million people every five days, said a report last year by the Royal Society, a
British scientific organization.
Population momentum ensures that absolute numbers will keep rising for decades despite falling birth rates. That's because the exponential growth that took just 12 years to add the last billion in 2011 -- and will take just 14 more years to add the next billion -- means growth is building from a large base of people, many in their child-bearing years.
Falling birth rates have lulled people into complacency, said J. Joseph Speidel, a professor at UCSF's Bixby Center on Global Reproductive Health. "The annual increment is rising quite dramatically," he said. "We are still adding about 84 million people a year to the planet."
Although rich countries will have problems supporting their elderly, "I'd sure rather have the problems of Spain or Sweden than Nigeria or Niger," Speidel said.
More than 40 percent of the world's 208 million pregnancies each year are unplanned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a family planning research group. Half of U.S. pregnancies, about 3 million a year, are unintended, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a Washington advocacy group. About half of them end in abortion.
Across cultures, from Iran to Thailand to California, voluntary access to contraception has slashed fertility rates, Speidel said. But discussion of population growth remains taboo.
"Many young people on university campuses have been taught over the past 15 years that the connection between population growth and the environment is not an acceptable subject for discussion," said Martha Campbell, director of International Population Dialogue at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, in a recent essay.
Campbell argued that voluntary contraception is not coercive, but blocking women from controlling how many children they have is coercive. When given a chance, she said, women across cultures choose to provide a better life for fewer children.
The Guttmacher Institute said it would cost an extra $4.1 billion a year, little more than a rounding error in the $3.8 trillion U.S. budget, to provide birth control to all 222 million women in the world who want to limit their pregnancies but lack access to contraception.
"What many of us really worry about is that there will be this crash landing, from a planet with 9 billion, rapidly down to 5 or so," said ecologist Harte.
"The landing will result from methods of population reduction that none of us want to see, like famine, disease and war," he added. "I don't think anybody has described a workable trajectory that gets us up to 9 and then softly back down to 5."
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle's Washington correspondent. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(c)2013 the San Francisco Chronicle
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