Before I get started, some obvious statements need to be put forth, for the inevitable question that will be asked. Do I have children, yes I do and two of them, and therefore remember I am guilty of some of the points I will make here. With that aside, let me build my case. Be ready to crunch some numbers, ok?
It is an emotional, highly emotional, psychological, physiological and social topic – and like it or not concerns a larger family, society and community when it comes to having and raising children. For all the privacy and space revolving around the biological side of making babies, this is one hot topic in every part of the globe, a lot more in patriarchal societies where the primary role of a woman is considered to be producing offspring, and, male if you will! Marriages have broken, families split, lives lost, respect compromised in the pursuit of having heirs, and with science fuelling desire, properties sold, jewellery pledged, money borrowed, funds raised as couples rush to fertility factories for clinical interventions to do the magic. And in many countries, religious heads, tantriks, astrologers, touts and shrinks exploit weak-kneed couples with claims of ‘curing’ infertility, while countries like China make fortunes out of selling aphrodisiacs from various animals parts to ‘improve’ virility and consequently, fertility!
It just seems a ridiculous question to ask – IS IT OKAY TO HAVE CHILDREN? To understand this better in the context of the future, lets get into some understanding of the past to know how we got to where we are today, shall we?
|POPULATION> (IN BILLION)
||Doubled in 700 years
||In ~700 years
||In ~200 years
||In ~65 years
||Doubled in ~125 years
||In ~50 years
||Doubled in ~25 years
Now, let us crunch our timelines a bit. Very little data is available for those years, drastic changes happened in the last 50 years, and the occurrences of the last few decades are defining our next few years and future!
So, what exactly has been the impact of this population explosion of humans, on the planet? Human life has always revolved around freshwater bodies, river beds the pivotal point of communities and civilisations. Our lives revolved around them, and life them was built on coexisting as a part of the biodiversity. But the last 200 years have changed all that.
- In 1970, world livestock population – of animals kept in captivity for human consumption was at 7.3 billion (for 3.7 people). Today it is at about 30 billion, for a population of 7.6 billion – while population has increased by 5%, livestock has gone up 400% – meaning consumption has sky rocketed geometrically!
- Animals in livestock produce close to 500 million tons of excreta a year, all of which is going into our freshwater bodies and land destroying arable land. 40 years ago this figure was at 85 millions tons! So, while our demand for freshwater is increasing, we are rapidly contaminating it, making over half the freshwater available unusable.
- This now throws up some startling numbers – of the total land surface of earth (30% of earth’s surface), inhabitable land is 104msk [million square kilometres] and half of this is land under agriculture – 51msk. Of this 51, 77% or 40msk is land under cultivation to feed out 30 billion livestock, and only 23% or 11msk for human consumption!
- Let me places these numbers in better perspective for you. Land used for livestock and cultivation to feed livestock takes up surface area equivalent to North, South & Central America combined, as against this fresh water area available on earth that equals all of Mangolia!!
- In 1950, we were drawing close to 175,000 million gallons a day of water, today it tops at about 265,000 million gallons – against this, we have lost half our wet lands and a drop of 70% of fresh water (surface water and ground water) resources.
- Over 30% of all fresh water are getting saltier – direct consequence of rising sea levels and disruption of river flows because of massive construction and diversions, that by 2050, 25% of available fresh water will not only be unfit for human consumption but also destroy fresh water life within.
- Since 1900, more than 50% of types of wetlands have disappeared, freshwater species declined 76% between 1970 and 2010, which has rapidly destroyed the biodiversity that in turn has destroyed land fertility, water retention and precipitation – directly responsible for drop in rain water and increase in floods.
- A WWF study shows that only 64 of the 177 large rivers in the world (1,000km and longer) remain free-flowing, while only 21 of them retain a direct connection with the sea.
