V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media papers March, 2008.

I recently attended my first Babypalooza, an afternoon gathering of wobbly, chubby mini people.

The babies cooed and drooled, as did the childless aunties-by-affiliation who ran around the room snatching sleeping babies from their parents' arms in a frightening show of uncontrollable, barren wombs.

Battles to hold the little bobble-heads (it's comical how they have so little command of their neck muscles) escalated to smack talk among the ticking ovarian time bombs.

(Tash, you only think you were eating beef stew but little Sophie-poo had left you a gift that day.)

This scenario is shameful not only for being so cliche, but it's also appalling for contravening a basic tenet of eco-consciousness: Stop breeding.

It's a philosophy resurrected from the coal-fired ashes of the '70s when environmental groups started sounding the alarm about uncurbed population growth and its impact on the planet's resources.

They were crusaders of the Zero Population Growth movement, asking couples to reconsider how their baby-making plan means one more mouth to feed for an overworked Mother Earth.

Having children is selfish, environmentalists say, driven by the egotistical need to preserve the genetic line at the expense of the planet.

The world population is projected to grow from 6.7 billion in 2007 to 9.2 billion in 2050.

Humans are consuming the planet's resources faster than they can be renewed, says the WWF in its Living Planet Report published in 2006.

Our "Ecological Footprint" has more than tripled since 1961, and now exceeds the world's ability to regenerate by about 25%. But overpopulation is largely ignored among politicians because of what John Seager of the Population Connection calls CIA -- China, immigration and abortion -- three highly controversial issues.

Seager's organization, formerly Zero Population Growth, advocates stabilizing the world's population through educational and family planning programs.

"The goal here is that every child be planned and wanted," Seager said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

But in the U.S., one-third of births are unplanned pregnancies, he said, while 10% of births are unwanted. Meanwhile, Americans use about a quarter of the world's fossil fuel resources.

Canada's total fertility rate is 1.5 children per couple. But the U.S. has the highest fertility rate among developed nations, a stat Seager blames on poor access to health care, abstinence-only programs in U.S schools and barriers to higher education. Meanwhile, longstanding concerns in Canada that low birth rates won't be able to sustain an aging boomer population ignore important factors, adds David Foot, professor of economics at the University of Toronto and author of the best-seller Boom, Bust & Echo, which tracks demographic change.

"Technology is a big unknown," Foot points out.

A hundred years ago, for example, scientists said we wouldn't be able to feed the world's population. But today, agricultural production is up 10 fold, he said, owing to the advances of technology.

"Canada really is in a great position in the world because we make up for the slow population growth with immigration, and we have lots of resources and lots of fresh water," Foot says.

And while it would be easy to blame developing countries where uneducated women give birth to multiple children, Foot points out the hypocrisy. Developed countries have already bred and raped their lands of resources, he said. It would be hollow criticism to pontificate about how the world's poorest countries are producing too many dependents when it's industrialized countries that stole their share of food and energy.

"The rich buy and drive bigger cars, and are more likely to fly ... Population growth is terrible for the environment in itself, but there are lots of other things like technology, culture, and wealth that play a role."

As for the little Sophies of the world, Seager will be heartened to know she was very much wanted and is very much loved in this world.

"We can drive hybrid cars and buy compact fluorescent light bulbs but we're not going to shop our way out of this," Seager says. "We have to create a world where we can make it so that there's enough resources to go around for everyone."

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·  China has announced its one-child policy will remain in effect for at least another decade.

·  According to the United Nations Population Fund, this year marks the first time in history when more than half of the world populations -- 3.3 billion people -- will be living in urban areas.


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