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October 20, 2011

Population Seriously Scary


There are few things that scare me in this world. Ghosts? Meh. Vampires? Yawn. Zombies? Bring it. But this Halloween, something truly terrifying will take place. On October 31, the world population is expected to hit 7 billion. Seven BILLION humans will walk, crawl, and limp across this Earth — many of them doing the "Thriller" dance, actually — before the night is over.

The planet's population has nearly doubled in my own lifetime, and experts say it will reach 10 billion (for visual learners, that's one zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero) by century's end.

When you read that, does your stomach knot? Does your chest tighten as you fight the urge to panic? I had that reaction yesterday in my bathroom. In the morning, I noticed an ant on the floor and barely took notice. A few hours later, three ants were circling the sink; I was concerned. By nightfall, a swarm of black specks was scurrying across the counter. Maybe 100 of them, maybe 1,000. I didn't know where they had come from or why they were suddenly crowding my very personal space. But I freaked the flip out.

It's too many, my mind shrieked. They're after my stuff. It's kill or be crawled on .... BLECHH! I howled for the man of the house to bring a bottle of blue Windex (has to be the blue kind) and stop the madness with a few well-aimed squirts.

Global swarming, of course, can't be squelched so easily. Overpopulation is a complicated issue, pregnant with religion and ethics, culture, and law.

As a breeder who invited two more humans into the world — two more mouths, two more job applicants, two more fossil-fuel fritterers — I have a lot of nerve boohooing the surplus of our species. But I retain the right to ask this: Since overpopulation accounts for many of the planet's problems — famine, pollution, and political unrest among them — how in the people-packed world can anyone still be standing in the way of birth control?

Conservative groups this year tried to block the new rule requiring health-insurance providers to cover the cost of contraceptives for insured women. "Preventing babies from being born," argued Congressmember Steve King (R-Iowa) with a logic that defies logic, "is not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below replacement rate, we're a dying civilization."

Really? Really? Meanwhile, House Republicans — squawking that archaic, "Procreation, not promiscuity!" party line, and drawing deceitful and dangerous links between contraception and abortion — are trying yet again to end federal funding for clinics that provide birth control to low-income women.

The U.S., of course, is not a key contributor to the global population glut (especially since humanity is dying off in Iowa). The fastest growth by far is in South Asia and Africa. "Ninety-seven percent of the 2.3-billion population increase projected to occur between now and 2050 will take place in the less-developed regions," says David Bloom, economics professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Would you be surprised to learn, then, that the GOP-led House is proposing to cut U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which provides family-planning services in developing countries? Supporters of the cut say such funding supports forced abortions in China. The UN says it does no such thing. Here's what I say:

It's unconscionable to block birth-control distribution. To anyone. For any reason. It's like obstructing the distribution of food to the hungry or medicine to the sick. We are an exploding population, hungry for solutions and sick with dread.We're dizzy ants dancing to "Thriller" on the bathroom counter of the world. And the blue Windex is coming, folks. It's coming.


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