Chantal Soldini

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What can we do to improve human population control?

Besides world hunger, poverty and inequality, humanity faces another social phenoma: over-population. I recently read Dan Brown's newly published book Inferno. The book talks about over-population and (spoiler alert!) how a plague was produced to leave 1/3 of the population infertile.

It got me thinking, if we did find the technology to do this, would we do it? Should we? Then again, isn't reproduction a basic human right? Yet, this same right is making our already limited resources even more limited.

What do you think fellow TEDizens. Are we taking enough initiative as it is regarding birth control? Are campaings of contraceptive methods enough or should we have a more radical approach? There are already countries that support the idea of population control, amidst them China and India. Is this enough?

Let me know what you think.

  • Oct 28 2013: Its been well documented that as people's economic status improves, they start having less children.
    Part of the reason is women investing more in their careers and having fewer kids at a later age. Another part is parents wanting to bring to the world only as many kids as they can support to rise to the same standard of living as adults (funding 2-3 kids through higher education is within reach of your average middle class family, funding 7-8 is not). People who are better off economically are also more likely to turn less religious; make of that what you will, but in the case of faiths that have an issue with birth control and encourage marrying early, it makes a difference.

    In short, the best way to get people to make less people is by uplifting them out of poverty.

    Removing the legal barriers faced by what we call "family planning" clinics and treatments also ought to help. In addition to directly reducing population growth, they also help people get out of poverty.

    Seeing as the most major threat of overpopulation is the lack of ability to feed everyone, investing in things like better fertilizers and genetically engineered crops with higher yields may also help raising the cap before disaster. We're already incapable of sustaining the existing global population without artificial fertilizer, so we may as well go nuts, seeing as we're already dependent.

    Should those measures prove insufficient, more draconian methods may have to be considered, like limiting the number of births per woman under government mandate. I'm not particularly fond of it, but it seems preferable to a mass famine.
    • Oct 30 2013: This has certainly been "well documented". However, it is just useless information.

      Even if there was a mechanism that ensured we did not average too many children when we achieved some level of wealth, there is no reason belief that this level of wealth can be attained. The developed countries wealth that correlates with this lower fertility requires fossil fuels. Haven't we noticed that fossil fuels are not renewing? We are destroying them.

      Let's properly recognize that demographers are doing nothing more than reporting correlations. They have not found any mechanism to ensure we do not over breed. They cannot state that we will average equal or less than the real replacement rate after we achieve $x in living standards.

      Heck, they don't even have a definition for real replacement rate. I had to create the definition because the definition that demographers use, "replacement rate" is circular. It is circular because births can be causing deaths, and the definition does not attempt to factor that out.
      • Oct 31 2013: Fossil fuels aren't the problem.
        Oil is expected to last several more decades, and coal and gas centuries. Chances are we'll have technological means to replace them economically by the time it becomes an issue.

        We could honestly replace them right now in a matter of a couple of decades by ignoring our nuclear power taboos and spending a whole lot of money (or go renewable and spend even more money), but apparently no one wants to do that until its more pressing and less expensive. Fossil fuels are used because they're cheapest, not because they're irreplaceable.

        A potentially more severe limiting factor is peak phosphorus. This talk will explain it better then I ever could (as well as offer a solution to help stave it off) if you don't mind reading a translation while watching.

        The biggest problem with overpopulation is feeding everyone. Energy is secondary. You could always start consuming less electricity and fuel; cutting back on your eating to bellow healthy levels is a taller order.
        They say civilization is three meals away from anarchy, and they're right.
  • Nov 10 2013: Here's a wild idea. Polyandry. How would you like more than one husband?

    China, the nation of bachelors has reason to adopt this lifestyle.
  • Steve C

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    Nov 9 2013: Don't worry you didn't "spoil" it - I've seen that coming for a decade.
    Should we? Absolutely not. The only people who should not have kids are the people who decide that they should not have kids. People shouldn't be deciding this for other people.

