by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Angel Fire, N.M.
July 9, 2008
STRETCHING YOUR BUCK IN A BEAR MARKET
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- There are around 6.7 billion people sharing our planet today. And the human family is currently growing by about 1.2 percent per year.
One in three of those new arrivals is doomed to live in slums without adequate shelter, health care, clean water or sufficient food.
You might think that it is good news that, thanks to cultural changes, more women in developing countries are going to school and joining the work force. This is slowing the population growth rate, though it is still high in many countries.
But religious fundamentalists see catastrophe in the prospect of falling birth rates. Every single member country of the European Union, as well as Canada, Japan and China, now has an annual birth rate below the 2.1 children per woman "replacement rate."
Immigration is providing a large chunk of the population growth in the United States, as our nation's birth rate is right at the replacement level. Lifespans have increased worldwide, so the world's population is getting older.
But it's more than the fear of an aging population without enough young people to keep the economy rolling along that has some people worried. The hot topic in conservative circles these days is "demographic winter," because birth rates are falling in the white Christian West, while they are rising in non-white, non-Christian nations.
According to conservatives, because women in the so-called civilized world are not producing enough white Christian babies, the West will be swamped by "godless Muslims bent on world domination."
Yes, this sounds racist and downright laughable, but this argument is slowly spreading into mainstream thought.
The solution, say the demographic winter proponents, is to eliminate extramarital sex, ban contraception and bring back the old-fashioned "natural family." Under the guise of being "pro-family," they envision a world where fathers lead and mothers honor their biological destiny by producing lots of children. In this world, families are the only fundamental unit that society and government should promote, and all policies should be geared toward this.
At the same time, they say the generation that grew up believing in the dangers of an overpopulated world and who value women's rights, gay rights and environmentalism - those who reject religious fundamentalism - are doomed to extinction.
As Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center, a pro-family think tank, says, "secularism is a societal death wish."
Unfortunately, this view of the future fails to take into account a simple fact. As women worldwide become educated and take control of their reproductive destiny, birth rates fall. Most family planning advocates will tell you that the simple act of going to school is the best contraceptive of all.
In the end, the "demographic winter" argument sounds like the same old tired patriarchal nonsense to control women and enforce religious and societal orthodoxy, with a dash of racism and eugenics mixed in for extra flavor.
That's why it shouldn't come as a surprise that the major Christian right-wing groups - the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America - are all on the "natural family" bandwagon. Or that the lack of the "right" kind of babies has led Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals - religious groups that are normally enemies - to band together on this issue.
Bringing a child in this troubled world is an act of faith. Given the bleak future for our planet - global warming, peak oil, resource wars and grinding poverty for a majority of the world's inhabitants - it's a hard choice to make. But it should remain just that, a choice. Reproduction shouldn't be made compulsory.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.