"During the lifetime of children now alive,” warns this distinguished ex-diplomat, “it will almost certainly be necessary to choose between preventing conception and committing murder”
HUGH L. KEENLEYSIDE
THE POLITICAL AND RACIAL conflicts that today hold our headlines are far less likely to destroy our civilization than the simple fact that a peasant woman in India or Africa or South America has 12 children—and that 10 of them will live.
Indeed, unless strict measures are quickly implemented to control the population spiral before it outstrips our resources, we may be faced with
alternatives far less palatable than corner-pharmacy contraceptives or even sterilization. We might be faced with a nuclear Armageddon for no other reason than rapidly increasing numbers of people have empty bellies, and no space for privacy.
Of all the human beings who have ever lived, nearly five percent are alive today.
At the time of Christ there were about 250 million persons in the world. In 1,600 years this number had grown to about 500 million. This doubled again in a little over 200 years: that is, by about the time that Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Today the population of the world is well over three billion, and if the present rate of increase continues it will be approaching seven billion before the end of this century.
Obviously, this cannot continue indefinitely. The space available on earth is limited, fixed. World population is now growing at over two percent per annum. This doesn’t sound very impressive. But if only one couple had been on earth when Christ was born and their numbers had increased at a rate of two percent annually since that time, the number presently on earth would / continued overleaf
Disaster ahead — but who’s listening?
be something like 143 million billion ( 143,000,000,000,000,000) persons.
This would work out at about 1,025 persons to each square foot of land on our planet. No matter how congenial the inhabitants, this would not be a desirable arrangement. It would be carrying togetherness too far.
Not only is the world’s population increasing today at a phenomenal tempo, but the rate of increase is also sharply rising. Every time the matter is studied the figures show a new upward surge. United Nations experts estimated the world population growth at 1.7 percent in 1961, at 1.8 percent in 1962, at 2 percent in 1963 and at 2.1 percent in 1964. If increases on this scale should continue the population of the world would be over 15 billion by the end of the century, with the annual increase then running at an incredible 6.5 percent.
Even if by the year 2000 the population has only increased to six billion and the rate of increase thereafter is held at three percent, there would be 1 15 billion people in the year 2100; which is absurd! If things go on as they are now, the maximum world population that can conceivably be tolerated will be reached long before the year 2100. Children of persons now alive will still be here when an unbearable climax has been reached.
Professor Harrison Brown, who has studied this problem as carefully as any scientist in the world, has said that the current growth of population “works against practically all the longrange goals which men and women the world over share ... Of all the problems which confront our unhappy world it is by all odds the most urgent and the most critical. Yet, ironically it is the problem which is receiving the least attention.”
Those who have any knowledge of the efforts that are being made to raise the standards of living in underdeveloped countries now realize that their efforts are being almost completely frustrated by the growth of population in the countries most in need of help. No real progress can be expected unless this insane spawning of human beings is stopped.
Will natural law save us?
The appalling situation that will develop within 100 years — unless something is done — will not. of course, be allowed to happen. At some point before such an unendurable condition has been reached, a major change in the situation will certainly have occurred. That change will have to come in one, or in a combination of some, of nine ways. Summarized these are:
I. Some natural law, which has not yet heen discovered, will bring into operation an automatic check on the rate of population growth.
It is possible that this will happen but there is no present indication of such a convenient solution to the problem.
II past experience can be accepted as a guide to the future, it is probably true that increased production of food, industrialization, and the introduction of various types of social reform, in-
cluding a widespread postponement of the age of marriage, can be expected to bring about a decline in the birthrate without requiring any conscious decision on the part of the persons concerned. But this is a slow process and it offers little hope of the radical and rapid change that is required by the present situation if the ominous threat to the future of mankind is to be averted.
Or a world catastrophe?
2. A single universal catastrophe or a series of major calamities may drastically reduce the current population.
Some new and widespread pestilence might wipe out most of the human species, or an uncheckable series of universal famines might temporarily rescue the world by decimating an adequate percentage of mankind. In spite of the many ways in which even with our present knowledge the production of food could be quickly expanded, the possibility of widespread starvation within the present generation cannot be disregarded. On September 1, 1964, Dr. Raymond Ewell. Vice-President for Research of the State University of New York at Buffalo, said that “the most colossal catastrophe in history” in which “hundreds of millions or even billions of human beings” will perish can be expected in the 1970s unless the rich industrialized countries act immediately to give millions of tons of fertilizers to poverty-stricken areas of the world. The deadline beyond which even such gifts will be ineffective is only a few years away. And Dr. Robert C. Cook, editor of the Bulletin of the Population Reference Bureau, pointed out in November 1964 that the government of India had estimated that by 1966 India’s food-grain production will fall short of the country’s needs by 28 million tons a year, and that “no conceivable program of imports or rationing can meet a crisis of this magnitude.” Right now, India is begging for food to meet the spread of famine, and the prospects for later this year are truly appalling.
In the light of recent developments it would seem to be rather more than probable that the invention of nuclear weapons and the refinement of chemical and biological techniques of warfare will prove to be nature’s insane scheme to provide for periodic reductions of population. If such weapons ever are used in all-out war, however, the result may well be the complete extermination of the human race.
3. A continuous state of conventional war, if waged on a sufficiently sanguinary style, might result in a stabilized population.
