Quote of the Day: Carl Sagan on the World Population Crisis


There is a well-documented correlation between poverty and high birthrates. In little countries and big countries, capitalist countries and communist countries, Catholic countries and Moslem countries, Western countries and Eastern countries—in almost all these cases, exponential population growth slows down or stops when grinding poverty disappears. This is called demographic transition. It is in the urgent long-term interest of the human species that every place on Earth achieves this demographic transition. This is why helping other countries become self-sufficient is not only elementary human decency, but is also in the interest of those richer nations able to help. One of the central issues in the world population crisis is poverty.

The exceptions to the demographic transition are interesting. Some nations with high per capita incomes still have high birthrates. But in them, contraceptives are sparsely available, and/or women lack any effective political power. It is not hard to understand the connection.
At present there are about 6 billion humans. In 40 years, if the doubling time stays constant, there will be 12 billion; in 80 years, 24 billion; in 120 years, 48 billion. ... But few believe the Earth can support so many people. Because of the power of this exponential increase, dealing with global poverty now will be much cheaper and much more humane, it seems, than whatever solutions will be available to us many decades hence. Our job is to bring about a worldwide demographic transition and flatten out that exponential curve—by eliminating grinding poverty, making safe and effective birth control methods widely available, and extending real political power (executive, legislative, judicial, military, and in institutions influencing public opinion) to women. If we fail, some other process, less under out control, will do it for us."

—Carl Sagan, Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (1998, Ballantine Books)