- Our pace of deforestation, as forest land is levelled to make room for agriculture and dwelling has doubled in the last 200 years – in the year 1800 our deforestation was at 0.8 billion hectares – in 2010 we were at 1.82 billion hectares, and is expected to cross 2 billion in the next 4 years! Of every 1 hectare of land being reclaimed, two thirds of it is for animal farming, and one third for human use, inhabitation or cultivation.
- Of the 7.6 billion humans today, about half, at 3 billion are urban dwellers, and 1 billion live below the poverty line. By 2030, five billion people will be in cities, and those below the poverty line will double to 2 billion, bringing pressure on every conceivable urban infrastructure like dwelling, roads, transport, water and sanitation.
- South Asian countries are the largest growing in the world, almost 2 billion people are here. Why is this important? These are rice eating people, which consumes two times more water than wheat, oats or corn! So countries with the highest levels of population growth, with lowest means to nutrition and healthcare will also be the countries with highest increase in need for freshwater. Ironically, these are the same countries showing fastest growth in per capita consumption of meat and dairy, together accounting for over 70% of all freshwater consumption.
- Global methane concentration – at 1625 parts per billion in 1984 is now at a staggering 1850 parts, and increasing rapidly as animal excreta pushes methane levels to dangerous proportions, leading to faster pace of global warming.
- We produced 1.5 million tons of plastic in the year 1950. Today it is at a mind-blowing 350 million tons, and one of the fastest growing industries! The rate at which we are increasingly adding plastic debris to landfills and ocean beds is another story altogether!
Mull over these numbers and you will see what the future beholds. In 30 years from now, we will lose more lives to lack of fresh water, territorial battles for access to water, and diseases born out of poor sanitation, and this will impact rural, urban poor and rich in equal measure. The impact of the changing eco system, the rapidity at which natural resources are getting depleted will all give rise to chaos propelled by deprival, inadequacy and a fight for the survival of the fittest, in this era marked by economic and nuclear prowess!
Let us look at this from another angle. Today, 4 babies are born every second, while 2 deaths occur the same second. We are replacing the dead with double their number – so eventually, the numbers will more than double, for there is a larger threat pulling down human existence. In 1990, the average life expectancy was about 65, and the number of unhealthy or ‘medical intervention dependant’ years was 8. Today, in just 20 years, the numbers are 72 and 12 respectively. What does that tell you? Science and medical interventions are now extending life spans, making people live longer and also, that more people are falling sick and living more unhealthy years! That leads us to another set of whacky numbers! Fasten your seat belts!
Human population that is 85 years and above is projected to increase at a whopping 351% between now and 2050, compared to a 188 increase for population aged 65 or older, and a 22% increase for the population under age 65. IVF procedures are defying nature’s birth control processes, while organ donations and replacements are making the invalid turn valid, and many of them with half the quality of life they should be having. And that to you means we will now be spreading our already depleting resources thinner, and be sharing it with a larger number of people – as our uncles, aunts and parents keep loading the top, while adding nephews and nieces and children in the bottom – stretching the planet from all sides. Increasing demand, while rapidly short circuiting the supply! We are overpopulated by about 4 times, and scientists give us less than 35 years in all to see the fall of the human species!
So, if you were born any time after 1978, and by the current span of 70-75 years, you are likely to be one of the first to see the species disintegrate. And if you are having a child any time now, after 2015, the child is likely to get past middle age. And I am using the word likely only to stay polite and not play god by being absolute – though personally I think we will.
Now that I have in absolutely believable and undeniable numbers laid the case to demonstrate why our planet is bursting at the seams, let me explain this from another angle.
Based on 2016 studies, UNICEF pegs the number of orphans worldwide to be in the range of 140 million, that’s roughly the population of Russia! There are about 170 million children below the age of 15 who are employed as child labour and this is important data – because these children remain uneducated, unaware of the problems of global warming and human breeding, and with age become parents of kids born into families below the poverty line. Over 60 million children today suffer from malnutrition and are vulnerable to deadly diseases already, and when water related problems strike, they are likely to be the start and spread of epidemics! 1 out of every 8 children born, is born into a conflict zone – and remember, we haven’t seen the worst of civil wars and territorial conflicts yet!
