As readers of this blog know, I consider population growth the major problem in the world today, so the announcement by China of a relaxation of its official one child per family policy is disappointing, to say the least.
China is officially a Communist state, though its actual functional profile bears little resemblance to the kind of government envisioned by the pioneer Russian revolutionaries of the early 20th century. The leaders of the new China think in terms of what they construe is the common good, to the exclusion of certain other social goals, such as free enterprise and opportunity. Their version of enforced, selective entrepreneurism has led to a rapid economic growth model, in the process steering their people away from a largely agrarian society to one more closely resembling the industrial paradigm of the 20th Century West, built on a manufacturing base. China's leaders, realizing the complicated problems facing their nation, initiated the one-child per family policy in 1983, which is estimated to have prevented something like 400 million births. Many critics in the West point to the draconian nature of a government which would dare to dictate fertility rates to its people, and enforce them with penalties.
There is no doubt that China takes a different view. Acknowledging that controlling population cannot be accomplished through voluntary compliance, it made mandatory what most sensible ecologists and environmentalists know is a high priority for the health of humankind and the biosphere we occupy: the control of our numbers.
We know that if we can't figure out ways to moderate population growth, nature will in her implacable way do the job for us, through famines, wars and disease. We tend to think of shortages and regional disputes and opportunistic infections as isolated instances of risks and accidents of circumstance. But in reality, these phenomena are part of a universal condition which is only expressed at the peripheries of our awareness. Indeed, they are just the same force expressed in different ways.
Our earth is getting smaller, not just in metaphysical or imaginary terms. Before the discovery of the "New World" the earth seemed to people as an enormous, inestimable extent. In just six centuries, we've overrun the planet, and are now challenging the ecological limits in every corner of the globe. In this context, nearly every kind of problem we now regard as separate and unrelated, is clearly part of a single problem: Overpopulation.
China's approach to solving this problem may seem extreme, unless one is willing to acknowledge that the choice to moderate population is but another kind of limit, but with a difference: It's deliberate, rather than random; intentional, and planned, instead of passive, or apathetic.
Some in the prosperous West believe that economic prosperity will naturally moderate peoples' impulse to fertility, that over-breeding is itself just another "symptom" of the failure of civilization to meet humanity's needs, and that as the standard of living rises generally, population growth rates will "level off" and lead to a kind of permanent stasis. Whether or not you believe this to be myth or miracle, one thing we know for certain: If we can't figure out ways to control population, nature--in the form of disasters, plagues, wars or famines--will do so inexorably.
Overpopulation is the root cause of most of the worst ills that confront humanity, including polluted air, lack of notable water, crushing poverty engendering sexual and labor slaves, global warming, dreadful migrations of refugees across continental landscapes, and the extermination of other species. The championing of population growth to foster economic growth is among the most myopic of arguments ever devised.
Growth from an overflowing pool of dirt-poor laborers simply allows these horribly impoverished people to be exploited and marginalized as a permanent economic underclass. Perish the thought that we would allow populations to shrink, thereby increasing the demand for workers, so that they would be recompensed fairly for their labor--true economic growth, shrinking the gap between those with wealth and those without.
Unconstrained fertility is truly an immoral path for humanity to follow. China's decision to relax its one-child policy to allow for two children, has been interpreted by some as an encouraging sign. There's no doubt that China believes it can afford to do so, given its immediate economic priorities; it's being interpreted as a sign of improvement in the West. But the time is soon coming when such steps will need to be re-considered, if we're to have any chance at heading off the dire predictions of which the latest wave of "isolated" tragic events are the clear early warning-signs.