SALLY MAUK: Family planning, empowering women can prevent overpopulation

2012-07-06T19:00:00Z 2012-07-06T19:04:37Z SALLY MAUK: Family planning, empowering women can prevent overpopulationBy SALLY MAUK for the Missoulian
July 06, 2012 7:00 pm  • 

Living in the wide open spaces of Montana, I rarely think about the Earth being overpopulated. Oh, maybe when I visit Glacier National Park in the summer and am standing in that long restroom line at the Logan Pass visitor center, I might briefly muse that there seem to be plenty of humans taking up precious space.

John Seager thinks about it a lot. Seager is president of the Washington, D.C.-based group Population Connection that noted scientist Paul Ehrlich co-founded in 1968 at the same time he wrote his best-selling book “The Population Bomb.” Seager says that book had the same effect on our views of population growth as Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” had on climate change.

“Ehrlich raised the alarm on population growth,” Seager said, “and people responded in large numbers to that.”

Not all of Ehrlich’s predictions of the dire consequences of overpopulation have come to pass. Seager says Ehrlich’s a scientist, not a soothsayer but the central premise is still true – that family planning should be an option available to everyone if we are all to live comfortably on this finite planet.

“In a world where 25,000 children die every day needlessly from easily preventable causes,” said Seager, “where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day; where 40 percent of the world doesn’t even have access to modern sanitation – it’s fair to say that population challenges remain a global challenge for all of us.”

The rate of population growth has declined globally since Ehrlich wrote his book back in 1968, but Seager says we’re still adding the same number of people each year – about 80 million.

“Another way to look at it is we add the equivalent of another Montana about every four days.”

To Seager, the negative consequences of this rate of population growth are obvious.

“If everyone on Earth ate the U.S. diet, there would only be enough food for 2 billion people,” said Seager. “The other 5 billion would have nothing. So there are all sorts of challenges we have both in terms of social justice, and in terms of the environment.”

The key according to Seager is not to think in terms of “population control” but rather voluntary family planning and the empowerment of women.

“When those conditions are in effect,” Seager said, “you see family size shrink not because anybody’s telling anybody what to do, but because people are making that free and voluntary choice.”

And again, the statistics are alarming. Three billion – yes, billion – people lack access to adequate food and housing and sanitation despite all our technological advances.

“In India, there are more people who have cellphones than have indoor plumbing,” said Seager.

The recent election-year debate over contraception in this country surprised Seager.

“We’re literally back to debating whether people have the right to access birth control,” Seager said. “And frankly it’s one of the issues that’s making it difficult for the United States to play the kind of leadership role that I know this administration would like to play because they’re fighting literally a rearguard action against people that want to drag us back into an increasingly distant past.”

Nearly all women – more than 98 percent – who are sexually active in the United States have used some form of modern birth control, so Seager sees a huge disconnect between the debate and the reality.

“The key to the health of any society anywhere of any size rests in the productivity of its citizens,” said Seager. “You have a more productive society by having better education, better health care, better workplace flexibility … and none of those things is made easier by reversing the decision of people to have smaller families. When you do have smaller families, simple math shows you have more resources to invest in each child.”

World Population Day is July 11, and Seager hopes it’s a reminder of a still relevant message.

“There really is no better way to improve the planet than by ensuring that every woman and every couple have the ability to really plan and space the number of their children.”

Sally Mauk is news director at Montana Public Radio, KUFM, in Missoula. She writes a twice-monthly column for the Missoulian.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(19) Comments

  1. Bones
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    Bones - July 10, 2012 7:03 am
    Any good role models in your life? Someone who showed you it was possible?

    When you say highest rates, are you talking like...10%? 50, or 90%? If the middle-class has an 8% rate and the poor class has 10%, you're not really establishing cause.
  2. GaryTinkSanders
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    GaryTinkSanders - July 09, 2012 10:53 pm
    Bones for the most part the economic class that you speak of tend to have the highest rates of alcoholism, drug use both legal and illegal, if you don't have money for your bills you don't have money for vices, I lived below the poverty line for many years, I worked hard, I have no college education, I have 3 children, I married one time and I am proud to say I am still married to my beautiful wife, I have made it to where I am by many years of working my fingers to the bone, I made choices to forgo vices in an attempt to get ahead so I do say it is by choice where you position your self in life.
  3. Bones
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    Bones - July 09, 2012 7:16 am
    Yay for the correlation argument.

    Let's say you're bedding down for the night, and you use a light blanket. Despite having increased the level of blanket, you're getting colder. Why? Oh, the room is getting colder as part of the natural cycle, but you know you'd be even colder without the blanket.

    Conversely, same premise, but you're getting hotter. The level of blanket hasn't changed since putting it on, but you know you'd have been able to cool off, or become less hot, if you had removed the blanket.

