Divergent views both support stable population growth

May 1, 2009
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Thank you for printing letters by Rene Ruiz and Glenn Inghram (JP Gazette, April 3) responding to my own letter, “Population surge threatens the environment” published in the Gazette on March 20.
Now readers can appreciate both the difficulty and absolute necessity of the mission New England Coalition for Sustainable Population (NECSP) has set for itself: to raise awareness of and promote action on the ways to achieve sustainable population for the region, the nation, and the international community. With 82 mil-lion people (net) added each year to a planet in ecological crisis, this issue is not going away for the foreseeable future.

Both writers agreed that lowered birth rates and stabilized population are worthy and admirable “ends” that must be achieved if our human communities have any real chance at attaining sustainable living scenar-ios. In this, they are surely correct. Talking “sustainable development” is just a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream unless it involves a stabilized population.

But the “means” each author suggested couldn’t have been more divergent. One warned against state-mandated, involuntary human population management and advocated for robust access to voluntary means of birth control and increased education for lower birth rates. The other called for enforcement of strict policies on procreation to alleviate the occurrence of poverty.

The good news is that both authors have realized that stabilizing human population is a core component of the urgent need to implement sustainable development regionally, nationally, and internationally. On this point, NECSP strongly agrees with them, and it’s our job to encourage this dialog and provide New Englanders the tools necessary to be activists on sustainable population issues.

As to the “means” each author was suggesting, Mr. Ingrham is right to note the power a government of, by and for the people can wield. When so motivated, our democratically elected officials can marshal profound influence on the choices citizens make (think seatbelts and smoking). On the other hand, Mr. Ruiz is right to warn against the very real potential of human rights abuses when government acts mindlessly or with ex-cessive, myopic urgency.

The middle ground is “we the people” identifying stabilized population as fundamental to the path towards a peaceful, ecologically sustainable future and then turning the positive power of our self-government to-wards that goal. After all, it’s the power of our government that is best positioned to ensure the educa-tion, literacy and access to family planning that will allow people to make voluntary decisions about reduc-ing their fertility.

There are two readily available examples of democratic self-government that would do wonders for attain-ing sustainable population: One, take birth control pills off prescription and provide easy access to modern contraceptive methods with subsidies and sliding scale charges. Two, promote pre-marital counseling regard-ing family planning, the economic benefits of small family size and the environmental consequences of popu-lation growth.

Please visit the NECSP website, www.necsp.org, to become a member and get involved in this most interest-ing and crucial of issues.

Henry Barbaro
Jamaica Plain

The writer is a board member of the New England Coalition for Sustainable Population. His views do not necessarily reflect the official policy positions of organization.
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