Like all animals, humans want to be fruitful and multiply. That’s nature. Every living creature is designed to reproduce. Humans, though, have gotten particularly good at it. Too good, some would argue. Of course, there was a time when it made sense to make more people. There was plenty of everything. The world was brimming with resources to be exploited. Frontiers were there to be tamed. People considered it their divine right to exercise dominion over all the creatures of the earth. The world was humanity’s oyster and there were plenty of pearls for everyone.
Not anymore. Nowadays, the world seems to be running out of just about everything. In order to live a more and more comfortable lifestyle, people, particularly those living in developed nations, have become consumers on such a large scale that resources that once seemed inexhaustible are now disappearing. Clean water, fossil fuels, food, metals and minerals used in manufacturing, as well as countless other vital resources, are no longer infinitely abundant. And to make matters worse, alongside shrinking animal populations, there are more and more people competing for dwindling resources.
Take my country’s example, we are a country rich in natural resources but unable to attain sustainable and equitable economic growth. Income disparity and poverty are major issues, the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer and the middle class is either disappearing or end up finding work overseas to give their families a better quality of life. A tenth of our population are based overseas. Our population increases annually to an equivalent size of the population of Singapore. Despite our abundance in natural resources, I fear that even if we get our act together, it is no longer enough to effectively address existing socio-economic problems.
The solution seems simple: use less and make fewer babies. Unfortunately, the problems of overconsumption and overpopulation don’t easily lend themselves to simple solutions. The Reproductive Health Bill needs to be passed. This isn't simply about population control, at its core it is about women's rights and our reproductive health and well-being. This Bill also tackles economic issues; poverty and even the spread of STDs. People don’t want to be any less comfortable than they are accustomed to being. And they certainly don’t want to be told they shouldn’t reproduce the way nature has hard-wired them to do. Fortunately, humans are different from the other animals in one important way. Despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people are thinking creatures. They have brains that are capable of processing information in a way that allows them to modify even their most instinctive behaviours. They are adaptable. Yes, human beings can be taught - most of them, anyway.
Make no mistake, the challenge of getting people to consume less is daunting, but getting people to change their reproductive behaviour is even more difficult. There is no more basic instinct than the desire to reproduce, whether by intention or not. However, civilization is built upon it. Political and religious institutions are devoted to encouraging population growth. The family unit, the fundamental reproductive structure, was the bedrock upon which stable societies are built. Having children is considered a measure of success in life. Having more children is equated with being more successful. And, while it’s true that there was a time when that made sense, when a large family was a hedge against higher mortality rates and a way to contribute to the labor pool both on the farm and in the cities, those days are gone in all but the least developed parts of the world. Now, thanks to technology, people live longer and fewer of them are required to produce more, resulting in what would seem to be two contradictory phenomena, an aging population and high unemployment.
If ever there were a time for those in power to stand up and lead, this would seem to be it. Unfortunately, politicians and religious leaders don’t lead when it comes to reproductive behaviour.
Filipinos must, through deeds and words, take the lead. People who choose to limit the number of children they have to two or fewer must become the rule rather than the exception and they must not be afraid to speak up about why they choose to do so.
David Attenborough had it right when, in one of his speeches at the Royal Society of Arts in London, he referred to the lack of public debate about overpopulation as a central environmental issue, “I meet no one who privately disagrees that population growth is a problem. No one - except flat-earthers - can deny that the planet is finite, so why does hardly anyone say so publicly?”
One simple answer to Sir Attenborough’s query is that people, especially politicians, lack the courage to speak out when they know that they will be roundly criticized by those who cling to old ways of thinking. Nowhere is this more true than in the Philippines, where some of those opposed to limiting population growth are perfectly willing to make personal attacks part of their strategy.
Aware that ripples become waves in a world that has become one big neighbourhood, Filipinos leading mindful lives can choose to be good neighbours. They can choose to set an example and, in doing so, can be seen as credible when they explain their choices in terms of their worldview. Then, when enough people make decisions based on what is best for the whole world they must speak up and be heard about the sound reasoning behind their choices, so those in power will see which way the wind is blowing and will themselves finally begin to address the problem of overpopulation. It is time to start acting responsibly and be more mindful of the world around us. Overpopulation, it is time to step on the brakes.