Too few, or too many?
The Korea Times editorial published on June 1, 2011 was right on in calling for a national debate on population. ``Population is Power,” says the paper, which advocates jump-starting South Korea’s sagging birthrate now threatening to turn this nation into a ``super-aged society” by 2050.
But while The Korea Times thinks that we need more people, experts around the world caution that too many people are exactly the reason behind most of the problems facing humanity. That’s also what scholars who wrote the textbook ``Ecosystem and the Environment” ― elective reading for all high school students in South Korea ― say.
On page 26, in Korean, it reads (this writer’s translation) ``Human population increase is the main cause of environmental problems.” The saddest thing about this book is that it is not required reading for all high school students, and that may be the reason for public ignorance on such matters today.
While The Korea Times editorial’s argument is understandable from a geopolitical point of view (Korea is surrounded by China, Russia and Japan), it fails to point out that all countries of the world do not have to be in a global race to see who can have more babies. Perhaps instead of a national debate on ways to solve the so-called ``South Korean fertility crisis,” what is needed is an international debate on ``How much is enough?”
The problem, of course, is that other countries don’t want to stop growing. India added almost four times the population of South Korea just over the last decade. Nigeria is expected to have 730 million people by the end of this century, up from its current 162 million. Yemen, which had only 5 million people in 1950, is predicted to have 100 million by the end of this century, and according to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, all the groundwater in the Middle East is virtually gone.
South Korea, which is heavily dependent on international trade, could not support the almost 50 million people currently living here should imports suddenly dry up. According to a report published by Optimum Population Trust, South Korea is the fourth least self sufficient county in the world, after Singapore, Israel and Kuwait, with a ``sustainable population” of just 3.79 million.
As South Korea’s thirst for food and luxury items increases, it is buying up land in other countries in order to meet its insatiable needs. But as the population of other countries also swells, what will happen? Who will win the war over resources?
It is ironic that in the same issue in which The Korea Times argues for more people, there were two other articles pointing out problems caused by too many people. At the top of page 7 of the June 1 issue, a headline read: ``CO2 emissions highest ever in 2010.” At the bottom of page 9 an article written by a U.N. official for economic development read: ``Food fears return.” The writer cites ``Deforestation, growing population pressure, urbanization, soil erosion, over-fishing” and more as some of the reasons behind current food inflation. But he could have saved a lot of ink had he simply said ``People ― too many people.”
Granted, a lot of us are perfectly happy to sit in automobile gridlock and watch forest converted to superhighways and shopping malls as long as it makes life more convenient. But when blue-fin tuna is no longer available at the local sushi restaurant, will we feel cheated? And when our summer vacation home is washed away by rising sea levels, who will be to blame?
Experts such as Lester Brown, David Suzuki and others warn us of the impending world food crisis. By publishing articles advocating finding new ways to increase the population, The Korea Times is either shirking social responsibility or they really do believe that not enough people is ``the problem.”
The State of Utah has the fastest growing population in the United States. The Salt Lake City Tribune recently published an article reporting that the greater SLC area is experiencing ``traffic congestion, dwindling water supplies, runaway air pollution, suburban sprawl, overflowing landfills, stressed infrastructure, ever-lengthening commutes, rising unemployment, diminishing natural resources” like never before. Despite this, it points out, ``The business people, elected officials and community leaders (continue to) champion growth at every opportunity.”
It’s time for an international debate on population. It should no longer be a race to see which country can have the most babies.
Rick Ruffin, a graduate of University of Texas, now writes from Donghae, Gangwon Province. He can be reached at email@example.com.