President's Note, June 2023

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: June 12, 2023

While attending a posh party on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut remarked to Joseph Heller that their wealthy host might have made more money the previous day than Heller had made through a lifetime of royalties from his 1961 novel Catch-22. Heller responded that he had something which their host might never have: “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

So, when is enough enough? As for stuff, some of us have more than we need—or perhaps even want. Conversely, there are billions who simply don’t have enough when it comes to clean water, food, housing, or health care. We should do what we can to help meet the needs of those whose lives are a daily struggle, while also addressing overconsumption here in the United States and elsewhere.

Too often, when anyone dares to discuss human overpopulation, sudden silence ensues. We must break that silence by asking the population question: When is enough enough?

Numerous studies have examined the question of how many people the planet can support. Estimates range from modest (500 million) to ludicrous (a trillion). Why fixate on some upper limit as if we’re determined to cram Planet Earth like a clown car?

Let’s turn the question around by considering how many people would be too few. For virtually the entirety of Earth’s history, the number of humans remained constant at exactly zero. That seems a bit on the low side to me, but I may be biased. Human population only began to soar about two centuries ago, when we hit the 1 billion mark following several hundred thousand years of barely perceptible population growth. Barring some global cataclysm, if the current trend toward smaller families were to expand to the point where the world average fell below replacement rate, it might take several centuries or more to get us back to a more sustainable level. No doubt, some socioeconomic shifts would prove challenging. Then again, consider all the problems that plague the world due to our soaring global numbers.

Lately, we’ve seen much hand-wringing about putative economic perils of population stabilization and decline. But whose economy is it anyway? Why couldn’t we have a less crowded world where everyone has everything they need, along with a decent share of that which makes life interesting and engaging?

After exploiting nature nonstop for the past two centuries through our burgeoning numbers and conspicuous consumption, wouldn’t it be polite, not to mention smart, to ensure living space for all—including the 10 million other species with whom we cohabit this wondrous planet? There is a word for this: stewardship.

Congratulations to our Board Chair, Estelle Raboni, who received a 2023 Distinguished Service Award for Excellence in Response from the New York City Department of Health for launching the first, city-run Abortion Access Hub! Since its introduction on November 1, 2022, the Hub has served over 1,300 women seeking abortion services in NYC. We are so proud to have Estelle leading Population Connection!