My interest in world population issues recently led me to John Taves. He runs Pacific Northwest Software and PickATime.com, but he’s also consumed with solving the world’s population problem. He is an example of the famous Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; …indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” He is passionate about his cause, and has created a website, StopAtTwo.org. I recently interviewed him about his site and goals.
What led you to create StopAtTwo.org?
When I was eight years old, I remember telling my mom that I wanted to have a family just like hers, with two boys and two girls. She told me it takes two to make a baby, so each person is replaced if they have two biological children. But if each person has more than two children, the population will grow. I argued that my children will eventually die so the population increase won’t stay forever, but she pointed out that they will have children before they die. I recognized that if we all have more than two, the population will grow to the limit of what the planet can handle and so it was wrong for me to have more than two. I remember thinking that everyone needs to know this.
Recently, I read about how the inhabitants of Easter Island chopped down trees faster than they grew, and when they ran out of trees to build boats for fishing, the population crashed from above 20,000 to below 2000. I realized that today we are consuming resources, like oil, and uranium, faster than they renew and thus are headed for the same crash. That’s when I realized I had to do something, and I started StopAtTwo.org.
Why do you say there is a “horrible state of ignorance” regarding the StopAtTwo facts?
One only needs to search for “overpopulation” on the internet and drill into the forums and discussions to discover there’s lots of confusion. Some say it’s ok to have as many kids as you want as long as you can afford them. Some say that all 7 billion humans could fit in Texas, implying that the world can handle a lot more. Even when you dig into technical journals from population experts, you discover that ignorance is rampant. Not to mention religions and belief systems that promote having lots of children, without realizing the consequences.
What is the goal of StopAtTwo?
StopAtTwo has three main concepts, and we want to build a movement so that everyone becomes aware of them. There will be plenty of public debate, but ultimately the facts and logic are unavoidable. We want StopAtTwo’s facts and logic to replace flawed logic and inaccurate beliefs that are out there today.
Thanks, John~Check out the StopAtTwo campaign and join the population conversation and solutions. If every person had an ounce of John’s fervor and commitment to taking action on world problems, the world would surely be a better place–and have less of a population problem!
How do you weigh in on the world’s growing population?
Well, i don’t think humans are “well regulated” – meaning you can’t control what they choose to do and when you try it creates other unforeseen problems.
In an ideal world, i think at least 50% of the population would have no children at all. We are all aware of the statistics of child abuse and know how many many children are in foster care. Obviously those parents have no business procreating. Then i think there are about 40% of the population who would do well with one or two children. They can handle that number and raise reasonably responsible individuals. The 10% left are those who do well with a large number of children. I read the blogs of a few of these folks and they appear to have a very happy life and are raising children who will be people who change the world.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, and i don’t see any way to enforce this. First off, until it happens, how do we know who will be good parents? A cousin of my husband’s was one of the most selfish, narcissistic people i’ve ever known. I was worried when she and her husband decided to have a child. But the change in that woman is amazing, i almost don’t recognize her. Motherhood has made a tremendous difference to this incredibly self-centric person. But evidently they recognize that one is all they can handle. No more children for them.
But how do you know this in advance? Who decides what 50% or more should not have kids?
I don’t know about the Texas idea, but in that case they’re probably only talking about physical space that cities take up. You could fit all the cities in the world into Texas, I’m sure. In fact, if you put every person in the world into the Grand Canyon, we would take up less than 1% of the volume of the Grand Canyon.
But, it’s more about the resources consumed than the physical space. Arable land makes up a tiny, tiny percentage of the earth’s surface. We do need space, and there’s still a lot of it, but you can’t eat space.
I confess, though, I’m not childfree for any environmental reasons. I feel like I don’t owe society a child, nor do I owe it to society to NOT have a child. Even if having a child would be GOOD for the biosphere, I still wouldn’t have one.
Kathryn, I understand where you are coming from. However, we must not confuse the two issues.
When people think about limiting the number of births, they frequently think about the topic you brought up which is to attempt to limit the births to qualified or competent parents. There are two issues with this.
First, it is important to understand that your descendants must not average more than two children per person. If they do, then they will overpopulate the planet. This means that everyone is limited to the number of children they produce. For example if I create three children, then my three children must not each have two. They must limit my grandchildren to four total.
