Population Projections: No Numbers Game

The article "Global Crowd Control Starts to Take Effect" (Oct. 22) presents a distorted view of world population by consistently referring to the low-variant United Nations projection (7.7 billion people in 2024) and overlooking the more commonly accepted "medium variant" (8.9 billion in 2040). It omits entirely the "high variant" (10.1 billion in 2040) and the "constant fertility" scenario (more than 16 billion in 2040).

While the debate between "cornucopiasts" and "cassandras" rages, the facts remain: World per capita grain availability has declined steadily since the early 1980s; world carryover grain stocks remain at historically low levels; nearly one-fifth of the earth's surface has been degraded by human activities; and world per capita water availability has declined by roughly one-third since 1970.

Perhaps most ominous is the growing disparity between rich and poor, both within and between nations. It is unrealistic to assume that fertility rates will fall so long as poverty forces parents to view children as economic assets, using them as security for their old age, to help raise food, etc.

This combination of structural and population-induced resource scarcity results in environmental destruction, internal and international migration, and ethnic, civil, and transboundary conflict. Unless we actively promote corrective measures - access to reproductive health care, education, social and gender justice, and sustainable economic practices - these negative impacts appear likely to intensify.

John Goekler Lopez

Island, Wash.

Executive director,

Facing the Future: People and the Planet

The Monitor's articles on the current slowdown in population growth are welcome, but a few clarifications are in order in response to the sidebar "An Erosion of the Ties That Bind" (Oct. 22). Nicholas Eberstadt misconstrues the lowest of the United Nations' population projections to support fearful speculation that world population might begin shrinking 40 years hence, from population levels that are much higher than today's. He doesn't mention that the UN's two other scenarios - the medium and high variants - are considered equally plausible.

In recent years, the low projection has included an assumption of fertility rates stabilizing at levels below what demographers call "replacement fertility," or roughly 2 children per woman. Some countries have had below-replacement fertility for some time, a result of a widespread desire for small families and access to family planning services. But the statistical assumptions that underlie population projections don't constitute a prediction that any specific fertility rate will either become universal or endure for any specific period of time. That depends on peoples' reproductive intentions - and on the commitment of governments and others to make the necessary family planning services available.

Nicholas Eberstadt's concerns about children without siblings or cousins are likewise overblown. Even low-fertility countries have a diversity of family sizes. There will never be "a world with no sisters, no brothers ."

Robert Engleman


Director, Population and Environment Program,

Population Action International

Thriftiness is a virtue.

The editorial "Forgive How Much Debt?" (Oct. 21) ignores one crucial factor in the question of bankruptcy and forgiving debt: Consumers, bank customers, and taxpayers - not the banks and the government - ultimately are the ones who shoulder the cost of your concern that we "be fair to bankrupts." As long as banks and the government have customers and taxpayers who will tolerate and pay for their loose credit card and student loan practices, they will not change their ways. And as long as the unthrifty can take advantage of easy credit and bankruptcy, they will not change their ways.

Randall D. Miller

Rexburg, Idaho

Your letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published: Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com

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