ONE of Scotland’s most eminent scientists has argued that couples in the UK should have no more than two children to help tackle the world’s soaring population.
Professor Sir Ian Wilmut puts forward his controversial views in today’s Scotsman as the number of people on the planet officially hits seven billion.
The professor of reproductive biology, most famous for his role in cloning Dolly the Sheep, argues that “population control is essential and beneficial even in countries like our own” because of the strain such a large number of people place on the planet’s resources.
He adds: “What is needed now is government promotion of the fact that having more than two children is imposing unacceptable demands upon the environment.”
His views sparked a heated debate over whether people in the UK have a social responsibility to limit the number of children they have.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland described Prof Wilmut’s views as “nonsensical irrelevance”.
However, others argued the world’s population has grown so large that individuals need to help by having a small number of children to use fewer resources.
Yesterday, the United Nations named a newborn girl from the Philippines, Danica May Camacho, as the seven billionth person on the planet.
With hundreds of thousands of babies born each day it was impossible to accurately pinpoint the arrival of the seven billionth person, but the UN chose yesterday to mark the day.
Hitting the seven billion mark means there has been a seven-fold increase in the world’s population over the past 200 years.
And the UN estimates the global population will reach eight billion by 2025 and ten billion by 2083.
It has taken just 12 years for the population to swell by the last billion people.
However, in Scotland the average woman currently has fewer than two children, compared to Niger, West Africa, which has the highest fertility rate, where women have an average of seven.
Writing an article called Population and consumption the twin determinants of our fate in The Scotsman today, Prof Wilmut said that even in the UK there are “obvious effects of human activity upon the rural environment”.
And he said although it would be “perverse” to remove the financial support that ensures children in the UK have a good start, there should be “social encouragement for those who choose not to have children or have only one child”.
He added, however, that “anything approaching the enforced single child policy of China would be inappropriate and unacceptable”.
The scientist, who has three children, one of whom is adopted, suggested that an “alternative opportunity” for people who want children was to adopt.
“This also gives a means of having a child of the gender that you most wish for,” he added.
Prof Wilmut is the latest in a long line of well-known figures to promote the idea of having fewer children.
Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, environmentalist Jonathan Porrit, primatologist Jane Goodall, television presenter Chris Packham and former American vice-president Al Gore have all in the past sparked controversy by making similar comments.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland responded by saying: “Professor Wilmut’s views are nonsensical irrelevance. The idea that the human population is too high has been around for over a century. It started with Thomas Malthus.
“The Malthusian views have never gone away. There were those who said if the population reached one billion the world would collapse. This type of dictatorial population control argument has always been proved wrong in the past.”
He argued that considering the land available, Scotland was a “hugely underpopulated country”. And he said the problem was not one of “resources”, but one of “distribution”.
“There are many agriculturalists who would point out that arable land is more than sufficient to provide food for a population of 20 billion,” he said.
“What we have is a problem with distribution. In America the average dog is fed more calories than the average person in subsaharan Africa. That’s a problem we need to address.”
He said any attempt to interfere in the number of children people have could lead to the “disastrous outcome” in China that resulted in chronic levels of infanticide by parents wanting sons when it adopted a single child policy.
Anastasia Dewaal, deputy director of independent think tank Civitas, agreed there should not be any attempt to control the number of children had by families.
“There has been for a long time now rather dogmatic advice saying to people in this country that they should be very questioning of whether they have more than one child because this puts a strain on the planet,” she said.
“But if you look at where there are demographic issues it’s not in this part of Europe and we actually have issues about replacement of population rather than having too many people.”
She said people in the UK have ended up “confused” due to mixed messages.
“We are told we won’t have enough people to pay for pensions in the future, but are also given dogmatic advice about having fewer children.
“I think there’s an awful lot to scare people off having children. If people are being put off having more than one child due to mixed messages that’s deeply troubling. Families need clear and evidence-based information rather than judgments that are based on evidence that isn’t even accurate.”
She described the view that people in the UK should have fewer children as “counter-intuitive” because the birth rate is falling.
She added: “We have issues with an ageing population. It’s misleading to suggest having children is problematic.
“In lots of countries having children is seen as the point of life and a great pleasure. Here it’s often portrayed as negative. That’s very troubling.”
And Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, believed it was not about making sure there were fewer people on the planet, but about making sure those people that are here are “consuming less, wasting less and living a more sustainable lifestyle”.
“The world can sustain up to nine million people, but not with the current Western diet, wasteful lifestyle, or levels of energy consumption,” he said.
And he added: “While population growth is one of the drivers of climate change and resource use, it is far from the major one.
“Fossil fuel use remains the primary cause of environmental damage and climate change.”
However, Professor Colin Gallagher, emeritus professor of engineering who is a trustee for the campaign group Population Matters, supported Prof Wilmut’s views.
He believes an extra one million people are likely to arrive in Scotland by 2020, mainly from the rest of the UK. “Politicians may think that’s a contribution to the economy, but the downside is that another one million people will need another one million people’s worth of services such as hospitals and roads and schools,” he said.
A report by The National Records of Scotland last week predicted Scotland’s population, currently about 5.2 million, would rise to 5.76 million by 2035, driven by high levels of migration and more births than deaths.
The figure equates to a ten per cent increase – more than half a million people – over a quarter of a century.