    People who use the CO2/global temperature argument would argue that the blank has nothing to do with the person's temperature as the room's temperature changed. Clearly that is misguided.

    Maybe this helps clarify the silliness of only looking at one factor in a complex system.
  4. Bones
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    Bones - July 09, 2012 7:08 am
    And to support your ideology, we must allow them to get pregnant and create blameless victims out of their children. How many states have A+ effort and resources to care for children with bad parents?

    Prevent people who can't be good parents from having children in the first place. It's cheaper, more effective, and less harmful. often do women ending up buying condoms to be safe?
  5. PelosiGalore
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    PelosiGalore - July 08, 2012 11:55 pm
    OK Tanner, Since you are the expert, perhaps you could explain why global average temperatures went down for several years, while at the same time man made Co2 was increasing. According to the climate fear mongers that is simply not possible.
  6. PelosiGalore
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    PelosiGalore - July 08, 2012 11:44 pm
    You think women might be better than men? I gueess you are a bigot then. I only respect feminsts that want equal treatment, not ones that want equal privilages only. Let me know when Sandra Fluke demands that condoms for men are paid for. These give men control over their own reproductive futures, rather than having to depend on a woman. They also reduce STDs and the attnendant healh care costs. Oral contraception does the opposite. Also, let me know when a women's group pushes to require all women to register for the draft like men do. Lastly, what do you mean by, women being "not burdened by children they can't afford?" If a woman is not smart enough to figure out how to keep from having children they don't want, then they are certainly not smart enough to raise them, and should have them taken away.
  7. Bones
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    Bones - July 08, 2012 6:48 pm
    There would be some merit to your argument in an ideal setting, but unfortunately not every individual exists in one.

    The idea of personal responsibility resonates well with people that live above the poverty line and with a basic education. Individuals in this category are familiar with self-determination as a result of education and probably better access to role models to teach personal responsibility as a virtue.

    There is a positive correlation with poverty and birth rates (not caused by the child tax credit, as opponents like to claim). There is a negative correlation between education and unwanted pregnancies. Finally, there is a positive correlation between unwanted pregnancies and crime rates.

    Personal responsibility is certainly a virtue, but we have ask whether educating and providing birth control the the impoverished increases the level of well-being in our society as a whole.

    Also -there will always be poverty in a market economy, so the common refrain of "get an education and get a job" isn't sufficient.
  8. GaryTinkSanders
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    GaryTinkSanders - July 08, 2012 3:30 pm
    Tanner what are you talking about easier access, you get a prescription from a doctor or you go to the drug store and buy condoms, what you are talking about is making other people pay for your contraception. If you are going to participate in adult acts then you need to take adult responsibilities and pay for your own contraception. Being an adult means you have to bear your own burden not pass it on to others. Other countries are different so unless you want to force feed freedom to every country in the world you nor I have any control over what happens there and responsibility is up to those people and their own governments.
  9. Tanner
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    Tanner - July 08, 2012 10:02 am
    Asking for easier access to birth control doesn't make you any less "personally responsible". I'd argue it's the other way around, you're being more responsible by trying to make access easier. It's the religious nutjobs blocking this access(for no good justifiable reason) who are being irresponsible.
  10. Tanner
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    Tanner - July 08, 2012 9:58 am
    What's wrong with birth control? You want to force women to have babies and not have sex?
  11. Tanner
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    Tanner - July 08, 2012 9:56 am
    "Al Gore's book contained numerous errors, and Ehrlich's prognostications were way off."

    -First of all the facts about climate change and human caused global warming have to do with data collected from scientists, not Al Gore. And as you're not a climate scientist, or any scientist for that matter, I'd like you to provide the evidence that goes against what the large majority of climate scientists have to say about the matter. What are you going to do? Provide some BS source to a skeptic website who's assertions that claim to debunk scientific facts are easily explained and shown to be without merit by actual scientists?

    "The notion of global warming caused by carbon dioxide has been proven wrong..."

    -Are you really this ignorant? Show me one scientific peer reviewed paper that "proves" carbon dioxide doesn't cause the greenhouse effect to trap heat in our atmosphere? "Ah! Here's a non-scientific skeptic website that says so! I'm totally not a moron! Please take me seriously!"....

    " - and the ClimateGate scandal revealed the fraud and corruption rampant in the alarmist group"

    -Which was investigated by like 5 or 6 different committees and none of them any wrong-doing or data manipulation by the scientists......just spewing out more skeptic talking points that have been dismissed.

    "The Earth has been cooling and warming for millions of years without any help from people."

    -True. And any climate scientist would agree with you. They would also say that the current trend includes humans greatly contributing to it. The fact that you don't know this or realize this demonstrates your lack of scientific literacy and knowledge, as well as your ignorance to the subject. Had you read some real scientific literature on climate change, not just the skeptic websites, you would be better informed and wouldn't make such stupid comments. The fact that past climate fluctuations were only due to natural phenomena, doesn't mean that the current one is......I can't decide if this is due to an argument from ignorance, or if it's a a fallacy of single cause fallacy, or maybe an association fallacy? Maybe a combination of all three.

