If you haven’t read the five-part series, “Beyond 7 Billion,” that ran recently in the L.A. Times, I’d encourage you to do it now.
The newspaper’s staff writer, Kenneth R. Weiss, along with photographer Rick Loomis, traveled to Afghanistan, China, India, Kenya, the Philippines, Uganda and other countries in Africa and Asia for a first-hand look at why population is still growing rapidly in some places and what the repercussions are from that growth. Weiss does an excellent job of telling the broad population story through the lives of families and their very real and daily challenges.
The series is provocative, compelling, fascinating and shocking reporting that’s backed up by lots of stats and charts, plus still and video images. The first article, “The Biggest Generation: Fertility rates fall, but global population explosion goes on,” leads off with the story of a couple in India who married at the ages of 10 and 11. (Yes, 10 and 11!) The union soon produces a child, followed by another. But what’s surprising in this young couple’s story is that the husband rebels against strong family and cultural traditions and stops at two children. “We cannot afford it,” he says.
How population growth has been absent in public discourse is discussed, along with the often limited access to contraception in areas where it’s most needed and the bitter battles over family planning in the United States. The articles cover “covert contraception,” camel caravans that deliver medical supplies (since camels are common in Kenya, men are more likely to trust the health counselors that come on them) and the population youth bulge that, combined with lack of economic opportunities, helps fuel civil strife.
As well, it addresses the persistence of hunger and starvation, the limits of the Green Revolution, the impacts of China’s one-child policy, how Earth has been most altered through intense population growth and how public policy can dramatically influence population growth, among many other topics all tied to growth.
There are more than enough cautionary tales in this series to silence even the overpopulation deniers – you’d think – but the deniers persist, as seen in some of the reader comments in response to the articles. That said, the important takeaway for me is that the Times committed the resources to this most important issue facing humanity and, by doing so, is helping to get overpopulation back in mainstream discussion.
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