Chris Maser

Clearly, growth in the human population is confronting all of us with dilemmas of the most profound nature. We face such problems as the destruction of forests, degradation of the land, rivalries over access to water, depletion of an increasing number of natural resources, inability to maintain levels of production, and outbreaks of disease. Burundi, in Africa, for instance, has a population of 6 million, one third of which is suffering from malaria. In Botswana and South Africa, a large percentage of the population has AIDS but no access to medicines because of the exceedingly high cost of pharmaceuticals.

In the United States alone, without these medicines and improved knowledge about maintaining good health, people would have died much younger and the population would be around 140 million, rather than the 281 to 283 million it is today. When these improvements spread worldwide, the high rate of death in such places as Africa and the Indian subcontinent declined significantly, and the population boomed. Despite the extant problems of disease in many African nations, the population, as a whole, is expected to increase from 800 million to 2 billion by 2050.

If poor countries develop tastes for and can afford some of the industrialized nations' lifestyles, humanity is going to outstrip the available supply of goods and resources in a very short time, such as:  (1) potable water, the competition for which will become the cause of wars, (2) food and the arable land on which to grow it because the acreage per individual shrinks each time one more person is born than dies, and (3) energy, such as wood from forest and fossil fuels. With respect to forests, they are being summarily cut down for short-term monetary gains in countries that can least afford to lose them and the free ecological serviced they perform. With respect to fossil fuels, the question becomes one of how much pollution the environment can tolerate before it begins an irreversible downward spiral of degradation that humanity cannot well survive.

Such an outcome is not necessary, of course, but to avoid it, men must raise the level of their consciousness with respect to the way in which they treat of women, such as:

  1. giving women the choice of how many children to have and when, as well as valuing them beyond their abilities to satisfy a male's sexual urges and to bear children—especially sons

  2. providing women with safe access to legal abortions and adequate counseling about birth control

  3. ending genital mutilation

  4. see that gender equality is given—and is taught—throughout the entire educational cycle

  5. instilling the fact that, while men and women different biologically in some ways, they are equally human, which means women deserve equality with men in all aspects of life:  education, social, political, and economic

  6. giving women positions of political authority because women, more often than men, focus on relationships beyond violence and power mongering

Many changes are required in restructuring society as a whole so that women are equal partners in the human experiment of cohabitation. We the people, and men in particular, ignore the equality of women at our collective peril.

The future of humanity's place on the globe rests in our collective human willingness to make commitments and being committed to keeping them, such as achieving a state of dynamic equilibrium with nature and a state of mind in which social-environmental sustainability is first and foremost in our social consciousness. Clearly, this has not yet happened. In fact, considering how we abuse one another and our environment, it seems patently obvious that we are a species at war against itself.

A primary reason humanity is at war against itself has to do with men, because our attitude toward—and our apparent fear of—women is, perhaps, the world's major problem. To rectify this problem, we must make women the coauthors of—not the subjects of—policies dealing with population by insisting they occupy at least half of all managerial and policy positions in the area of family health and planning, as well as human population dynamics and stabilization, and the environment. It is critical to the current population crisis that women have the necessary authority to:

  1. correct the inadequacies of women's health, including reproductive health

  2. address the inequitable distribution of food, water, and shelter

  3. ensure access to safe, legal abortion services

  4. end genital mutilation

  5. stop the slave trade in girls and women as sex objects to satisfy the dalliances of men

  6. accede to demands for gender equality

  7. empower women in the ecological, economic, social, and political arenas.

Another part of the answer resides in the earliest grades in school, where girls and boys must to be taught the importance of gender equality and the shared responsibility for limiting the size of the world's human population.

A third part of the answer will demand change in the attitudes of most men—worldwide—toward girls and women. If we men are at all serious about curbing the world's looming overpopulation, we, in both secular and religious life, will openly and honestly give women equality in all opportunities to be valued for things other than as slave labor, sex objects, and bearing children. We will stop telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies, which, after all, are entrusted to their consciences—not ours. We will allow women to choose when to have children and how many to have. And we will find the courage to accept and do our part in controlling the human population by having vasectomies. Until we are willing to do that, we have no right to speak!

This said, I emphasize that all of the above measures are necessary to lower birth rates and bring the world to a manageable human population within the global ecosystem's capacity of provide a dignified lifestyle as opposed to mere existence. It remains to be seen whether the world's men—especially those who control the world's organized religions with such dogmatic male attitudes—are up to the task. There is much riding on a positive outcome.

This essay is excerpted from my 2004 book, "The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence:  Rethinking the Future." Maisonneuve Press, Washington, D.C.

©chris maser 2008. All rights reserved.

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