World Population Day (and we’re still avoiding the subject)
Today fifteen on-camera performers and a volunteer crew of 10 will be joining me in a big Hollywood production. We’re shooting a video visualizing what our world might look like in a future where continued overpopulation and over-consumption have led to worldwide resource scarcity and social conflict.
It will be a scary picture. Will this kind of shock therapy work? Will audiences view this science fiction scenario and immediately change their own lives, get over the taboo on discussing responsible family-size decisions, and step up efforts to change a system hooked on growth?
The truth is we don’t know. Some sustainability advocates advise that instead of pointing out the dangers of where we’re headed, we should focus on painting an optimistic picture of where we want to go. They’re dead certain doom and gloom won’t sell an idea. And they may be right. Yet, there is no evidence it’s any more effective to follow the advice of that old song: “eliminate the negative, and accentuate the positive.”
No one has ever complained about doom and gloom when someone shouted a warning that kept a person from stepping off the curb in front of an oncoming bus. So I think we should grow up and be willing to discuss both the negative consequences of business-as-usual and the joys of stepping off the hamsterwheel of growth addiction. I suspect there are benefits to both messages of hope and red flags of warning. Both have a role to play.
Along these lines, I don’t think it serves us well to tiptoe around a subject just because it’s unpleasant or unpopular. I spoke out about this last year in this appearance on Inside Story, broadcast by Al Jazeera English on World Population Day in 2009:
When the negative baggage associated with population control was brought up, I responded, “what about population information?” It is time we openly discuss overpopulation and educate everyone around the world, rich or poor, dark-skinned or light, about the ramifications of their family-size decisions. There is nothing draconian or racist about that. In fact it is a very humanitarian, loving, and compassionate idea – to act responsibly so that our children can have a good life. I also advocated for citizens to give organizations and elected officials permission to address this issue openly and honestly.
As it happens, today is once again World Population Day. And I am disappointed, yet again, that World Population Day statements from the U.N. Secretary-General and UNFPA Executive Director intentionally tap dance around the subject of overpopulation. All I can say is, “Good grief! Get a backbone!”
Dave Gardner is producing the non-profit documentary, Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity.
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