Senin, 25 Februari 2013

The reason why we should control population growth

The reason why 
we should control population growth
Wiryono ;  A Lecturer at the University of Bengkulu’s Forestry School
JAKARTA POST, 22 Februari 2013

According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), Indonesia’s population has doubled within 40 years from 119.2 million in 1971 to 237.6 million in 2010. In another 40 years from now, our population will exceed 450 million, resulting in the increased extraction of natural resources and increasing pollution. 

All environmental scientists and activists must be alarmed about this high population growth. 

But some Indonesian Muslims are not worried. For them, fears of a human population exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity means a lack of faith in God. They strongly believe that God will provide every creature with the necessary resources to live. 

We can see those who have this view among the ranks of the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Tifatul Sembiring, a former PKS chairman who is now communications and information minister, has seven children. The current PKS chairman, Anis Matta, has nine children, while his predecessor Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq has 11 children. The three Muslim leaders are relatively still young and may have more children in the future. 

It is no coincidence that the three PKS chairmen, like other party members who are devout Muslims, have many children, which must be religiously driven. 

A Muslim myself, I understand the religious basis for having many children. But I also know the religious argument of Muslim supporters of birth control, which is to provide better education and health for future generations.

As an ecologist, I strongly believe the human population must be controlled because population growth is a fundamental cause of environmental problems. Seeing the trend of young devoted Muslims having many children worries me. I have talked in mosques about the importance of birth control to save the environment, but as I am not a religious scholar I am unable to win debates against opponents of birth control, among them Muslim clerics, which are based on religious teachings. I hope open-minded, progressive Islamic scholars will back my argument for birth control. For me, religious teachings must always be interpreted according to scientific theories.

The human population, like other organisms, has the capability of growing exponentially, or very quickly. But no population can grow indefinitely. When a population of any species grows, its density increases, causing more intensive competition among members of the population, which results in a shortage of resources and ultimately, death. 

Competition among humans leads to war. The world is never free from war. We have experienced two world wars and many low-scale wars. The root of wars is competition for resources, although other factors, such as religious, ideological and ethnic differences, may become the triggers.  Wars claim many lives.

In many species, an increase in population density will increase predation, but as the human is the top predator in the world, predation is not a threat to us. Only rarely does a human fall prey to large carnivores, such as lions, tigers, snakes and crocodiles. Increased population density will also increase the incidence of disease. Contagious diseases spread quickly in slum areas that are densely populated and lack sanitation. 

Population growth is also controlled by density-independent factors, namely natural disasters, such as tsunamis, storms, floods, droughts and fires. A tsunami caused by a major earthquake in Aceh in 2004 killed more than 200,000 people. 

With the human population, however, the density-independent factors are often intertwined with density-dependent factors. For example, Jakarta is a naturally flood prone area, but the frequency, depth and extent of floods increase with increasing population density. Forest fires are natural phenomena in dry regions, such as Australia, but in Sumatra and Kalimantan, high demand for agricultural land due to population growth leads farmers to clear the forest and burn the land, resulting in uncontrolled forest fires during dry season. 

The human population grew slowly in the beginning. It took several hundred thousands of years before it reached 1 billion in 1804.  But 123 years later, in 1927, it grew to 2 billion. Subsequently, the time needed to add another billion people on earth got shorter. The population reached 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999 and 7 billion in 2011. The curve of human population growth shows a very slight rise during a period of several hundred thousand years, but at the end of the curve, it rises drastically. Apparently, the advance of science and technology in the last two centuries has enabled us to overcome density-dependent factors that would have otherwise reduced the population size.

Can the human population continue to grow? Optimists will say so because they believe that human creativity will always be able to develop science and technology to overcome the limits of natural resources. 

After all, we have not experienced a worldwide shortage of resources as warned by Malthus several hundred years ago, or by the Club of Rome several decades ago. 

But most biologists will say that no population can grow indefinitely. The human population is no exception. It is only a matter of time for our population to stop growing. It may not occur during our lifetime, but it will happen. So the question is not whether the human population can continue to grow, but how can we control and stop population growth? 

We can do it voluntarily through reasonable measures or through the loss of life through wars, diseases and malnutrition. ●