    "Too bad the Missoulian features clueless leftist propagandists like Mauk, and refuses to publish the truth."

    -The "truth"? LOL Yeah like what? You want the Missoulian to publish BS information form your hero's at the climate change denier websites? No, the paper should publish information given by scientists who study the field. Over 90 percent of all climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and that humans are a major factor in it, along with some other natural causes. I really hope the paper keeps asking what these people have to say, not what your heroes over at the skeptic websites have to say.
  12. GaryTinkSanders
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    GaryTinkSanders - July 08, 2012 12:03 am
    Well we know a few thing about the author, she is not Muslim and couldn't support it because that religion is all about keeping the women oppressed and subservient. She is misguided in her thinking because she and every other fertile woman in this country has access to birth control, it's just not free access. When did the insurance companies and the government become responsible for our sexual habits and family planning, if you are smart enough to plan a family you should be smart enough to figure out what causes the problem and adjust accordingly. It seems more and more the people are demanding a Nanny State, they do not want to take responsibility for themselves, they want to be the children of the government and have the most inefficient model in the U.S. manage their lives. The fix is to take a little personal responsibility for yourselves. Out of country is a little different and as we spread our form of freedom around the world the women of these oppressive countries could be educated better but you need to make a choice, do you want the U.S. spreading freedoms around the world to better the people or do you want to "defund" our freedom machine and leave it suspended. In order to have the literate societies that you speak of, democracy would have to be more prevalent. It is 6 in one hand and half a dozen in the other. Freedom comes with a price.
  13. startingover
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    startingover - July 07, 2012 6:05 pm
    Birth control and education about family planning are excellent concepts, though hard to put into practice. Especially in developing countries, where women have no say about their future. We live in the most prosperous, and socially free country on earth, and constantly seek to impose our morals on others, without realizing that our concepts seem as ridiculous and foreign to them as theirs are to us. It would be nice though if everyone could be socially responsible and limit the number of offspring they have to two, one to replace each parent after they pass on.
  14. Kahlotus
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    Kahlotus - July 07, 2012 4:43 pm
    Let's get rid of the child tax credit once and for all. There's absolutely no reason why we should have to subsidize people having more children when we've got 300,000,000 people in this country already. If you can't afford to raise more children then don't have them.
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - July 07, 2012 2:59 pm
    "And again, the statistics are alarming. Three billion – yes, billion – people lack access to adequate food and housing and sanitation despite all our technological advances.

    “In India, there are more people who have cellphones than have indoor plumbing,” said Seager."

    Um...seems to me the problem lies more in the priorities of society and government. People care more for their fraggin smartphones and I-Pads then they do for the welfare their fellow citizens. How about easing these ridiculous eco-nazzi restrictions on industry and getting people back to work here and abroad, maybe then they'll be able to purchase their own food and in doing so help boost the economy world wide. This is just another bleeding heart liberal attempt to clear the field for legislation of birth control. Van Jones, anybody?
  16. Bones
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    Bones - July 07, 2012 12:56 pm
    Of course, Roger misses the overriding point of the article to make more claims about climate science which, based on his previous arguments, he believes false without really understanding. You are not qualified to make your claims, Roger.

    What's more impressive is that you dismiss her as a leftist propagandist even as she argues in favor of preventing overpopulation, a position you have in the past claimed is more pressing than climate change.
  17. Hypatia
    Report Abuse
    Hypatia - July 07, 2012 10:25 am
    It’s funny how defensive men get when all we’re asking is to educate women and to help them plan their families to fit their economic status.

    What can people like Walter and Roger be so afraid of? Competition? I think they’re afraid that women, if given an equality of pay and not burdened by children they can’t afford, might be better than them.

    Already, there are women like Sally Mauk proving that they are intellectually inferior. Way to go, Sally!
  18. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - July 07, 2012 7:30 am
    Al Gore's book contained numerous errors, and Ehrlich's prognostications were way off. The notion of global warming caused by carbon dioxide has been proven wrong - and the ClimateGate scandal revealed the fraud and corruption rampant in the alarmist group. The Earth has been cooling and warming for millions of years without any help from people.

    Too bad the Missoulian features clueless leftist propagandists like Mauk, and refuses to publish the truth.
  19. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - July 07, 2012 5:55 am
    Yes, there is an over population on Earth. But what we have in this country is far too many so-called, single mothers. All these women in this nation today, that have children and have not married or married a bum and are now divorced. This town alone is crowded with them. They are miserable in their private lives and our society pays and pays. It is part of our insanity in today's cultural frame.
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