When China first started pushing its one-child policy in 1979, it proudly displayed threats to those who dared add a second child to their family, whether planned or unplanned. Children are expensive, but in China keeping a second or third baby could mean literally losing your house. "If sterilization or abortion demands are rejected, houses will be toppled, cows confiscated," one older slogan read. The words were painted on the walls of buildings, readily visible to all who passed by. There was no ignorance of the government's expectations.
China is trying positive reinforcement these days, with promotions that say more pleasant things like, "Lower fertility, better quality; boys and girls are all treasures." Because the one-child policy led couples to abort or get rid of baby girls in favor of having their only child be a son, a current warning states that, "Mistreatment and abandonment of baby girls is strictly prohibited." China needs its girls too, and it currently has a lopsided ratio of men to women in its population.
China has been visible and forceful about keeping down the birth rate during the past three decades, but not without resistance. In 2007, for instance, family planning facilities in southwest China were attacked as thousands of villagers protested the Bobai county government's enforcement of the one-child policy. The villagers overturned cars and set fire to buildings in response to the cruel fines and violence against those who had more than the permitted number of children.
A student who only gave his last name, Zhou, told The Guardian, "if you cannot pay, the officials come to your home and confiscate the contents. If you refuse, then smash, smash, smash."
One woman hired to collect the fines described her job, saying, "Usually we went to a house and asked them to pay the fine. If no one answered, some men in our group used hammers to break in and take away property. If there was not enough to confiscate, they smashed the walls. Before we used to force women to have abortions but now the target seems to have changed to raising money. I hate this job, but I have no choice."
China does have a lot of mouths to feed, but the grief of millions of women who have been subject to forced abortions or men who have lost their children or who deal with the guilt of having abandoned their baby girls is incalculable. The war waged on those who dare keep more children than permitted is an added well of inhumanity.
The gross human rights violations in China are well known, but it is not the only land where population growth is frowned on. There are groups that would like the birth rates of other countries to drop, including America. Birth rates have fallen across the board in the United States with the poor economy, but certain groups still feel Americans are having too many babies. In developing countries, the birth rates are much higher.
For the most part, environmental groups have skirted the issue of population control, but the Center For Biological Diversity is not one of them. The organization states right up front that the environment would be better off if human beings were not quite as common. Its 7 Billion And Counting (7B) site states:
To do their part to slow population growth, the Center For Biological Diversity has taken up the job of handing out condoms. They are not going out and shooting people or planting destructive bacterial strains in the water supplies of major municipalities, and that's a good thing. According to its web site, the group gave out 350,000 "Endangered Species Condoms" in 2010. The group does promote universal access to birth control and greater access to family planning services, (which often include abortion).
Optimum Population Trust, aka Population Matters, is another group against population growth, and its anti-human views are stated even more strongly.
In response to a report of the United Nations Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, Population Matters Chair, Roger Martin stated, "We all know that a finite and rapidly degrading planet cannot support, let alone sustain, ever-increasing numbers of people each consuming ever larger amounts of resources - it's physically impossible… Population stabilization is clearly a necessary - though of course not sufficient - condition of any real sustainability."
"Sustainability" is a word that means, "continue to survive without using up all resources." It is a popular term among green groups worried about the spread of humanity.
The men and women of OPT believe that the world will not be able to "sustain" the current population of humans for much longer, and the organization wants to promote contraception and family planning across the world, with the hope of leveling out population growth (and eventually reversing it).
Population Does Matter:
There are several premises that the population control folks do have wrong however. The first is that fewer humans would be better for the environment. A second incorrect premise, and most significantly, is that human beings have little or no intrinsic value.
In fact, larger population growth does not equate to greater per-capita pollution. As George Monbiot pointed out in The Guardian less than three years ago, the poor people with large families in Africa are not having nearly the impact on the environment as the single rich person with a yacht burning through gas, heating his pool all year round. In September of 2009, Monbiot wrote, "Between 1980 and 2005, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world's population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra emissions. Sixty-three per cent of the world's population growth happened in places with very low emissions."
In fact, it may be the population control environmentalists have it all wrong. If they want to save the environment, perhaps they should encourage people to have large families. A single child might go through a variety of clothes and toys, might leave his food on the plate and scribble through white drawing paper with no thought about it. The child with six siblings, on the other hand, feels obliged to say, "Don't anybody eat my food while I'm gone," when he leaves the dinner table to go to the bathroom. Every sock and shoe and coat is well used by the large family. If all the white drawing paper is used by one person, that one person is getting clobbered. Children from large families are trained in resourcefulness from an early age, and it is that resourcefulness that might mean everything for the world's food supply and better management of our natural resources in the future.
Running Out of Room?
According to some quick calculations, the entire human population of Earth could fit into a space the size of Connecticut with enough room for each man, woman, and child to have more than 19 square feet of space each (and that's accounting for lakes and rivers). Of course, we couldn't live like that, but it makes a point; there's a lot of room on this planet.
Certainly we want to take good care of the land we've been given, and we have a responsibility to care for our environmental assets. While we hope the Lord will not tarry much longer, we do not know how much longer we will need to live on this particular piece of real estate in the universe. If we are draining our aquifers, we need to adjust our farming practices to waste less water. If we are turning the Amazon into a desert, we need to find creative ways to deal with the problem. If people are starving in Kenya, Zimbabwe should manage its excellent farmland better. There is no shortage of food and water on our blue planet.
The foolishness and sin of human beings is always destructive, but the existence of human beings is not the problem. We humans have great value to the God of the Universe, so much so that He sent his Son to die for us. We need to take care of this world while we're here. We need to take care of each other. But, we should never fall into the dangerous position of assuming that "sustainability" and the birth of new human life are mutually exclusive.