations will drop because women will then chose to have fewer children. This is what we observe in a snapshot of the world as it is today. After all, women in the "developed countries" tend to have fewer babies and they are better off than their sisters in the "third world." Being better off must cause a drop in fertility or does a drop in fertility make one better off? Consider the following, however : A young couple in Australia are faced with the prospect of needing to wait 10 years on 2 salaries to start buying a house. Are they more or less likely to have children during this period than if they could buy a house immediately and had a manageable mortgage which could be serviced on one salary? Consider also a wealthy family which can well afford to feed, clothe and send 4 children to the schools of their choice. Is this family more or less likely to have those 4 children than if they could only afford to provide for 2?
Are the demographic rules really so different in the "first" and "third" worlds?
I raise these examples to call into question the relative value and "theoretical" basis of efforts that are made both locally and internationally to mitigate the unfolding population calamity. Are there really different forces at work in the "first" and "third" worlds where being better off in one would be expected to facilitate reproduction whilst having the opposite effect in the other? The single minded notion that solving world poverty and making modern contraception available will bring down birth rates, thus achieving two "goods" in one exercise, is I have to admit, extremely comforting. Few of the "intelligentsia" would argue with this kind of foreign aid, which is a recognized "good." On the other hand, taking up the cudgels with one's own governments is stressful and energy sapping. Fighting local issues where population growth is the excuse to destroy much loved nature and heritage, amongst many much more serious minuses, such as placing the security of fresh drinking water in jeopardy for the local population and making the case against high immigration-driven population growth is largely a recipe for frustration, frequent defeats and attracting disapproval.
Which one would you choose, when the thin end of the wedge is ready to cast asunder the two sides of what is really only one coin?