Hollywood's Dystopian View of Population: Entertaining But Not Realistic

Armageddon again? Hollywood continues its investment in a spate of movies and TV shows about the end of the world or some variant thereof. The latest: a Lifetime TV series called The Lottery about the ultimate birth dearth -- a world in which no one is capable of having children -- no way, no how.

Obviously, these fictional shows are not meant to depict reality. Entertainment is supposed to be, well, entertaining. And fantastical diversions can be welcome relief from the day-to-day. So, if this appeals to you, enjoy it.

Taking off our TV glasses for a moment, is the world heading for collapse or some sort of Armageddon? The answer is an unequivocal "yes." One may, however, have to be inordinately patient waiting for this ultimate doomsday. Scientists tell us that the sun, our favorite star, which outshines the pearly whites of Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow as well as War of the Worlds, will implode in just six billion years, give or take. When that happens, it's goodbye Earth.

As for planetary catastrophes in the near future, that's unknowable. Many of these shows seem to revolve around some sort of population explosion or implosion. I wouldn't worry much about the latter possibility since we're adding a billion people or so to the planet every dozen years.

But what about the other side of the coin? Will human population growth produce some sort of collapse? The most definitive answer available is... it might. We're altering the world's climate at an unprecedented rate. While scientists warn about its impending degradation, no one can forecast all the disruptions that may occur. This is the largest science experiment ever conducted. The results are wildly uncertain but almost definitely will prove catastrophic for many. There is, however, a well-funded cottage industry these days populated by deniers of all sorts. If nothing else, this demonstrates that there's no birth dearth when it comes to charlatans and fools.

So what's the most logical scenario for the near-term -- the period depicted in The Lottery? If you want to predict the future, just look at the present. For many, our world is a pretty nice place, all things considered. Many of us are well-housed, well-clothed, well-fed (at times too well-fed). But for billions of others, Armageddon arrives every day.

Almost one billion people face hunger on a daily basis and/or lack a dependable supply of drinking water. One in six people worldwide struggles to live on less than $1.25 per day. Species are threatened or becoming extinct as their habitats are consumed to provide land to feed this continually growing mass of people. Deforestation, soil erosion, and the earth's rising temperatures are frustrating our ability to care for those already here and the 80 million more people joining us annually. None of this bodes well for the long-term health and well-being of people -- especially the poorest among us -- worldwide.

So while Hollywood continues to offer up diversions -- something most of us need in one form or another -- in the real world there is a script we can follow to dramatically improve life on our planet. It doesn't require superheroes (sorry, Tom) nor does it provide a cathartic ending wrapped up in a two-hour drama or a season-ending finale.

The likely hero for improving planetary outcomes is family planning, made widely available and affordable for women and couples around the world. It's effective and definitely worth the investment. We just need to tune in to the needs of women and couples. And unlike those crazy cable bills, the cost is shockingly modest. For just an additional $1.25 per American per year, we could make our fair share of the investment needed to supply the unmet need for contraception worldwide. And it's better than a lottery because everyone can be a winner.

John Seager is president of Population Connection, www.populationconnection.org, America's voice for population stabilization.