National Geographic : 2011 Jan
1.4 billion people in 2050 instead of 1.6 billion. Critics of the Andhra Pradesh model, such as the Population Foundation's Nanda, say Indians need better health care, particularly in rural areas. ey are against numerical targets that pressure government workers to sterilize people or cash incentives that distort a couple's choice of family size. "It's a private decision," Nanda says. In Indian cities today, many couples are making the same choice as their counterparts in Europe or America. Sonalde Desai, a senior fellow at New Delhi's National Council of Ap- plied Economic Research, introduced me to ve working women in Delhi who were spending most of their salaries on private-school fees and a er-school tutors; each had one or two chil- dren and was not planning to have more. In a nationwide survey of 41,554 households, Desai's team identi ed a small but growing vanguard of urban one-child families. "We were totally blown away at the emphasis parents were placing on their children," she says. "It suddenly makes you understand---that is why fertility is going down." Indian children on average are much bet- ter educated than their parents. at's less true in the countryside. With Desai's team I went to Palanpur, a village in Uttar Pra- desh---a Hindi-belt state with as many people as Brazil. Walking into the village we passed a cell phone tower but also rivulets of raw sewage running along the lanes of small brick houses. Under a mango tree, the keeper of the grove said he saw no reason to educate his three daughters. Under a neem tree in the center of the village, I asked a dozen farmers what would improve their lives most. "If we could get a little money, that would be wonderful," one joked. e goal in India should not be reducing fer- tility or population, Almas Ali of the Popula- tion Foundation told me when I spoke to him a few days later. " e goal should be to make the villages livable," he said. "Whenever we talk of population in India, even today, what comes to our mind is the increasing numbers. And the numbers are looked at with fright. is phobia has penetrated the mind-set so much that all the focus is on reducing the number. e focus on people has been pushed to the background." It was a four-hour drive back to Delhi from Palanpur, through the gathering night of a Sun- day. We sat in tra c in one market town a er another, each one hopping with activity that sometimes engulfed the car. As we came down a viaduct into Moradabad, I saw a man pushing a cart up the steep hill, piled with a load so large it blocked his view. I thought of Ehrlich's epiphany on his cab ride all those decades ago. People, peo- ple, people, people---yes. But also an overwhelm- ing sense of energy, of striving, of aspiration. THE ANNUAL MEETING of the Population Asso- ciation of America (PAA) is one of the premier gatherings of the world's demographers. Last April the global population explosion was not on the agenda. " e problem has become a bit passé," Hervé Le Bras says. Demographers are generally con dent that by the second half of this century we will be ending one unique era in history---the population explosion---and entering another, in which population will level out or even fall. But will there be too many of us? At the PAA meeting, in the Dallas Hyatt Regency, I learned that the current population of the planet could t into the state of Texas, if Texas were settled as densely as New York City. e comparison People packed into slums need help, but the problem that needs solving is poverty, not overpopulation.