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December 31, 2009 – Time to take your brave pill. Why? Because today it’s time to talk taboo’s. Don’t kid yourself; that’s a hard thing to do. We’ll try to approach this taboo openly and honestly (which is what I always try to do). It’s time to talk about Overpopulation.

The first question is, why talk about it? What does too many people living in the world today have to do with global warming? There are, by the way, 6.7 billion people living in the world, right now. All the forecasts I’ve read predict a global population of 9 billion by 2050. We aren’t spread across the globe evenly, of course. Some countries are very densely populated (think China, India, and some other countries in Asia - and Africa), while others could support more people (think Russia and Canada). The simple-minded approach would be to insist that, by moving people from one place to another, the imbalance could be corrected. Problems arise, however, when you tell people they must leave all that is familiar to them, and move to a very different place. Then again, while Russia is actually losing population, the Russians are a people known for their xenophobia – fear of strangers. However, even if Russians were willing to welcome other ethnic groups within their borders, there might not be many to welcome. Russia can be quite cold during much of the year, though global warming will have some effect on their weather. It is not a place that holds much appeal for non-Russians.

Let’s take it as a given, then, that people will remain where they are. Some people are fortunate enough to live in countries with huge reserves of natural resources. Other groups of people have had to learn to do a lot with very little in the way of natural resources. There comes a point, however, where even the most inventive of people reach the end of their resilience. If such a country becomes overpopulated, it is a very serious matter.

It’s serious because having too many people places a strain on the natural environment with their need for food, their need for arable land, their sewage, their need for water, and their need for shelter. If natural resources are already stretched to the limit, these needs may go unmet in a globally warmed world. When this happens, civil unrest is often the result. Malnutrition and degrading living circumstances keep human beings from achieving all that they can with their lives. If, on top of these systemic problems, economic opportunity is inequitable, or corruption is the de facto way of doing business, dissatisfaction can erupt in the form of riots, looting, even murder.

Back to global warming. Do you see the connection? If too many humans are already with-drawing too many resources from an overextended natural environment, and then water begins evaporating at a faster rate, or desert begins encroaching on over-farmed agricultural lands, the humans living in this overpopulated place cannot thrive. An already unacceptable situation becomes unlivable. If a country’s coast is flooded, not just seasonally, but forever, people who move away from the coast must find another place to live. Do you see how civil wars could erupt? Did you know that people living in very close proximity can lead to an outbreak of disease? Do the hundreds of millions of people we expect to be affected by coastal flooding all move to Canada and the United States? Could some move to Australia, which even now is hard hit with drought and wildfires caused by global warming? Do we place NATO soldiers in and around Russia – an enormous undertaking – and tell them they MUST accept immigrants?

Do you get the picture? In a world where overpopulation is already a matter of life and death, depending upon where you live, it will become a matter of death only, once global warming makes parts of the Earth unfit for human beings. Is there anything that can be done to limit this dire outcome? Not only is the answer yes, but we have known the answer for a long time. Some countries have implemented it, to good effect. Is it 100% effective? Of course not, nothing is. It makes a significant difference, and that’s what we need. What is the answer to the problem of overpopulation? Educating women.

Yes. Educating women. We know this, and have known this, for quite some time. It is the reason that the United States’ birth rate is at replacement level. It is the reason some European countries’ birth rates have fallen below replacement level. Conversely, it is the reason countries in Asia and Africa are overpopulated. Not that none of the women in these countries receive an education. However, most of the women in these countries do not receive an education, and that must change. Did you know that the World Bank has funded the building of 22,000 schools in Afghanistan, all open to girls? They know that will be where the difference lies. This needs to happen in so very many places, and it needs to happen now. Cultural barriers need to be removed, and that is a matter of educating men.

Rabbi Tarfon taught: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” Let’s do what we know needs doing. The time is now.


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