Every so often, the government announces measures to encourage an increase in the birth rate. Logically, these measures are likely to fail — no one will have more children for the sake of a subsidy. If a subsidy results in better child care, then that's a good thing. But I can't help but be worried by the thinking behind such a measure. The added expense is not such a problem, and that is why the population issue has been narrowed down to a matter of having more children to balance out the aging population. However, the main problem is that no overall solution has been discussed.
In the final analysis, there is only one real cause of the world's environmental problems: There are too many people. Overpopulation and excessive consumption has led to the destruction of habitats, air and water pollution, extinction of species and an imbalance in many ecological cycles. One example is the hottest topic of debate: global warming, the result of imbalances in carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere.
Our Earth is protesting because the human population is unsustainable. Our little Taiwan, with its many high mountains and sparse lowlands, is the second most densely populated country in the world. In Kaohsiung, more than 9,800 people are squeezed in to 1km2. Can Taiwan really sustain further population growth?
Today, when heavy rain sets off landslide after landslide and academics estimate that the sea level will continue to rise, eventually submerging Taiwan's western lowlands, including Taipei and Tainan, our government wants to increase the population. What kind of logic is this?
What should be done about the aging population? How about changing the definition of the word "old?" Another factor contributing to overpopulation is increased life expectancy. Medical science has increased our life expectancy and 80 is no longer considered that old. If people continue to retire after working for 25 or 30 years, that means that someone who is 80 years old has to be cared for by others for decades of his or her life. If we try to balance this account by increasing the population, we will only make things worse. Maybe the solution is to find ways for everyone to be able to work into his or her old age, so that they don't have to rely on others.
Rather than increasing birth rates, it would be better if the government directed its efforts toward preparing for the arrival of an aged society and creating a retirement pension system based on equality and fairness. If the government still has any energy left after doing all that, there is nothing wrong with conducting serious research on how to respond to ecological disasters and how to restore damaged land. But having more children will not solve the problem.
When deciding its policy on population, the government needs to give due consideration to the limitations of the treasury, Taiwan and the Earth.
Kuo Yenmin is a research assistant in the life sciences department's Laboratory of Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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