In developing countries like Indonesia and India, and many African countries, there’s more room for worry. Strain on resources is forcing unskilled labour to resort to other means of livelihood – which is why in spite of so many measures, we haven’t seen the end of poaching and mine mafias. This is impacting the larger biodiversity as more of the ecosystem is destroyed, more forests reclaimed and forest areas merging with rural and rural with urban!
In the urban areas the challenges are very different. For one, globally the salaried middle class of the mid 1900s has given way to an entire burst of high salaried individuals and professionals. Changing lifestyles, exposure to varied cultures and globalisation have blurred geographic boundaries, distance no longer a roadblock for people with needs. Japanese Sushi in California, Kerala parotta in Oslo and Chinese products all over the globe mean millions of tons of products and produce criss-crossing the globe. And that translates to larger land areas being flattened out for container yards, ports, airports, warehouses, logistic centres and football sized supermarkets. On one side, while economists are showing these as signs of a bubbly economy that’s generating employment and consumer spend, they are overlooking the impact its having on our resources. More people can afford more automobiles, more gadgets and appliances, more travel and more consumption – with scant regard for its consequences, we are powering a mass euphoria in consumption! And how is that dangerous?
- Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialised countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
- Food wastage from restaurants and fast food outlets account for a third of food wasted, take-aways for a third. More than 30%S of take away foods is wasted, and is one of the largest culprits for disposable plastics!
- When 135 million tons of food is wasted in America every year, 25% of all fresh water and huge amounts of energy and land are also being wasted.
- Today, we buy double the number of gadgets we need, more than half the furniture we buy don’t last their full life, and luxuries like non-stick cookware, upholstery, replaced car parts and discarded clothes account for half the landfills, and is growing at about 24% year on year.
Put them all together – not simply to portray a dismal picture of the planet, but to show in how many ways we are making life on earth difficult for ourselves – the changes to lifestyle, reversal of habits, ending of traditions and make a blue shift in our ways of living are all required at the same time and really rapidly if we must slow this down. So, in a way of living where our actions are only imposing irreversible challenges on the planet, what promises would you want to make to the child you will have or already have? Do you have the confidence to promise the child a safe full-life span? Promise that you have done enough to stop and reverse global warming, so your child can live without the dangers of rising sea levels and toxic air? Can you promise your child that he or she will never have to worry about running out of drinking water? And bequeath a planet with a healthy water table, unpolluted land and peaceful living, without having to worry about dropping missiles, tanker lorries or famine and floods?
Why would you want to bring forth a like into a planet in this precarious situation? Simply because your parents and people like me and of my generation did so, so very oblivious to the stupid act of producing biological offspring? Simply because we have been told only our own children will love and care for us and we need someone to carry our legacy and family name forward? What legacy do you have to be proud of that you want your child to flaunt with her or his peers? What did you do for this planet that cannot be measured by currency and size, but by a million light years? Imagine this scenario. You are looking down into a faucet, and find the drain blocked and dirty water of the night before stuck there, bad odour repelling you. Would you add more garbage to the block, simply because you believe it will clear up on its own, or its someone else’s problem? Or will you want to take steps to stop the clog and try and clear it as much as you can?
Think it over – the days of living for your own selfish needs and greed are over. The planet is not what your forefathers lived in, there is no faint resemblance to those days. And the knowledge they had wasn’t enough for those changes to be done when they had to. Like it or not, the situation is bleak and not reversible. So the best you can do is not make it bad for yourself, and make it worse for those you are directly responsible for and accountable to. Go, find your passions. Adopt a baby. Adopt a puppy. A pig. Plant a few trees. Reduce plastic. Be reasonable. Be sensible. Don’t try to be a hopeless proud parent, but a positive earth citizen.