Re "Why ingenuity alone won't save us," Opinion, Sept. 22
Human population growth threatens every culture, every religion and every living thing on Earth. It is a problem that will not yield to the usual approaches to big challenges; neither a massive engineering project nor a vast public awareness campaign will have a significant impact.
Fortunately, there is one thing that would work, but it is often a threat to the established order: educating women.
Women who can read and write have fewer children than those who can't. Overcoming the social and religious barriers to educating girls is a goal worthy of humanity.
We waste time discussing overpopulation as a disaster for our species. The world is in no danger from a flood of new Italians or Japanese; strain on the environment, the geopolitical order and much else will originate from developing countries.
An average mother in Somalia bears six or seven children, a far more tangible concern than the theoretical moment when Mother Earth will bear her last bushel of wheat.
But if contraception is the obvious answer, we must avoid promoting infertility as a virtue for educated Westerners. Their offspring represent humanity's best hope for solving future crises, whether related to food, disease, the environment or the unforeseen.
Alan Weisman shreds the "cornucopian" contention that human ingenuity and resolve will permit our planet to accommodate population increases of untold billions. But count on political and religious demagogues to summarily dismiss his analysis.
Politicians will keep giving highest priority to their patrons' demands for ceaseless economic expansion, which population increases historically have fueled. Hence they'll drone on about how the "invisible hand of the free market" will somehow ensure prudent use of natural resources; never mind overpopulation's ominous threats.
Religious leaders similarly will continue avowing that "God always will provide," so that no matter how many humans populate Earth, some supreme being's provident hand will spare our beleaguered environment.
Time is running out for the natural world — and for us.
If only Weisman's enlightened views might change prevailing attitudes toward the environment. Problem is, the adverse effects stemming from commercial exploitation of the environment seldom are assessed beyond the short term.
That's because quarterly and annual corporate bottom lines mean everything.
To maximize profits, corporations externalize the long-term economic costs of their environmental impact. What future generations will pay for ongoing environmental degradation is greatly discounted.
The cost to our posterity will be incalculable if corporations continue to fail to account for these effects on their balance sheets.
Why must it be so hard to acknowledge that our finite world's capacity for population growth is limited?