How many is too many?

We know that babies add more to global warming than anything else in our home. Isn’t it time to cut back? [1]

crowded street in San Telmo by Jeff C Many people don’t like talking about our ever increasing human population, more than 6 billion, and likely to be 9 billion by 2050 [2]. For some, population policies bring to mind the human rights abuses of past governments and beliefs such as eugenics. Greenhouse gas emissions from an ever growing human population will continue to exacerbate the greenhouse effect and subsequent climate change. This makes population one of the most important factors in climate change.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has a population policy in regards to Australia’s population, now over 21 million. The birth rate in Australia is less than two children per adult woman (below replacement rate), but the number of adult women is still increasing. The number of births per year exceeds the number of deaths by about 100,000 [3]. Our longevity is also a contributing factor in this situation. This means Australia’s age demographic is changing, but an older population doesn’t mean less greenhouse gas emissions. In discussing Australia’s population, ACF President Ian Lowe says,

At the present migration levels, the population will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. [3]

Curtailing immigration isn’t a solution to world population levels, and I don’t agree that this is an appropriate solution for Australia.

Nazi Germany tried genocide, China tried forcing people to only have one child, but abusing people’s human rights is never effective in lowering population. The solution to part of the problem is contraception – the easiest method being condoms. They have the added bonus of preventing the spread of STIs and HIV.

The Vatican calls them evil, sinful and intrinsically disordered. Satanic rites, perhaps? Child molesters? Actually, something far more prosaic: condoms. Equally condemned is any other artificial contraceptive – even as a means to check the spread of HIV. [4]

At present two factors stand in the way of worldwide contraceptive use – the Catholic Church and current US government policy. (Perhaps soon to change?)

Before George Bush came to power, the US was the world’s world’s biggest and most effective donor of condoms and other contraceptive devices [4]. His government instigated a policy that any NGO (Non-government organization) that promoted contraception, including condom use, would cease receiving funds from the US government. The policy promotes abstinence instead, hardly effective in a family with eight children and parents who want to have sex. In any case, a policy of abstinence is never appropriate for adults when condoms solve pregnancy and STI issues.

In developing countries where income may be hardly enough for food and shelter, condoms are a luxury item [4]. This is where NGOs and aid agencies come into the equation. Education is also necessary, such as that undertaken by Oxfam in South Africa (although the objective of their education is HIV prevention).

Back to our life of luxury in Australia, I hope more people will consider not having children. There are a lot of children who need a loving and secure foster family. Unfortunately if this did happen, it would more likely to create other problems than solve our current ones. Our longevity is more of a factor in population growth in developed countries like Australia. I don’t know of any (practical) solutions to this issue, but I often wonder how long increasing population growth can continue without something beyond our control solving the problem.


Photo credit: crowded street in San Telmo, Argentina by Jeff C on Flickr


  1. Engber, Daniel (2007) “Global Swarming” Slate, 10 September.
  2. ABC News (2008) Crops more vital than forests, says expert, 17 April.
  3. Lowe, Ian (2008) “Population and a sustainable future” Habitat Australia, vol.36, no.1, p.21.
  4. Laurance, William (2007) “Cursing condoms” New Scientist, vol.195, no.2619, p.23.

6 thoughts on “How many is too many?

  1. I wonder about how to solve this issue too. I’m not planning on having kids myself, but I think a lot of people aren’t aware how much of a problem it is. I guess education is, as always, very important!

  2. In western countries our longevity is more of a problem. Modern medicine and hygiene practices have a lot to answer for! There’s no fair way to solve longevity, except if a lot of people decide they’ll euthanaise themselves as a present for their great grand kids :) I’m not volunteering!

  3. Clare,
    This is the question I really struggle with. I have two kids and I would not want to miss them for the world…. (no pun intended). I also would always recommend other people to have kids, they are the best thing. But….. I agree with your comment about population. Increased population and increased affluence across the globe are the biggest threats to our future…. We live longer etc. One good thing is that affluent societies tend to have less kids per capita in fact this is the “negative birth rate” statistics that our former federal treasurer liked to quote.

    Being an educator, I also strongly agree with your comment about education. Not only about birth control, but also about sustainable living and ecological impact. I can’t stress ecological footprint calculators enough.

    So what do I do? I guess all I can do is live as low-impact as possible and teach my kids the same.. Hopefully if we all do this we might have time to find other sustainable solutions (I have to believe in science too).

  4. You pose big questions for all of us, Clare.

    I wish in an idealistic way for every child born to be planned for, nurtured and its needs are met simply by loving and responsible parents. I stress the word ‘simply’ as I feel industries, technologies and the profit motive target heartstrings involving pregnancy and having babies. The wants are complex and contribute to the carbon imprints. The needs can be more simply met with less impact on our environment.

    It’s my dream for all children alive today to drink clean water, live in a safe place, to eat locally grown home-cooked organic food, and to have access to health care. We can all make a difference in the simple daily choices we make. Put quality back into our living practices.

    The population isues you raise are undeniably complex. We’re all involved in our own ways. There’s a saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Learning about sustainable living practices can be started very early in life. Actively engage our children in their learning to think creatively about population and ecological issues. How they can be part of the growing solution(s)?

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