    Our "limited resources" are mostly still here. Our problem is mainly wasting, & hoarding.

    "Population control" is just another phrase for "You're alive, & I don't like that."

    What causes a population to have to look for food and shoes instead of farming and trading?
    I'm reminded of a talk about the world's population being able to fit into Texas. I think the author concluded that more people = more good ideas. Also I'm reminded of a show about New Guinea; I think - the native asked, "Why don't we have much cargo?" The scientist concluded it was their poor soil that soaked-up work and gave little to be traded.

    "Buy a car (for ourselves ... not to share - and to not give our bikes and shoes to the poor)" Progress - does it really mean leaving others behind?

    "They were saving to be able to buy a pair of shoes." - Powerful!

    (If you're interested in thoughts more-pointed to his speech, I've just replied to his speech.)
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    Nov 2 2013: I always read these questions and tell myself..."don't get sucked in Glenn, there is no right answer here", but of course here I am. I guess first I would ask are we just concerned that we won't be able to sustain our current level of comfort / level of luxury or are we talking a future where we have made every effort and sacrifice to support and sustain the population by all other options? I also want to know has anyone considered this type of thinking may well lead to eliminating the elderly? What if instead of taking away the ability to reproduce, they just euthanized your grandparents? Your parents? Maybe we will all be placed on trial and a jury will deliberate on what contribution we make to society..and if they find we are not our brothers keepers we will find ourselves with an appointment with the "hangman". What is the larger moral abrasion? Taking away the potential to give birth to the next genius (who may well solve all of our problems) or eliminate the wasteful leak in the drain of our resources..who ultimately had a chance to live a little?
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    Nov 2 2013: Chantal, I liked Dan Browns book Inferno. The reason I like his writings is that I always learn something even if I disagree with the story line.

    Yeah, we have a population problem and a limited resources problem exists also. However, I am not a fan of radical approaches nor am I a fan of big government that runs your life and dictates your actions and rights to reproduction. In China this involves the eradication of children that the state mandates. Is this really what you want. To give birth and the state kills your child during the birth process by sticking a needle into its head and injecting fluid.

    I for one am not ready to lose my freedoms.

    There is a need for what you are asking ... but it should not be a decision of the government. I the USA we have people who are making money off of the birth of children. A unmarried girl with five kids gets about $800 per child, free medical, food stamps, housing allowance, and more ... as one stated she is the bread winner for the family just by having kids. I understand a birth out of wedlock ... but to make it a career is obscene. The first step would be, in my opinion, to stop the birth for profit program.

    We (USA) have spawned generational welfare and entitlement mentality. Why work when you can play the system for a good living .... at the expense of those who work. The girl with five kids and unmarried with money, goods, and services makes about $80,000 a year and has no bills or taxes. What is wrong with this picture.

    When this socialist "you owe me mentality" is erased some of this problem will go away. Let us try this non violent and less government control approach first before employing radical big government killings.

    Thanks for listening.

    I wish you well. Bob.
  • Keith W

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    Oct 31 2013: In the US you get $3,500 tax break for every child.. We need to stop giving money to people for children and possibly even tax people who have more than like 2 kids. As countries begin to Industrialiize than typically the average family size decreases.. Religion is another toxic element which deters people from contraceptives. The Catholic Church needs to stop spewing its dogma all around the world and proving once again that religion is a huge barrier separating man from a higher reason and ethic
  • Oct 30 2013: We must understand the following fundamental truths.

    1) Uncontrolled fertility kills children. (No country controls their fertility except China). Notice that this tells us that we must control it and that we do not have some right to have as many children as we want.

    2) To the best of our knowledge we are destroying the very resources that future generations will need to keep their numbers alive. We must burn fossil fuels in order to keep our current 7 billion alive, and how many children we average determines how many people we are attempting to ensure future generations have to keep alive. Again, this tells us in no uncertain terms, that we do not have the right to have as many children as we want.

    3) Averaging too many children is a worse evil than infanticide, and we have always averaged too many children.

