Human population growth concerns many but does any person have the right to tell another person that they should or should not have a child? There are a few countries where the answer is yes and that certainly has implications for the environment as well as our spiritual and psychological wellbeing.

Alabama's 25 male senators recently decided that even victims of rape or incest should be forced to bear the child of their abuser. That law has been appealed to the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has withdrawn funding from any family planning clinics in the US or elsewhere if they help women get access to safe abortions.

While the politics of fertility control is always a hot issue, is it the sheer number of people on the planet that is behind the global ecological crisis or is it the way some of us live? I think we need to sort that question before we put even more pressure on young adults.

Last year's shocking WWF study that said 60 per cent of all wild fish, birds, reptiles and mammals were wiped out by human activity between 1970 and 2014 has led some to join extinction rebellion groups and question whether we are just a delinquent species that must be reduced before our unsustainable ways cause ecosystems to collapse.


Those arguments can get toxic when some people begin to talk about who is breeding too fast and whether the resulting hordes will become refugees trying to invade rich countries. That underlies the "Replacement Theory" in extreme right-wing white nationalist circles and the resulting carnage has been seen from Christchurch to El Paso.

To be clear, the rate of human population growth seems to have passed its peak. Still, it has not slowed to replacement level and the current population of around 7.69 billion is likely to hit 10 billion at the peak.

Many countries already have fertility rates well below replacement level, most strikingly Taiwan and South Korea where the average fertility per woman is not much more than one child. China is starting to ease their vigorous one child policy and sit at around 1.64, implying the most populous country will soon be India with their rate at 2.3.

Much higher fertility rates seem to correlate with poverty and suppression of women's education and their participation in the economy. The UN's development goals have offered a logical path forward with the win-win solution of improving lives and reducing population growth. Unfortunately, populist leaders prefer the strategy of exploiting xenophobia by trumping up racist fears and spending more on weapons instead of development aid.

Back here, a group called BirthStrike is arguing that having a baby is a lose-lose situation because the baby would endure the environmental crisis and parenting would reduce adults' ability to fight that crisis. I think this is sad and misguided. Parents, like our Prime Minister, note the switch that ignites in the brain when that new life arrives and relies on them totally. They become the best advocates for a sustainable future.

Having taught adolescents for decades, I have seen the issues they deal with piling up. There is more disengagement and depression reflected in a raft of statistics that concern us all. Young New Zealanders deserve to aspire to a meaningful role in a transformative society including raising their own children to live in increasing harmony with the life around us.

* Keith Beautrais is an educator and environmentalist.