I was speaking to a friend of mine about her choice to adopt. She has a wonderful little boy whom she and her husband adopted from Guatemala when he was only 6 months old. She said that her choice to adopt wasn’t only about having compassion for children who had been orphaned — estimates show that there are around 160 million orphaned children worldwide — but also because she believes the world has become overpopulated. She went on to tell me how her son’s Third-World mother had given birth to her ninth child. That, in and of itself, sealed my friend’s fate that she would never give birth to a child — too many children already live in enough neglect and abuse, and her contribution to creating balance was to adopt. And she isn’t alone. Many people make a conscious choice not to breed and either go without children or adopt.

While the need to procreate and give birth is strong for many, if not most of us, some see a much bigger picture, a picture where human beings consume, waste and pollute; a picture that shows how careless humans are and that little is being done to fix this mess we have created. Those who understand our world, its finite resources and its fragility, tread lightly. Some do it by not having children. Others do it by buying eco-friendly products or choosing biking and walking over driving cars. And on rare occasions, there are those who live off the grid and rely heavily on nature alone.
As we grapple with the idea of 7 billion people on our planet, we must acknowledge that we have a growing problem. But this dilemma isn’t new. In the 1960s, a political movement known as Zero Population Growth, ZPG, became popular. The goal of ZPG, which was rooted in environmentalism and feminism, was to match the replacement fertility rate — the average number of children per woman that would hold the population constant. In a Life magazine article in 1970, activists proclaimed that “a constantly increasing population is responsible for many of our problems: pollution, violence, loss of values and of individual privacy.” The article went on to say that 210 million Americans gobbled up more resources than 2.5 billion people living in less developed countries. And that was 40 years ago.

Though ZPG has died in mainstream media, some of its basic principles about an ever-growing population still ring true. While we have done much to prevent toxic chemicals from going into the air and water sources, pollution remains a problem and adding more people to the mix isn’t helping. Even such former global warming skeptics as physicist Richard Muller, whose research was once funded by the Koch brothers, billionaires of a private energy conglomerate, had to admit our earth is warming, though he didn’t speculate on the cause. Scientists who have been saying the earth has been getting warmer, however, attribute it to man-made pollution such as burning of fossil fuels. Some experts say that violence has gone down, but wars are still being waged over resources — consider the Israelis and Palestinians. Some will also tell you that morals and values are disappearing fast — from separate beds on I Love Lucy 50 years ago to the nonsense of the Jersey Shore.

Overpopulation is not only a problem for our earth and its resources, it’s also a problem for our society. The main conflict in addressing overpopulation is the infringement on other people’s right to have as many children as they want, whether or not they can support them. We look at our country’s desperate economic situation with millions of people still out of work and the economic disparity growing, but yet we are still having children without thought of the long-term effects. It’s time to reopen the discussion about responsible reproduction and overpopulation, lest things get out of control and eventually we as a society collapse.