    4) TwoFourEight is the concept of counting your children, your parent's grandchildren, and your grandparent's great grandchildren and if you exceed this you are attempting to grow our numbers. This is a murderous thing to do given that we are on a finite planet.

    5) Everyone must know this.

    These facts are simply correct, yet they are virtually unknown. For example Hans Rosling, who has provided a few population related talks on TED, is ignorant of these facts.
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    Oct 28 2013: Hi Chantal,

    I don't think "we" are in a position to control anything.
    The notion of control itself has problems ..
    I think that humans get into trouble when they assume they are qualified to control .. it quickly becomes a power-lust, and humans already have way too much power.

    Try thinking of it in terms of adaptation?
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      Oct 28 2013: Hi Mitch,
      I particularly like your point of view. You are absolutely right when you say that power can cloud our judgement, but isn't reproduction our responsibility and therefore something we already control? I also agree that overpopulation can be something we can approach as something we have to adapt to instead of keeping it under control, yet, what of the change is too fast and we can not adapt in time? We as a species might be able to adapt, but the environment around us might not.
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        Oct 28 2013: Hi Chantal,

        I think we already have the in-built mechanisms that regulate population.
        But the fear of death prevents us from responding.

        The media is now telling us that women's education is the key - and I think there's an element of truth in that.
        But our modern concept of education is flawed.
        Children are not "educated" - they learn all by themselves - the community must accommodate that learning and provide resource to assist the inquiry of the student.
        One does not educate a child, one simply allows the child to learn - the questions come . answer them.
        Ken Robinson has a lot to say about that - it's worth looking at his TED talks.

        The true reason for overpopulation is the collapse of community governance - it has been replaced by expanding mercantilism.
        So .. the answer is not control .. merchants control us now - just stop them doing that and we have our solution.

        I think that when communities reject power, they become more matriarchal - it is the woman who chooses who and when mating occurs. Patriarchal communities tend toward violence and force.
        • Oct 30 2013: Yes, we do have a mechanism that regulates the population. It is the finite nature of the planet we are on. That regulator kills children when adults average too many babies.

          Frankly, this is a disgusting regulator to use and that is the regulator that we have always used.
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          Nov 7 2013: I am chinese when i birth that time was most strictly policy control population so directly outcome cause many poor family became more poor and someone choose run away around the country.The fact convince this approach have some affect that control population but make other impact out off people thought that is the only child problem.As this problem occur
          society have more competive sence not the cooperative because thouse younger from little years old themselves learn must posses self things not know what is share and cooperative .So control population is necessary and take some measures solve occur problems at thesame time.
  • Nov 10 2013: I was originally thinking that China's "one-baby-only" rule was probably the best bet since it has shown the best results: their population has steadied radically. But then again, China's rules cannot be regulated the same way in other countries. For example, in other countries like India, this rule would have no impact on the population because the government does not and cannot keep track of everyone. Then I thought that educating women and having classes regarding family life can help somewhat. But many people (and their parents, and other family members) already have prior beliefs on having children and these kind of classes will not have an effect on them. I just came back from India and many people in rural India still have the mentality that having many children is a good thing.

    I believe the only solution is a long-term solution, one that will take at least a generation to show any results. It is simply education. No sex-education or anything like that, but sending children to school or at least give them some sort of education. The only reason I see this is because of the recent trend I've seen, especially in cities: poor people are having more kids than rich people, and that is a huge problem. And I think the difference is how they grew up.....based on their parent's education. It's all one big cycle.
  • Nov 7 2013: As citizens, we are accountable for our social, economic and natural environment. A result of over population is a strain on our social, economic and natural resources, the concept of control has been tried with limited impact. We need to move to personal accountability for our actions, reproduction and impact on our resources. This is not a technology, government policy or program issue, this is basic personal account abilities.
    Over the last three decades the world population has grown an average of 19 percent per ten year period, at the same time we have become a consumer driven extractive society. This trend is not sustainable and we cannot support this level of growth. We as individuals are accountable for our actions, we need to stop looking to others (tax payers)for solutions and resolve to conditions that we as individual s created.
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    Nov 7 2013: I am not sure if we can call it control but there are few 'easy' things we can do keep human population around 9 billion or so.
    1. Educate girl children, more particularly in underdeveloped countries.
    2. Encourage social policies like family planning.
    3. Incentivize child adaptions.
    4. Discouraging having more than one biological off spring.

