The Safina Center

Baja sunriseBaja sunrisePhoto taken by: Carl Safina

How to Make Population Growth Reverse Itself

By Carl Safina

Most people seem to think that to reverse population you’d need violence, epidemics, or forced sterilization.  Actually, you need literacy; read on.  Many other people think technology will save us.

Probably the greatest technological advance ever implemented to ease the likelihood of population-induced starvation was the Green Revolution.  Engineered to end hunger, the Green Revolution failed because most of the world allowed the increased food to grow more hungry people than ever.  China, partly because of its one-child policy, has eased more hunger, faster, than anyplace ever has.  Meanwhile, India’s population growth largely erased its food-production increases.  Now, a record 1 billion people suffer malnutrition; 10 million more each year.  A recent U.N. report titled “The State of Food Insecurity” came with a press release stating, “For millions of people, eating the minimum amount of food to live an active and healthy life is a distant dream.”

Land, water, population growth — violence.  When Rwanda’s population tripled between 1950 and the early 1990s, it became Africa’s most densely populated country.  Farmland and food — and tempers — grew short. And in the ethnic rampage that killed 800,000 in 10 days, whole families were hacked to death lest there be survivors to claim the family farm-plot.  Sudan’s Darfur genocide was also ignited by disputes over farmland, exacerbated by drought.  Sudan’s population, about 10 million in 1950, is projected to hit 70 million by 2050.  If it does, Sudan will likely fight a newly doubled 120 million Egyptians for Nile water — unless Ethiopia, having more than doubled to 80-plus million, tries diverting the 85 percent of the Nile headwaters it controls.

Poor people don’t want to stay poor.  But there’s a misconception that it’s somehow “unfair” to poor people to let them in on the main secret of wealthy, educated, and successful people: smaller families mean larger lives.

The thing that brings fer