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Population boom - problem or not?

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Question: The World Population Institute recently released a report calling for renewed efforts to curb global population numbers. Are we experiencing a world population crisis?

Josette Shiner: An array of people - from Charlton Heston to Al Gore - agree that we are experiencing a "world population explosion." They believe the world's growing population is a major factor in problems like poverty, pollution, global warming, famine, in-fant mortality and war.The difficulty is that blaming these problems on "too many people" is simply wrong. Although the world's population continues to increase, and while population was once increasing too rapidly in some places, international birthrates have now begun dropping. In fact, according to Ben Wattenberg, an expert on the subject and author of "The Birth Dearth," "Never have birth rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long all around the world."

Perhaps the real threat is what demographics expert Nicholas Eb-er-stadt terms a "world population implosion." The implications of depopulation are momentous, if still unclear. Worry not about global warming but of a global nursing home. Consider what has been, and is, happening in Italy. In the future, that country will be increasingly populated by older adults and senior citizens. That is fine, and actually good in many respects (think of crime rates), but it also may imperil things like the economy, the social safety net and the country's tax base.

Bonnie Erbe: Boy, does my colleague have it wrong. Is there anyone who believes there are not enough people in the world?

In this country alone, open spaces are quickly being paved over. Suburbs that used to stretch 10 miles beyond city limits now pile strip mall after strip mall, fast-food restaurant after fast-food restaurant and used car lot after used car lot into endless eyesores that burgeon 50 miles and more outside city limits.

If my colleague thinks America has too few residents, her wish for more people is being fulfilled. Population projections show that by 2050, we will swell from our present 270 million residents to 350 million. That's two more Californias in five decades. If we think overcrowding in our schools and cities along with accompanying traffic jams that provoke road rage and high urban crime rates is problematic now, we've not seen anything compared to the near future.

Yes, there are certain countries (mainly a handful in Scandinavia and one or two in southern Europe) where population growth rates have stalled. That's mainly due to highly educated populaces. Educated women have economic opportunities, and they generally choose to have smaller families. But overall, the world's population is growing by 80 million people per month. India alone is adding 18 million people to the world's population on a monthly basis. And in the 95 percent of the world where population growth rates are staggering (many developing countries have fertility rates of 7 and 8, which is the average number of children a woman of child-bearing age will have), poverty and squalor still dominate.

I have yet to understand what motivates conservatives to turn apoplectic about an alleged "birth dearth." For those of us who love the outdoors - for hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking or just getting away from it all - there's anything but a birth dearth going around. There's a green spaces dearth. And it's getting nothing but worse.