What are you most concerned about in this complicated world of ours? Is it animal rights and concern about the extinction of so many species? Do you stay up at night worrying about human rights and reproductive justice? Do you get hot around the collar when you think about climate change? Or is it pollution and poisoning of our environment? For each of these issues, one thing is undeniable. Population matters.
Human population growth is the basis for so many problems that we face today, and that are posed to prove even greater burdens in the future. Human population growth, combined with our extravagant consumption, have caused major changes to the world around us: altering the climate, degrading habitats, overexploiting resources, and reducing biodiversity. As much as we currently struggle with these issues the full effect of many will be felt not by us but by our grandchildren. Behind these issues, tirelessly driving them is human population growth.
While human population numbers and growth are concerning in and of themselves, another pressing issue is how much of this growth is perpetuated by unintended pregnancies. In the USA it is estimated that over half of pregnancies are unplanned. More than 200 million women worldwide would like to have more control over their fertility but don’t have access to modern family planning methods. This lack causes 40% of pregnancies to be unplanned worldwide. Limited access to family planning and the burden of unplanned pregnancies tie in closely with barriers to gender equity, poverty alleviation, and improved maternal and child health outcomes. In these ways, population also matters on the individual and household level.
At long last, and possibly too late, people are beginning once again to realize that the numbers of people themselves constitute a threat to civilization. However, despite that recognition, many of a new flood of articles clearly demonstrate the continuing failure to understand the situation, even among those who ought to know better. Some of the more prominent errors are that consumption is the problem, not population; that the only difficulty is finding ways to feed an additional 2.5 billion people in the next 35 years; that a spontaneous “demographic transition” will save humanity by producing a stable population; and, of course the old bromide that human ingenuity will develop magical technologies permitting the population to grow forever.
Despite the importance of our numbers to the world we live in, relatively little attention is paid to human population. Fortunately, there are two national, environmentally-focused organizations in the USA that buck this trend and have significant population programs: the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, there are other organizations that focus on population issues, such as the Population Media Center.
In Great Britain the most important nonprofit organization focusing on human population is Population Matters. Population Matters is a membership organization that has existed for more than 20 years, known as the Optimum Population Trust until 2011. Population Matters’ vision “is of a sustainable future, including decent living standards for all, environmental sustainability and a stable population living within resource constraints.” The group is actively engaged in education, research, lobbying and campaigning to achieve the goals of universal access to family planning services, an end to discrimination against women throughout the world, and global convergence in living standards. To learn more about Population Matters, visit their informative website at http://www.populationmatters.org.
On this side of the Atlantic you can find a newspaper column “Population Matters!” It has been appearing in the Durango (Colorado) Herald since 1995. Written by a local obstetrician-gynecologist, Richard Grossman, it is probably the only regularly appearing newspaper column dealing with human population issues in the world. Dr. Grossman has recently shared his perspective on pressing topics such as the need to ensure voluntary participation in family planning programs and state-level anti-abortion laws. For those who do not read the Herald regularly, the essays are also distributed by email to people around the world. If you would like to join that list serve, contact Grossman at [email protected]. Past essays are available at: http://www.population-matters.org.
Both Population Matters, and “Population Matters!” as their names suggest, are committed to including human population in the discussions and actions towards a more sustainable world. In short, both are committed to reminding us all that population matters.
Typical of a most basic error in trying to argue about one of our most trying issues in today’s world is the analysis that tries to tie the climate crisis to the catastrophic failure of neoliberal capitalism. Sadly, those that do seem unaware of the literature and the many critical issues that are raised, make the mistake of asserting that the problem is not population growth but consumption by the rich. They correctly emphasize the lethal role of unrestrained capitalism, but ignore the other dimensions of the environmental threats to sustainability, such as the loss of biodiversity and natural capital, decay of the epidemiological environment, and the true scale of the poisoning of Earth, all driven and exacerbated by human population growth.
While perpetual growth of population and consumption are generally expected by run-of-the-mill economists (the good ones know better), the Wall Street Journal editorial page community at least have the excuse of near non-existent training in how the biophysical world really works. Today these demographic patterns spark concerns, not of a single explosion, but of “cluster bombs” in rapidly growing countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, which are hobbled by poor governance and limited schooling capacity and already have huge numbers of poorly educated young adults without job prospects. These hot spots around the world emphasize that population matters for the future of the world. Look at the mass migrations occurring now from Syria!
Reprinted from the 2015 Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) blog.
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Herons on the Beach
Herons on the Beach