Amid the furor over sky-high oil prices and $4 gasoline, the news media have given minimal attention to an increasingly significant factor contributing to rising energy prices: the relentless uptick in global population.
We're adding 77 million energy-consuming people to the planet every year. That increase is more than triple the population of fast-growing Texas, the second-most populous state in the world's third most-populous nation.
The bulk of the global population jump is in developing countries where energy consumption rates also are rising the fastest. That phenomenon not only is fostering greater worldwide demand for fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), but also squeezing precious fresh-water supplies and steadily decreasing land available for crops at a time when food prices are soaring.
Given this backdrop, it was pleasing to see a news article outlining Egypt's intensified efforts to rein in its rapid population growth at a time when the government is dealing with lengthy bread lines and riots over flour rationing.
In only about 25 years, Egypt's population has roughly doubled, to 81 million, making it the most populous Arab nation and the 16th most populous of the world's 200-plus nations. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has launched a new family planning campaign based on concerns that the nation's population would double by 2050 based on current growth rates.
The slogan for the $80 million campaign is simple: "Two children per family - a chance for a better life."
Indeed, that's roughly the birth rate necessary to eventually stabilize the world's population.
That lower birth rate would reduce the growing pressure on the world's finite supply of fossil fuels, fresh water and arable land. It also would temper the damage that continued population growth is causing in terms of air and water pollution, destruction of rain forests and extinction of plant and animal species.
Population growth also accelerates concern about climate change (a.k.a. global warming). Can you believe we're facing the potential extinction of the magnificent polar bear as a result of melting Arctic ice?
As the United Nations Population Fund has noted, stronger family planning programs and increased formal education for women raise their living standards, lower their birth rates and reduce the number of unwanted children entering the world. The less that women face unwanted pregnancies, the lower the number of potential abortions.
Even if the world's birth rate were instantly lowered to two per woman, there would be continued population growth for a considerable time because many nations currently have a large number of women of child-bearing age.
Take China, the world's most-populous nation and a country well known for its governmentally mandated "one-child" policy. China is still gaining 7 million people annually as a result of natural growth (births exceeding deaths), according to demographer Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau.
Growth continues because China allows many exceptions to its "one-child" policy (resulting in an actual birth rate of about 1.6) and because the nation has many women of child-bearing age, Haub said.
The United States, with 304 million people, is the world's biggest energy glutton and is growing at nearly 3 million people annually, with immigration a major factor. In 2050, the U.S. is expected to have 420 million people, an increase of 116 million, and will retain its ranking as the world's third-most populous nation, according to PRB projections made in 2007.
It would be laudable if America spent far less money on ill-fated foreign adventures such as the Iraq war and instead focused overseas expenditures on family planning programs, reduction of poverty and disease, agricultural development, improving water systems and enhancement of women's rights. In a future presidential administration, that actually might happen.
Jack Z. Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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