Work to curb world overpopulation must begin now

Tuesday morning, the world’s population stood at 7,025,367,636. Some believe that’s already a billion more than the planet can ultimately sustain, but the number is growing annually by 80 million people.

At that rate – about 9,100 new people per hour – the world population increases by roughly the size of Thurston County every day.

This morning, in London, on World Population Day, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation brought world leaders together to kick off a $4 billion fundraising campaign to provide contraceptives for 120 million women who do not have access to birth control, all of them in the poorest countries.

Melinda Gates has announced she is making access to birth control her top priority, and is committing the foundation’s resources to the cause. She says campaign is not about population control, or abortion, rather it is about empowering women with control over their lives, and improving their health and the quality of life in their communities.

But, of course, giving access to birth control to the more than 200 million women in Third World nations who want it, according to the United Nations, will slow the world’s population growth.

That’s a good thing, and if Melinda Gates wants to call it a happy byproduct of a program officially aimed at women’s health and individual choice, that’s OK, too.

It is acceptable however she needs to frame the issue to avoid causing heart palpitations in the religious right and social conservatives, not to mention the Vatican; it is acceptable because this is an international project long over due.

The world is fortunate to have a private foundation in Seattle willing to tackle this issue, because an ever-increasing human population will soil its own house before any government finds the collective gumption to take it on.

The world now spends $4 billion each year on contraceptive use in developing countries. If the London summit can double that amount – spending $8 billion per year – the need for modern contraception would be met, the Gates foundation says.

The foundation says that by doubling access to contraceptives we’d see 100 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 50 million fewer abortions and 200,000 fewer pregnancy-related deaths. The foundation estimates that a country’s economy improves by $6 for every $1 invested in birth control, mostly through reduced health care costs and other savings.

Left unchecked, the world population will balloon to 10 billion by the end of this century. The population of some African nations, such as Nigeria, would more than quadruple, as would Yemen, a nation that already has to import most of its food.

Saudi Arabia will have to terminate its wheat production by 2016 because it will have drained the ancient and deep desert aquifers it tapped in the 1970s. It will then have to import food from other countries to feed its 30 million residents.

There is no imaginable advancement in agriculture that can generate enough food for a never-ending increase in population, and inescapably not enough uninhabited space.

Raising the $4 billion from world leaders will be the lesser task for Melinda Gates. The more difficult challenge will be effecting serious cultural change, at home and in Third World countries, to create broad support for a woman’s right to choose birth control.

With the Gates Foundation’s leadership, women around the world will have a better life now, and later save the world from famine and disease wrought by overcrowding.