Secondly, when we all understand this and we are working together to manage our numbers, we will want to maintain an average below two in order to guide our numbers to well below sustainable levels. To do this we will choose to say something like no more than one child per person (like china), or maybe we will pick no more than three grandchildren per person, as the limit.
We must not consider limiting which parents are allowed to have children. This opens up too many horrible possibilities. We do not want to open the can of worms where one set of people, the majority, can determine which individuals are allowed to have children.
StopAtTwo has no desire at all to suggest, or hint, or mislead anyone into thinking that we should limit which individuals are qualified to have children. The only “qualification” that StopAtTwo advocates are based on the number you, your siblings, or your cousins have already had.
Interesting stuff but how do go about changing some deep seated and long standing cultural issues, which come down a lack of womens rights in general and a lack of choice as to how many children a woman can have.
Often its not a lack of want to decide simply a total lack of access to any kind of contraception. Who are you mainly focusing on?
Kathryn – does a truly narcissistic person ever change? its a serious personality disorder! perhaps people misinterpreted her….
Agreed, StopAtTwo is on to something, and access to contraception especially in countries with high birthrates does seem like it has to be in the mix–you agree, John?
Brigitte, thanks for asking that.
It is certainly true that there are many different societal beliefs out there. In some, women have no choice about how many children they have. In some, it is believed to be best to have as many as you can. However, I think it is safe to say that harming or killing children is a universally accepted as morally wrong.
It is also safe to say that almost nobody understands that if any group averages more than two children per adult, they condemn children in that group to death. For example, if they average three children, then eventually one in three will die. In short, every society that does not have the StopAtTwo “beliefs” has an inconsistency in their belief system. You can’t say it is OK to have as many babies as you want and also say you must not starve children. The two are incompatible.
I say “beliefs” because the goal is to make the StopAtTwo concepts common knowledge or an ingrained belief system, yet they are simple facts and correct logic.
You say “often it is not a lack of want”, but that also says that there are groups that want a lot of kids. That group will cause overpopulation even if everyone else on the planet stops making babies. So we have to solve the situation that is even harder than the “often” case you brought up.
So, it is necessary that everyone understands StopAtTwo, and as more and more understand it, it becomes much easier to get contraception to everyone.
The difficulty I have with this is that almost nobody understands the full set of concepts on StopAtTwo. When you do understand them you’ll recognize that we all must understand them, and that other issues are secondary.
For example, it is trivial to find forums where people debate population issues and you’ll find people saying things like consumption is too high, and access to birth control is too difficult.
Imagine that there is a tribe of people that have a birth defect that means that they don’t feel thirsty, and they don’t know they have this disease. I don’t want to say that leading them to water, or bringing them some water is pointless, but frankly it is, if you don’t explain this disease to them.
Once they understand the disease and know they have it, they will seek out the water, and your efforts to lead them to it or bringing it to them will be much easier.
By doing what you are doing–getting the word out and talking about it Will bring more of understanding of StopAtTwo to be sure. Keep it up.
well hopefully you are able to get the word out to people who really need to know about it…
Its a very long term idea.
I understand the concept. It is a moot point with me as my husband and i won’t have children. I just know that there are families that can raise a number of very healthy children as a large family, and then there are folks who are horrible at raising healthy, happy, well-adjusted kids. And i don’t know what the answer to that is. I wish – and that is all i can do – that some folks would recognize their limitations before having children. Of course, some don’t know until they are actually in the situation.
And i agree with you, an outside agency telling folks who could or could not have children would be horrendous, so folks have to police themselves and stop at two.
There is a balance point, however. My MIL has no grandchildren (beyond step-children’s children). My hubby and i don’t have children, his sister died before she had children, his brother has not had children yet and doesn’t show much interest in it. My parents have a number of grandchildren, from one of my sisters. My other sister does not have children either. This still doesn’t balance, but given that from all appearances my husband’s family will die out and there will be no future generations to procreate at all, there is some balance there.
Brigitte – there is a difference between a DSM diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder and someone who behaves narcissistically. I do not have a PhD and so am unqualified to diagnose her (not being snarky, just frank). Someone truly diagnosed does not change. So she could not have had that as her personality, probably as a coping mechanism. Still, it is miraculous the way she has changed.