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 Thinking of Birds, Flowers . . . and People, too

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Registration date : 2008-01-06

PostSubject: Thinking of Birds, Flowers . . . and People, too   Mon Apr 28, 2008 7:17 pm

First posted 05:08:31 (Mla time) April 27, 2008
Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines – Recently asked by a student if it were true that the entire population of the Philippines could fit into Bohol, I smiled, certain where her factoid was coming from.

Back in 1993, the Cato Institute, a conservative American think tank published a book titled “Apocalypse Not,” attacking environmentalists for being alarmist and lobbying against government intervention in environmental matters. Among the issues they tackled was the population question. No problem, the authors claimed, and to make their point, they proposed that the entire world population (note, the world) could fit into the state of Texas, with each person still having “an area equal to the floor space of a typical US home.”

That proposition was then picked up by Human Life International, another American group vehemently opposed to family planning (which it often equates to abortion). Apparently, local “pro-life” groups have modified this “whole world into Texas ” theme into a “whole Philippines into Bohol ” to indicate that we have no population problem and therefore no need for family planning.

In a sense, they’re right. If we tried to fit 85 million Filipinos into Bohol’s 4,117 square kilometers, we would have about 20,000 people per square kilometer, which is about the population density of Caloocan City.

Now, would you want to live in such circumstances? I’m sure some people would say, “Why not, with Bohol’s beautiful beaches?” But common sense tells us, too, that if you did have 85 million Filipinos living in Bohol, your beaches wouldn’t be quite as pristine. Boracay is already showing the kind of damage a large population can inflict, even if they’re only a few thousand transient tourists.

Environmentalism in the Philippines focuses on conservation of flora and fauna and, to some extent, fighting pollution. But the messages to save the environment often fail to address an important variable that goes into environmentalism: people. It’s amazing how much denial we still have about this people factor, blaming environmental destruction on deforestation, pollution and climate change, but without talking about the people behind this. Occasionally, we see “people” in the sense of companies and big business being blamed, but we still fail to make the connection to population growth.

On the other hand, we talk constantly about personal changes: not eating shark’s fin, minimizing the use of plastic bags, recycling paper, turning off our lights for an hour on March 28. They’re all good initiatives, but we also need to connect all these to the way we reproduce. The greatest predator, the greatest threat today to the world’s flora and fauna, is Homo sapiens.

Anti-family planning groups argue that Homo sapiens holds the key to saving the world, which I think is as arrogant as the way we named ourselves “wise” (sapiens). Sure, we are innovative, and I have no doubt that we’d be able to develop the technology to sustain 85 million people in Bohol—but what would this cost, environmentally?

Environmentalists remind us that we can no longer talk about isolated islands or geographical areas when we talk about ecology. Because humans have such extensive needs, we inevitably displace other species, eating into their territories and resource base. Bring in a million more people into Bohol and the already besieged tarsier will disappear.

Singapore, another place that anti-family planning groups love to cite as an example of a crowded but livable place (with about 16,000 people per square kilometer, in case you’re wondering), is heavily import-dependent, and that includes having to bring in about half of its water supply from Malaysia. If we tried to fit 85 million people into Bohol, they would need to import water from other places (not Cebu City, incidentally, which also faces a growing water supply crisis).

Metro Manila hardly produces any food of its own, but we manage to pack 12 million people into a tiny space because the rest of the country produces the capital’s food. The National Capital Region produces several tons of waste daily, but no problem again because this is disposed of in landfill sites... in neighboring towns in Rizal.

Anti-family planning groups often attack demographers for talking about “population explosion” but they play the same numbers game when they use these Bohol or Texas scenarios. It’s dehumanizing when people try to downplay the population problem by arguing that we can fit more people into a certain land area, almost as if we were talking about cows being let out to graze.

Love the environment, but relate that to a love for children too, recognizing how much they need in terms of food, shelter, clothing, education, health services and, most importantly, a natural environment that nourishes both body and soul. I do not support State restrictions like the one-child policy in China, but we should also question the argument that people should just have as many children as “they can afford.” Sure, a couple could have so much money they could afford to have a dozen children, but the costs of having many children are shouldered not just by the family and the community but the entire planet, and by generations yet to be born.
http://archive.inquirer.net/view.php?db=1&story_id=132976
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