Can Obama's family-planning policies help the economy?
Population soars toward 9 billion in 2050. Changes may slow that growth.
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Five former directors of the US Agency for International Development earlier this month advocated raising American contributions to foreign family-planning and reproductive-health institutions to $1.2 billion.Skip to next paragraph
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Obama himself last July signed a letter with a dozen other senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, calling for raising US family-planning foreign aid to $1 billion.
But the UNFPA estimates that some 200 million women worldwide would like to delay or prevent pregnancy, but are not using effective contraception. They cannot afford it or are not knowledgeable about it. Universal access to family planning could save the lives of 175,000 women each year and prevent the deaths of 1.8 million children under age 5, the organization maintains. It would also dramatically reduce the number of abortions.
John Feeney, an environmental writer, charges that many well-known environmental groups are reluctant to talk about world population growth for fear of offending members and donors concerned about the abortion issue or even opposed to contraceptive measures.
So Mr. Feeney has organized a "Global Population Speak Out" in February to weaken "a decades-long taboo against open discussion of population issues." About 150 scientists, environmentalists, and others, some prominent, have promised to deal with the issue in talks, articles, lectures, interviews, and conferences during that month.
Paxson is one of the 150. In a telephone interview, he notes that already a billion people live in abject poverty on $1 a day or less. That 1 billion was the population of the world in the 1800s, he says.
The world faces incredible over-consumption and depletion of resources, he says. Paxson hopes that with widespread birth control the world could, over 150 years, reach not just a stable population, but a subreplacement rate of births that would bring the population down to maybe 5 billion. That would still be more than the level the Earth's resources can manage in the long term, he maintains.
"If Obama wants to go down in history as a great president, he should help bring people to an awareness of this population problem," Paxson says.
If population growth is not restrained humanely, by birth control, "it will happen inhumanely," he warns. Crowding will lead to wars, disease, starvation, and other catastrophes that will shrink the population drastically. Population growth is one factor behind the troubles in Darfur, the Congo, Gaza, and even Pakistan.
Population growth, Paxson says, is "the No. 1 issue of our time on the planet."