Human Population: A Growing Bacterium

Chloe Lewis

In 1999 the world population reached six billion. Roughly 200,000 lives have been added each day since then, about one small city a week. This population boom however, is not evenly distributed throughout the globe. In fact, many countries in Europe have experienced negative population growth in the last ten years. It is the developing nations of our world that are most responsible for the exponential increase the world has begun to experience. The busy-bodied human mind has rushed and hurried to find "tech-fix's" to sustain our ever growing population. The population should have hit a glass ceiling a few billion people ago, many argue that it has explaining the 1-2 billion people dying of hunger at this very moment. We have reached a point where we are uncontrollably increasing in size, exploiting our resources in an effort for survival before we can begin to map out ways to protect them, increasing the total output they could give. As Edward O. Wilson says, "The epicenter of environmental change, the paradigm of population stress, is the People's Republic of China".
China is home to one fifth of the world's population, about 1.3 billion people. This population is expected to reach 1.6 billion by the year 2030. The majority of this population is crammed into the Yangzi River Basin, the most southern region of China. The wave of population was brought on in the late 1950's when the world experienced a baby boom after the world wars. This time period is referred to as the "golden age" in Chinese history. The country had suffered nearly 40 years of warring states and corruption from many differing political parties, so when the communist party finally came into power, a united nation of Chinese people was established. The citizens of china began to live a life of comparative freedom and little stress, producing as many Chinese babies as possible along the way. The population was further pushed when communist party leader Mao Zedong encouraged everyone to have as many children as possible. At this time, China was relatively weak and did not have much equipment in their military force, but Mao assured them that in the case of a possible war with Japan (which never happened) they would have numbers. In 1979 leader Deng Xiaoping recognized the disaster that China's population had become and implemented the one child policy.
The one child policy in China stated that each couple would be allowed to have one child. The intention was that the birth rate would be immediately lowered and the population growth would slow. Cadres were spread throughout the country to regulate birth rates in the many rural villages and throughout the cities. There were exceptions to the policy; if the first born child of a couple was a girl, they were allowed to try for a boy. Additionally if two people remarried and had children from previous marriages they were allowed to have another child. In '93 China reported to the world that they had met their 10 year population quota. This shocked the world and investigations began on how the PRC could regulate population growth to the extent that they did. Slowly truths emerged about the alarming rates of abortion and sterilization.
Today, abortion and sterilization are not as nearly wide spread and infanticide is relatively low. But within the past few years, the one child policy has begun to seem as if it is unraveling. Wealthy families in China's cities are paying the fines for having a second and third child, while families in rural china are having second, third, fourth and even fifth children but are not registering their children, meaning their children do not get a formal education. The issue of education regarding population growth is considered the most important issue at both the Grameen and World Banks. The World Bank has implemented a policy in some of the rural provinces of China where it gives farmers loans on the condition that they educate their children, furthermore, they can only receive loans and can only educate their sons if their daughters are also enrolled in school. For a country that has the lasting feudal values that China does in some of its rural parts, policies like this are necessary. The purpose of this is to educate women, because studies and projects like the one done by the Grameen Bank have shown that when women are educated they personally make wise decisions about having fewer children.
In the past 15 years the Grameen Bank has managed a project in Bangladesh providing miro-credit loans to low income households. In the years before the loans had been given to men, but they were poorly managed and the bank saw little success. In an effort to liberate and utilize the many Muslim women that were bound to their homes, the bank began to loan to women. The program was structured in such a way that women had a responsibility to one another to pay their dues. In a rural or urban area, many women were offered loans so that they would have the opportunity to start their own businesses from within the home, even if it was just weaving textiles. Of the 30 or so women in a loan group, they were broken down into smaller groups of five or six. Monthly, the groups of five or six women pay their dues together and not one of them can receive further loans until all dues are paid. As the Grameen Bank collected data on this project they began to realize that the women in the program were also choosing to have fewer children, and with access to an education and sustainable income, they were making better decisions for themselves and their families.
Consequently, at this point, the future of population growth relies on the education of women in developing countries. But beyond China's issues of managing their population in the next 50 years, they have current issues that need attention.
There are currently 90 million people over the age of 60 in China, and there is little to no social security. In addition to not being able to take care of all of its elderly citizens, there are millions of children and over a billion mouths to feed. Currently, China requires 175 billion tons of grain each year to support its population. By the year 2030, it will need 200 billion tons, which is the global output. Essentially, we can either allow mass famine to occur in China and feed the rest of the world, or we can just feed China. They also have the problem of water distribution, mass public work projects have been developed and started to combat this issue. The success of these projects could quench the looming water shortages of over 300 major cities. China is under serious pressure to find all the "tech fix's" possible to support its large scale hatchery.
Meanwhile, the eyes of the world will be on China to see how it manages its mass population. Hopefully, they will be successful, hopefully they will find answer and the genius of humanity will be able to continue to stretch the glass ceiling that the bacteria, that human population has become, is up against.

Aird, John S. "China's family planning terror" The Human Life Review, Summer 1994
Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life (excerpt, the bottle neck theory) U.K, Random House Inc. 2002

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last updated 2/6/03