Ever notice that you never hear about the world's population crisis any more? Of if you do, it's more likely to refer to Europe's underpopulation, due to falling birth rates, rather than the overpopulation in the Third World we heard about for decades, which purportedly threatened the resources of our entire planet. (See, for instance, this recent story in the New York Times about "baby-starved" Germany.) Bill Gates has said that the overpopulation problem was his motivation for getting interested in Third World health issues, but even he's not talking about it now.
"It's strangely vanished from the consciousness," says Reimert Ravenholt, a Laurelhurst resident who once pioneered birth control efforts in developing countries as head of the USAID's Office of Population in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Reimert's devotion to his cause made him a legendary and controversial figure, particularly after he suggested that Third World women would eagerly embrace sterilization (a practice often associated with colonial attitudes toward dark-skinned children). When I call him up to ask what happened to the population movement, he's as feisty as ever. He says overpopulation is still a huge problem but that the church's hold on the White House, from Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush, has diverted us from that realization. Federal funding that once went toward birth control overseas now goes toward general "reproductive health." "There's a great clarity and lack of understanding the whole field," he says.