Population: The Elephant In The Room

Not my image!

Not my image!

“The elephant in the room” is a funny phrase because if there was an elephant in your room, you’d definitely talk about it. Pretty loudly, I’m willing to guess. If there were two elephants, there’s absolutely no chance the issue would be ignored.

And yet many people continue to ignore population growth and consumption growth.

Population growth hits the multiply button on every single environmental problem we face. The Earth simply cannot sustain 7 billion people at a Western level of consumption. We’ve all heard the statistic that if everyone lived like the average American we’d need five to six planets. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’ve only got one to work with!!

I’ve written lots on Earth Baby already about consumption, but even I’ve shied away from the population issue a bit.
Not really intentionally, but it’s more a case of thinking (rightly) that I don’t have a right to lecture about how many babies people should have. Of course I don’t. I’m a British 19 year old young woman who isn’t planning to have children for several years. I may care for the world as a whole perhaps more than many of my peers, and I try hard to educate myself about other cultures as well as environmental, political, economic and social issues…

But the fact remains that I’ve never been outside Europe. So how can I really know what’s going on in the rest of the world?
What do I know about women in India and Ethiopia struggling with poverty and motherhood?

Well, just slightly more than nothing thanks to this brilliant documentary called Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.
It’s free to stream, please take an hour of your life and watch it.

It raises lots of issues but it provides answers as well. according to this film, population growth is best dealt with by educating women, raising their status in societies, reducing poverty… All things that are good in their own rights as well. Safe and effective family planning coupled with a shift in attitudes.

I didn’t catch her name, but I found one young woman in the film particularly inspiring.
She lives in a village in Ethiopia with her large family, who are very poor. Her mother married her father at the age of twelve and had many children. This young woman started listening to a radio drama about family planning produced by the Population Media Centre and it had a profound effect on her. She encouraged her mother to use the pill as they couldn’t afford to eat more than one meal a day, let alone support any more children, but her father was dubious. She refused her arranged marriage, even though the man was rich. Her younger sister died of AIDS five months after having a baby daughter. After this tragedy, she became like  a second mother for her niece.  She works full time in a family planning centre and supports her family, while going to school on the weekends. When she comes home from work she helps with household chores and childcare, before doing her schoolwork late at night. All her brothers and sisters look up to her and her father has completely changed his attitude. He regrets arranging marriages for his other daughters and is very proud of her. She even gives advice to the other children in the village, who admire her strength and purpose.

What an extraordinarily strong and inspiring woman, to go through so much hardship and still create positive change. All my own “problems” are suddenly put into perspective!

I really can’t recommend this film enough, it’s realistic as well as incredibly touching.


5 thoughts on “Population: The Elephant In The Room

    • Yeah, it’s very backwards really. They should be praised for doing something good. If two children simply replaces the parents in terms of population, then I suppose that’s the “perfect” family size. But I think it’s really terrible to go past persuasion and force a family size on anyone (re: China) so natural diversity of preference is needed to balance things out. Some people will want to have more than two children, while some will want to have none. They should be culturally allowed to do that..

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m keeping it until the students’ semester is over, then I’ll watch the film.

    It often strikes me when people mention the expected future of world population, that a point is missed out. World population is expected to peak at 7 billion halfway through this century, but then to stabilise and even to decrease. I’m no expert but I hope to learn more, and blog about it.

    Meanwhile I’m so glad that you highlight the importance of educating, empowering and liberating women. Occasionally I’ve been criticised for saying such things, but this isn’t some kind of hobby for women in the rich world (like you and me) to play with. This is key to our hungry world. A world which – another point not always mentioned – doesn’t lack food, it just lacks food distribution.

    Before I go any further off-topic (!) – thank you Tallulah for bringing your mind to these big questions. Thinkers like you hold the keys to our planet’s future.

    • Thank you for commenting, I’m glad you found the post interesting!
      The population is already over 7 billion, and I’ve heard the UN think it will peak around 10 billion and then decrease… But they’re constantly reviewing and re-estimating.
      I think the education aspect (of men as well as women) is crucial. The film (which I can’t big up enough) mentions a group that pays for young women from the developing world to go to university. This means they wait until they’re older to marry, have fewer kids and can provide for them with a better job. The point you make about food distribution is very true as well. I really believe there are solutions to the world’s problems, people just need to engage with creative ideas, energy and drive. Thanks again for reading!!

  2. Just watched this quite radical TED talk about overpopulation:

    I have to say I don’t agree with everything she says but I do admire her bravery for addressing an issue most people are scared to raise.


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