October 21, 2006

Another "Huh?"

Justin Katz

From Froma Harrop:

Another reason for the silence [about addressing population growth] is that population has gotten mixed up in the abortion issue. Some abortion foes insist that that Roe v. Wade has produced a sharp population decline. Of course, there isn't a population decline. Population is surging, and even native-born Americans are replacing themselves. The United States is not Europe, where birth rates have fallen to troubling levels (and where, incidentally, the rates of abortion are far lower).

Huh? I've read pretty broadly on abortion, and I don't believe that I've ever come across an abortion foe who made such a point. Does Harrop's "'population' folder" date back to the '70s or something?

I agree with her that "the thorny immigration debate" accounts for some of the reluctance to discuss population growth. I'd say there's also an amply justified reluctance to start putting solutions such as one-child policies on the table. (I've always wondered, by the way, at Western feminists' lack of right-to-choose ire at forced abortions in China.)

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"If trends continue, California will grow by 13 million people from 2000 to 2030 -- which is like having everyone in Illinois move there. Many Californians are escaping the congestion by moving to Colorado, Utah, Arizona and other Western states that don't have much water."

Umm. Doesn't the second part of her though betray the first part? Either CA is going to reach 13 million people (13 million?! In a whole state!? Hell, there's twice that many people in NYC!! But I digress...) or everyone is moving out of the state to avoid the conjestion. You can't have it both ways.

It's like saying "Nobody shops at the mall during Christmas time anymore. It's just too crowded."

*Note to editor. I got this warning: Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content:

The 'questionable content' was the 'all' in mall next to the word 'at' which I had to change to 'during'. I understand the need to fight spam, but do we have to go to this silly extent?

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2006 8:02 AM

A mild correction: the column says the CA population will "grow by" that number of people, not "reach" it.

On spam: as I've explained, the software doesn't differentiate between a period and a space, so whereas the text combination with a space may be silly, with a period, it was not, and we weren't aware of this limitation until recently.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 21, 2006 8:08 AM

As a math teacher who often has to explain exponential growth, I appreciate Froma Harrop's explanation of the perils of population growth, even though it makes both conservatives and liberals uneasy. The US population has more than doubled since I was born, and it is growing at a rate that will double again in about 70 years unless something changes. We have already seen the warning signs with 300 million people: loss of open space, ugliness spreading, congestion, depletion of some resources that make us more dependent on foreign sources, and more. What will things be like if the US reaches 600 million, well within the lifetime of those born now? Wishful thinking will not make the mathematics go away. It is clearly in our self interest to slow the growth of human population, and we can do this now without coercion just by making family planning available to all the world's couples who seek this but do not have the information or resources to use it.

Posted by: Barry at October 21, 2006 1:46 PM

"We have already seen the warning signs with 300 million people: loss of open space..."

Said like someone who only has flown over the middle of the country. There's no shortage of open space in this country. Not even close. It's just that we're all stupidly congregated where our forefather's settled.

Posted by: Greg at October 21, 2006 3:51 PM


Tipping my hand on some subject material for upcoming posts, one thing that troubles me about Froma Harrop's position is that she combines a call to reduce the U.S. population with (in other places) opposition to reforming intergenerational transfer-of-wealth social welfare policies that assume that the costs of paying for each oldster will be spread out over many young'uns.

If you support a "population policy" that calls to reduce the total number of Americans, at the same time you are demand that the basic form of social security not be changed (i.e. no individual accounts), then you are forcing a bigger burden on future generations than increasing the deficit through direct spending does.

Posted by: Andrew at October 21, 2006 7:21 PM

Yeah, put this into the mathematical formula Barry... according to a National Geographic magazine article about 5 years ago, the whole population of the world would fit into the state of Texas. I don't know how much personal space that would allow, but I do know this... If every single person on the face of the earth were given their own personal acre of land, 80% of the world would still be vacant.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 21, 2006 8:34 PM

Ok kiddies,

time for the science lesson again.

Let's start with smmtheory's theorem: it's close, but as usual, doesn't tell the whole story.

In short, without boring you with the formula (isn't there a passage in the Bible to tell you this?), there are approximately 197,000,000 square miles of planet. 70% of said planet is covered by water, leaving 59,100,000 square miles. 5 million of these miles belong to Antartica leaving 54,100,000.