    It's a math game. We can as well have a population implosion.
  • Nov 1 2013: Knowledge is a powerful tool, so I suggest educating people as to the reality of where our population is heading. Although, I still wouldn't rule out that in nature's mysterious ways... that our population will find its own balance regardless of our 'input'.

    I often share the following:
    Arithmetic, Population and Energy (Lecture)

    "by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.

    There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.

    What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims."
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    Oct 29 2013: Any control that impinges on human rights will not work, but there is a simple solution. Educate the global population!

    Too many people live and proliferate devoid of a global perspective. A powerful reproductive drive may not apply to all who read this, but for our species' success, it has been... well... rather important. Nearly all of our diverse and previously isolated cultures revere children... and many enjoy the act of making them. Some cultures just haven't gotten the memo. We are unfortunately running out of resources to fuel a technological and intellectual society, and everything would work better if we had less people. Or, we could continue our rabbitlike trend and revert back toward a more "natural" and "simple" lifestyle (and be subjected to the violent, apathetic whims of the universe).

    No, I would rather share information, and hope that my planetary companions see an obvious truth and make necessary decisions of their own free will.
  • MR T

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    Oct 29 2013: The democratic government that tells people they can't have kids won't last long. The world is getting more liberal. 'Control' won't work.
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    Oct 29 2013: Hi Chantal,

    Human Population is the Love of human being to each other. The problem started when the production of resources did not met with the demand. This brings towards the Hoarding of resources. I see the wastage's is more rather than circulating it through effective channel's. Around the world there are so many 5 stars and other category of hotel's, food wastage is more in such places. Stockist create a shortage first, then the rates are increased and they make maximum profit out of it. High Growth of population is also because of increase in lifespan.

    Younger generation is aware of the problem related to population which older generations were ignoring, today wherever we are standing is because of ignorance of older generation, but since younger generation are not ignoring this problem the population will decrease; but it will take time to show on papers.
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    Oct 29 2013: so you link a talk that explains why your first sentence is totally wrong? how does that make sense?
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    Oct 29 2013: The obvious solutions that are not autocratic or drastic (like one child per family) do not yield result in months or years and so the word we need to use and plan with is "management of populations" and not "control of population". Education and literacy and urbanization automatically reduce population growth but that only happens in many decades assuming reasonably good governance. Managing population is perhaps the only option for countries like India. One of the tools available is architecture and planning based on fiscal incentives to retain a larger family unit per home. We have a far better chance of managing a population of 1.5 billion (the inevitable number for India before growth starts to level off) if we look at whether this number constitutes 250 million families (if divided by 6) or 400 million. Current urbanization design planning by state, seems to allocate a high average of less than 400 sq ft per family. With this number we get an extra (just the extra) 150 million families will require a debatable but staggering cost to the economy. Some can argue whether it is a cost of 3 lacs per family (the per family cost is taken as cost to nation and family to create and utilize a very bare infrastructure) The zeroes that come up from 150 million extra families x rupees 300000 makes me pray that my maths is wrong as it comes up to 45000 trillion. Whatever the debatable number it is an amount that entire World does not have. I must repeat that the 150 million above is just the extra families if 350 to 400 million is what we would have if the current design plan continues. Non linear inputs like architecture and fiscal incentives to manage populations can retain larger family units for some more time and could save the nation from greater chaos. Perhaps a delayed lesser and planned chaos may just help. Control is a word that has no implement able strategy that can any result in one lifetime. Now i really hope i am wrong.
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    Oct 28 2013: Hola Chantal,
    I think we have 2 options.
    1) we can self regulate ourselves and make sure that our population stays within the earth's carrying capacity.
    2) the other option is that we let nature do what it does best. As long as resources are abundant any population will grow fast (true for plants, animals and us). The scarcer the resources become the more important becomes adaptation to a competitive environment. For example, take 1 m2 and plant 100 tree seeds in this spot. Initially many seeds will germinate and do fine, however, eventually, some will grow faster than others gaining a competitive advantage (larger root system extracting more nutrients than it's neighbors, larger canopy therefore larger area for photosynthesis, etc).
    Over time as resources become increasingly scarce, other plants will die off until at the end only the strongest and best adapted will survive and do fine.
    I think that's nature's self regulating mechanism with the additional side effect of natural selection of the best adapted individual.
    Although, if we translate that to humans, it might sound cruel, at the end it might be the best for the advancement of the human race.
    • Oct 29 2013: You try that second option in our modern human society, you end up with resource wars, not evolution. You'll get food if you live in one of the countries that won, not if you're fittest (in fact, the fittest are most likely to die in the fighting).