Except in limited areas and for comparatively brief periods, warfare has never exercised a major influence on population growth. This might, however, be changed and conflicts could be arranged in such a way as to result in more or less continuous and heavy casualties but without resort to methods of mass destruction. The closely related practice of genocide might be an effective supplement. After all. Hitler’s Germany exterminated some
If it’s too crowded here, will we ship out to other planets?
six million Jews in about four years. A periodic selection of certain “racial,” religious, geographic or perhaps occupational groups for extermination would be one way of meeting the problem. There might, of course, be some difference of opinion as to which groups to choose for elimination!
4. It is possible that the increasing use of radioactive substances will effectively interfere with the reproductive capacity of human beings.
In the last few years there have been many warnings that even working or iesiding in the vicinity of atomic reactors may adversely affect the sexual capability of the men and women concerned. If these dangers significantly increase in the years ahead they may destroy or radically diminish the deáre for sexual intercourse or the ability of human beings to produce children. There is already some evidence to indicate that this is happening in certain limited areas.
5. Some wholesale system of abortion or some scheme for the deliberate killing of persons after birth may have to be introduced.
Apart from the various methods of birth control, abortion, of course, is the commonest practice in use today in the effort to avoid the arrival of unwanted babies. In many countries it is legal; in some, such as Japan, it is encouraged. The number of abortions on this continent is estimated at anything up to one million a year.
Or perhaps a variation of the Spartan custom of infanticide by the exposure of babies might be adopted. It would be particularly effective if girl babies could be dealt with in this way. Something like Hitler’s scheme for eliminating mental and physical “defectives” and members of “subhuman” racial groups could also be tried. Here again there would be differences of opinion as to who should be chosen for extermination.
Sterilization the answer?
6. A widely accepted or, if necessary, a rigorously enforced policy of sterilization might offer a somewhat less drastic method of controlling the number of births.
This has already been started on a voluntary basis in Japan, where it is estimated that something more than 100,000 persons are sterilized annually, and it is being practised on a growing scale in India, where the government now pays a sum equivalent to $21 to anyone who submits to this treatment. An additional payment of $1.05 is made to anyone who brings along another consenting candidate for the operation. Fortunately, the sterilization technique is now highly refined, the brief operation causes a minimum of discomfort, and sexual satisfaction is not reduced.
7. A technique may be developed that will permit the transfer of human beings to some other planet in space.
If this could be started not later than about the year 2000 and could be so organized as to remove something like half a million people a day, it might enable the world population to be stabilized at somewhere around
six billion. This would involve the departure of about 3,500 of the largest aircraft every day with persons who would be leaving the earth for permanent residence elsewhere in the Universe. But as presently foreseen, the development of such a scheme on a voluntary basis is improbable!
8. Alternatively, beings or sub-
stances from outer space might reach the earth and either intentionally or inadvertently destroy all human life.
It is inconceivable
It is not altogether inconceivable that if human beings should land on the moon or on one of the more accessible planets they might bring back with them organic or inorganic substances that would make life on earth
impossible. This would be, on a larger and harsher scale, more or less what already happens on earth when exotic diseases are introduced into communities where they have hitherto been infrequent or unknown. The rapid flaring up among the northern Eskimos of such diseases as the common cold and influenza in the wake of the annual visits of the Canadian supply vessels is a minor example of how such an event might occur.
continued on page 24F
Question for birth-control opponents: what alternative?
9. The immediate and wholesale adoption of a conscious, deliberate policy of birth control offers the only intelligent and humane method of achieving the objective of a world population adjusted to the resources of this planet.
Whether this can he designed and brought into effective use in the time
left for action is becoming every day more doubtful. Lord Brain, the distinguished British physician, in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in August 1964, urged the immediate establishment of a United Nations-sponsored organization to develop controls over the world’s popu-
lation. But the implementation of any such proposal is, for the present at least, politically impracticable. Nevertheless, in some way, if catastrophe is to be avoided, means must be found to carry into effect a program that will result in the discovery or invention of new, inexpensive and generally acceptable techniques for the avoid-
ance of conception, and the education of thousands of millions of people in their use.
Fortunately, there is growing evidence to support the belief that doctrines are changing in the higher ranks of the internationally most influential of birth control’s ecclesiastical opponents.
On June 23, 1964, Pope Paul VI in addressing a group of cardinals made it clear that his church could no longer disregard the practical issues raised by the population problem. The question of birth control, he said, “is being subjected to study, as wide and profound as possible, as grave and honest as it must be on a subject of such importance.”
While it is true that the policy of the Roman Catholic Church is changing and that further changes can be anticipated, it should not be thought that the modifications already introduced — the acceptance of the rhythm method of contraception, for example — are in themselves of any real value. The people who most need help are as unlikely to make effective use of these complicated and unreliable methods as they are to practise the abstinence and self-control that the churches have fruitlessly advocated in the past.
Those who still oppose the development of some practical means of preventing conception while permitting sexual intercourse must be prepared to answer the simple question, What alternative will prevent catastrophe? Human nature being what it is, it must be accepted that moral, ethical or philosophical preaching will not solve the problem. If the opponents of birth control insist on maintaining their opposition, they must either find and popularize some other solution, or accept the fact that one or more of the alternatives outlined above will have to be adopted. During the lifetime of children now alive it will almost certainly be necessary to choose between preventing conception and committing murder.
In a completely practical world it might be argued that there is a I Oth way of solving the problem. But in contemporary society it would probably take too long to persuade a significant number of people to accept the “modest proposal” of Dean Swift that babies — especially babies of poor people — should be fattened and eaten!
Excerpted from International Aid: A Summary, by Hugh L. Keeideyside, to be published this fall by McClelland & Stewart.
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