There are 640 sqaure acres in a square mile. Therefore, there are approximately 34.624 billion acres on the planet. (It should be noted that desserts and mountains and jungles have not been subtracted.)

34.624 billion acres divided by 6.5 billion people gives us 5.3 acres per person. What's the big deal you ask?

Go back and do the same calculation for the year 1900. In 106 years, we have lost 25 acres per person. Given that the population can double once every 120 years or so, by 2400 AD (I know, you fringe right Christian Conservatives are sure we aren't getting there) provided whomever is leading North Korea does not have a temper tantrum along the way, there will be less than 1 acre per person. In a lot of cases, those acres won't be usuable.

For the record, I have no idea what point Ms. Harrop is attempting to make. Whatever it is supposed to be, it sounds rather odd.

Lastly Justin, choice is choice. The choice to carry a baby to term is just as important and should be supported to exactly the same level as the choice to terminate a non-viable fetus.

We are not served well when folks on either side of the issue start talking about population numbers. At present, give or take, there are 250 births and 147 deaths on the planet every 60 seconds. A terminated pregnancy, since it doesn't count towards the death stats and is a missed opportunity on the birth side, here or there, won't mean much.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 21, 2006 10:28 PM

"...as the choice to terminate a non-viable fetus."

Abortion rarely has anything to do with viable or non-viable so much as it has to do with "Oh, my God, I let Bobby stick it in me without a condom and now I'm pregnant..."

"A terminated pregnancy, since it doesn't count towards the death stats and is a missed opportunity on the birth side, here or there, won't mean much."

Yeah, unless YOU'RE that terminated pregnancy...

Where does the baby go to get redress for it's grievances? Oh wait, it doesn't. It gets pitched in a biohazard bag.

Posted by: Greg at October 22, 2006 10:34 AM

Whoa Greg, that first comment about the unwanted pregnancy is a little callow. I do not know about the population debate well enough to say anything intelligent, but I do know that in Freakonomics there is a chapter exploring the relationship between abortion and population growth as they relate to crime rates. I don't claim to agree with what he says (though I might), but it is interesting.

Posted by: Nick at October 22, 2006 11:08 AM

Dear Greg,

If you were that terminated pregnancy, you wouldn't know what happened to you or even be aware that you "existed". Hence, there can be no redress for something you were unaware of.

Since I practice safe sex, you must have been referring to another Bobby somewhere. However, your point still stands.

The conundrum you face is that if you outlaw Roe v. Wade, you create an environment where only the rich can practice a right to choose. I don't like abortion as birth control either but their bodies are their bodies.

If you were really serious about reducing the number of abortions, you would be working on the issue of female poverty. It is the root cause of poverty, and hopelessness, that creates the most unwanted pregnancies.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 22, 2006 11:54 AM

Maybe if schools were more interested in teaching the underprivledged children the foundational building blocks they need to succeed than teaching them how to properly apply a condom and how to safely perform anal sex and the moral righteousness of homosexual marriage we would have more children graduating with HOPE instead of hopelessness?

Posted by: Greg at October 22, 2006 4:04 PM

Dear greg,

What do condoms and anal sex have to do with hope? Trying to frame the question that way makes you look petty.

Your question is better phrased: If more parents took more of an interest in their kids (I know I'm preaching to the choir), especially males who created said children but no longer live in the household, and their school work, then could we make a dent in the hopelessness issue?

I believe the answer is yes.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 22, 2006 6:04 PM

"Your question is better phrased: If more parents took more of an interest in their kids (I know I'm preaching to the choir), especially males who created said children but no longer live in the household, and their school work, then could we make a dent in the hopelessness issue?

I believe the answer is yes."

Once again totally taking any responsibility off the unions for the crap they're teaching today's kids INSTEAD of the fundamentals that allowed us to become successful? A parent can care all they want, but unless they can afford to send their child to a private school, that child will still get a less valuable education than a growing number of other countries.

Posted by: Greg at October 22, 2006 6:47 PM

Dear Greg,

Even if what you said were true, and it's not, it would be misplaced.

