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Dr. Jeff Kane: Contra-Contraception

Dr. Jeff Kane
Columnist

A prominent source of numerous public health threats is overpopulation.

Too many people has long been an issue of concern. In 1729, Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift addressed the issue with a facetious recommendation that the starving poor of Ireland could nourish both belly and purse by eating their too-numerous children. His satire wasn’t lost on economist Thomas Malthus, who observed in his 1798 book, “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” that people multiplying faster than their food sources beg disaster.

In 1968, scientist Paul Ehrlich’s book, “The Population Bomb,” was an immediate best-seller. Ehrlich predicted that if the world’s population continued to increase, vast catastrophes would result, including starvation, poverty, illness from overcrowding, and widespread crime. In 1994 he estimated the maximum optimal number of people — that is, the Earth’s carrying capacity — to be 1½-2 billion. That number had already been long surpassed; it was the global population when I — a pre-boomer — was born. Now we are seven billion and counting.



In the 1973 film “Soylent Green,” set in the dystopic future year of — no kidding — 2022, overpopulation has hobbled the world. Water is rationed, food is scarce. Most of New York City’s 40 million residents have never seen a carrot or tomato. People subsist on a product called “soylent green,” supposedly made from sea plankton. A detective discovers, though, that its provenance is actually otherwise: (spoiler alert!) soylent green is processed from people who get scooped up in flash public raids.

Every one of us wants and deserves nutrition, clean water, shelter, and some privacy, not to mention a car, refrigerator, TV, and the other ten thousand things. And every one of us inevitably creates trash despite the joke we call “recycling, and can’t throw it away because there is no “away.” Soon — maybe even now — there won’t be enough of anything to go around except carbon dioxide. Desperation will breed increasing rage and strife. No getting around it: too many people.



The Old Testament encouraged us to “be fruitful and multiply” in a time when the world’s population wasn’t much larger than that of Rhode Island. Endlessly breeding would be okay if the world were infinite. Since it isn’t, habitable spaces are diminishing, as are arable land, fresh water, and virtually all resources. There’s no better example of the word “unsustainable.”

So if you take overpopulation seriously, you may be disturbed by the developing demand in our ongoing political circus to reduce or eliminate access to contraception. Unless we wish a distinctly miserable life on our descendants, we need to think in exactly the opposite direction.

Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City


 

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