      If you want to advance the human race, its either through cybernetics or genetic engineering, because the natural evolutionary process is out for lunch ever since civilization first started.
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        Oct 29 2013: Resource war is not different than plants fighting for limited resources. The only difference is that humans use more sophisticated methods to fight for resources, but at the end the question is who is better adapted to a society with limited resources.
        You can use whatever amount of genetic engineering you like, but this doesn't change the fact that resources are limited, at least until somebody comes up with a method to make something out of nothing.
    • Oct 30 2013: I agree, but it might be put more bluntly.

      1) Our population is way way over what can be carried by the Earth. We do not know how to keep 7 billion humans alive without burning fossil fuels. The destruction of fossil fuels cannot be allowed in any rational definition of "carrying capacity".

      2) This "option" has always been happening. We have never controlled our fertility and thus our numbers have always attempted to rise to infinity at an exponential rate. The environment has always been stopping or limiting that attempted growth. When adults average too many children, and adults have always done this, the environment can only stop that growth by killing children.

      Notice what I just said: if we choose to average too many babies, we force the environment to kill children.
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    Oct 28 2013: Education in family planning + raising living standards in poorer countries. Meanwhile, wasting less food would be a big help.
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    Oct 28 2013: we're dust to dust.
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    Oct 28 2013: How about correcting the use of the term "love" as in having sex is called "making love" in practically ever form of media and human conversation. Yet love, the emotional experience is not tied to the sex act and more often than the sex is about personal pleasure not any kind of love. Otherwise there are an awful lot of hookers who are not getting the respect they deserve.

    If there were more people practicing "loving" as an act of personal intimacy that has little to do with sex then perhaps there would be a lot more cuddling and communicating and a lot less pregnancies.
  • Oct 28 2013: Stop subsidizing povertyby rewarding the practice of having children for the sake of perpetually receiving government funded benefits as the result of conception.
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    Oct 28 2013: Provide education to all. I think better population control in develop country in compare to developing country. The effect of education on population, you can easily see if you do comparative study of India, Africa and south Asian countries region with literacy rate.
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    Oct 28 2013: There is no single answer to this subject.....
    Some countries have high population and high growth rate...
    Some other countries have almost flat population & negative growth rate with bigger geriatric population think strategy for both should be same ?
    • Oct 30 2013: Yes, the strategy for every country must be the same. Every country must get their numbers down. Every country must ensure that we average less than 2 children until we are no longer destroying the resources we need to keep our numbers alive.

      The goal is to have a geriatric population. A geriatric population is not a problem, it is the solution.
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        Oct 31 2013: Wow "One size fits all " ....good to know your opinion.
        Whether geriatric population is a problem or solution was not point of discussion in my comment above.
  • Oct 28 2013: Apparently the Business Leaders in America didn't want ZPG and bave us some real problems Maybe as an individual you can be blindsided.
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    Oct 28 2013: .

    Just quit invalid (harmful) happiness.