The unions don't decide what gets taught. The REPUBLICAN Department of Education does.

Let me guess: GOP has the courts, the legislative branch and the executive branch. Therefore, it must be Bill Clinton's fault.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 22, 2006 8:31 PM

Bobby, don't look now, but you came up with very nearly the same numbers I did. At 5 acres per person (rounded of course) of land area, giving 1 acre to each person would leave 80% of the earth vacant at 4 acres per person. So what's the rest of the story? Usually, people tend to live together in family type situations so even having just 3 persons share an acre each leaves 93% of the earth's LAND area vacant. What does that do for your 2400 figure Bobby? And already we have people in some major cities sharing that acre with 50 or 60 other people, often times more. Already it's getting harder and harder for you to fill all the corners of the earth. So much for your "science" lesson, again, and not boring us with the formula you so conveniently bored us with anyway.

Posted by: smmtheory at October 23, 2006 12:58 AM

Dear Smmtheory,

There are guys in Texas with only a spouse living on 1200 acres.

Are you telling me it's ok that we may have to take some of it back??

The 2400 figure, since it's based on math stays the same: that's the year where we average less than 1 acre per person. By the way, have you forgotten we need buildings?

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 23, 2006 11:33 AM

I've always wondered, by the way, at Western feminists' lack of right-to-choose ire at forced abortions in China.

You're probably not talking to the right feminists. This is definitely a feminist concern.

(It probably gets less prominence in this country because there is very little that US citizens can do to affect Chinese gov't policy.)

Posted by: mrh at October 23, 2006 11:43 AM

Ooooooh, buildings? Do you mean those things that when they're built really tall they enable 1000's of people to live on a single acre? Now you're making it even harder to fill all the corners of the earth. Imagine that. 1000's of people per acre and all of a sudden you have enough room on the earth for not just 6.5 billion people, but 6.5 trillion (All that at less than one acre per person)!

Not only that Mr. Science, but you forgot to extoll the wonderous advances that will be made in the science of land reclamation and use in the next 400 years that will enable upwards of 5000 people to live on a single acre, plenty of farmland, parkland, and wide open spaces. What's the matter, you finding it a little hard to put so much faith in science now?

Posted by: smmtheory at October 23, 2006 11:29 PM

Dear Smmtheory,

5000 people a single acre gives them 9 square feet each unless you build upwardly. Who wants to do that? You want New York everywhere??

You sound like these borrow and spend Republicans in the Congress. Not to mention that you've almost ended open space and the right to own more than one acre if you're successful. What kind of life is this?

No need for sports cars cause there's no longer need for roads.

No libraries, offices have to be in the buildings you live in, ladder trucks must be huge and "environmental systems" bills must be ungodly.

I have to assume that you're kidding.

My faith in science is constant because it is constant. It derives directly from the Higher Power. Unlike organized religion, it is not "fashion". Unlike the Catholic Church, it will desert it's core precepts.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 23, 2006 11:59 PM

Your statements don't reconcile with each other Bobby. Either you believe in science to the point that you think it will solve problems caused by a growing population, or you believe that the growing population will over burden scientific development. Which is it?

Not every one is interested in owning a piece of land. That's why there are so many people living in places like New York City. You still haven't proved that the world is overcrowded or that it will be by year 2400.

All that hysteria about over-population, and for what? Just so you can justify abortion to cull the herd?

Posted by: smmtheory at October 24, 2006 12:26 AM

Dear Smmtheory,

I don't think it's either. Personally, I don't care how many people end up on the planet. I find the human race capable of taking care of itself.

What am I looking at is what those changes might mean. I think your New York analogy is an oversimplification. A lot of poor folks, as is the case with poor folks everywhere, live in New York because their financial condition has caused them to have no mobility.

In your world, where do you bury the dead, grow the food, or most importantly, play golf??

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at October 24, 2006 10:10 AM

Cremate or freeze-dry the dead.

Grow the food hydroponically on the ocean's surface.

Golf?! Screw that. Big waste of friggin space for rich white guys.

Posted by: Greg at October 24, 2006 10:26 AM

Not to mention that the golf course is an ecological disaster.

Posted by: SusanD at October 25, 2006 6:40 AM