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Jonathon Porritt — Population: Still the Big Taboo

February 27th, 2014

Population: Still the Big Taboo

See: http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/population-still-big-taboo

I’ve been pre-occupied with the overlap between population and the environment ever since I read the Ecologist’s ‘Blueprint for Survival’ in the early 1970s. I’ve campaigned assiduously for progressive family planning programmes since that time on, just as I have for environmental and social justice issues. It’s always been a no-bloody-brainer that the two go hand in hand.

That’s not the case for the majority of people in the environment movement. For most of the big NGOs in the UK, population has either been completely off-limits or grudgingly acknowledged as an important area of concern but not one in which they feel any need to get actively involved. Throughout that time, the intellectual and moral disconnect has, for me, been startling. And it still is.

A few months ago, as a Patron of Population Matters, I teamed up with my good friend Robin Maynard (who is as baffled by this disconnect as I am) to invite the eight leading environmental NGOs in the UK to review their position. Guided by the headline conclusion from the Royal Society’s ground-breaking ‘People and Planet’ Report in 2012 (“Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues”), we asked them whether they would be prepared to commit to the following six actions:

Accept and promote the findings of the Royal Society’s People and Planet Report that population and consumption must be considered as indivisible, linked issues;

Acknowledge publicly and actively communicate the crucial relevance of population to your organisation’s mission and objectives;
Support and advocate the principle of universal access to safe, affordable family planning for all women throughout the world;

Call on the Government to act on the findings of the Royal Society’s Report and draw up a national population policy;
To use your organisation’s considerable policy resources, voice and influence to speak and engage members of the wider public in an intelligent, informed and honest debate about population;
Include the population factor in all relevant communications and policy pronouncements.
Hardly a revolutionary manifesto – but you might have thought the sky had fallen in. Lengthy delays, prevarication, excuses, weasel words – that was our reality for the next few months. The responses confirmed all our worst fears, and with the honourable exception of Friends of the Earth (that has now developed a new and rather more progressive position on population, which – to be completely fair – is a much better position than the organisation had when I was its Director back in the 1980s), they’re all pretty much where they were four decades ago. Despite a massive increase in human numbers and a correspondingly massive deterioration in the state of our physical environment.

In the interests of transparency, Robin and I have therefore decided to publish summaries of all the responses, based on which we’ve produced a ranking of the best to the worst. (SEE PRESS RELEASE, REPORT AND BRIEFINGS HERE)

1. Friends of the Earth
2. The Wildlife Trusts
4. Greenpeace
6. Wildfowl and Wetland Trust
7. National Trust

As you can imagine, I take no pleasure in those findings, but my continuing anger on this score remains proportionate to that sense of collective blindness on the part of organisations that for the most part I respect and love.

Family planning versus contraception: what’s in a name?

February 14th, 2014

Family planning versus contraception: what’s in a name?
By Marleen Temmerman, Dr María Isabel Rodríguez and Dr Lale Say
See: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(13)70177-3/fulltext

The 20-year anniversary of the 1994 International Conference of Population Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and the upcoming 15-year anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals provide an opportunity to think about the global development agenda, including progress made and any remaining challenges. Although development has been referred to as the best contraceptive, the reverse link is neglected-ie, that sexual and reproductive rights and health facilitate development.1

Reproductive and sexual health is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities. Contraceptive choice is essential to promote the health of individuals and enable development. Contraception has direct health benefits, such as prevention of unintended pregnancy and, subsequently, decreased maternal mortality and morbidity. Women with unintended pregnancies that are continued to term are more likely to receive inadequate or delayed prenatal care and have poorer health outcomes, such as low infant birthweight, infant mortality, and maternal mortality and morbidity, than have those with planned pregnancies.2-6 These risks of unintended pregnancy are increased for adolescents and girls.7, 8 Adolescents are at increased risk of medical complications with pregnancy, and are often forced to make compromises in education and employment, which can lead to poverty and low educational attainment.7,9-11

This information is not new. A large amount of the published work supports the fundamental role that sexual and reproductive health information and services have in the promotion of health, attainment of human rights, and sustainable development. However, poor sexual and reproductive health is a major component of global morbidity and mortality, and disturbing inequities exist in the burden of disability.12 Nearly 20 years after ICPD and 15 years after the Millennium Development Goals, the world lags far behind its objective of universal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. A radical shift is needed to accelerate progress.

To read the full op-ed, please click here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(13)70177-3/fulltext

Ptolemaic Environmentalism

February 11th, 2014

Ptolemaic Environmentalism

The ancient Greek word oecumene came into broad circulation in the Hellenistic era to refer to the inhabited world. It was a world that stretched from the Mediterranean basin to India, and from the Caucasus mountains to the Arabian Peninsula, encompassing diverse peoples and cultures connected via trade routes and empire, building alliances and conquests. By “the inhabited world,” oecumene of course meant the world inhabited by people. What the concept implied by exclusion, by what it passed over in silence, is that nonhumans do not inhabit. Only people are inhabitants, while animals, plants, and the natural communities they create merely exist in certain places—until they are forced to make way for, or be converted to serve, the oecumene.

See: www.eileencrist.com/images/pdf/Crist_PtolemaicEnvironmentalism_Final.pdf

Population Institute: Report card on reproductive health and rights in the U.S.

January 14th, 2014

U.S. overall receives “C-” second year in a row
Only 17 states receive “B-”or higher; 13 states receive failing grade

See: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/population-institute-releases-2013-report-card-on-reproductive-health-and-rights-239154781.html

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Population Institute today released its second annual report card on reproductive health and rights in the U.S., and the results were not encouraging. Thirteen states receive a failing grade, and the U.S. as a whole received a “C-.”

In releasing the report card, Robert Walker, the organization’s President, said, “This year we have seen a lot of victories at the national level, but with states limiting the full scope of that progress. The major victories include: HHS ruling that Plan B One Step be made available over the counter without an age restriction, the Affordable Care Act giving women access to family planning services without a co-pay requirement, and expanded Medicaid eligibility ensuring that millions more women would be eligible to access reproductive health services. Unfortunately, at the state level, attacks on reproductive health care have continued unabated and 25 states have refused to expand their Medicaid program denying millions of women access to health care.”

While Congress has rejected efforts by social conservatives to de-fund family planning programs, several states are drastically reducing their funding for family planning and restricting funding to Planned Parenthood and other providers of contraceptive services. Walker warned that, “While opposition to abortion is driving these political assaults, putting family planning clinics out of business will only increase the number of unwanted pregnancies and, as a consequence, the number of abortions being performed.”

Using nine criteria, the Institute’s report card ranked each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

  • Thirty percent of the grade is based on measures of effectiveness. This includes the latest available data on the teenage pregnancy rate (15%) and the rate of unintended pregnancies (15%).
  • Twenty percent of the grade is based upon prevention. This includes mandated comprehensive sex education in the schools (15%) and access to emergency contraception (5%).
  • Thirty percent of the grade is based upon affordability. This includes if states are expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (10%), Medicaid eligibility rules for family planning (10%), and funding for family planning clinics serving low-income families (10%).
  • The final twenty percent of the grade is based upon clinic access. This includes abortion restrictions (10%) and percent of women living in a county without an abortion provider (10%).

Based upon their scores, each state received a “core” grade (A, B, C, D or F), but some states received an additional “plus” or a “minus” for factors not reflected in the core grade, such as pending changes or legislation.

Only seventeen states received a B- or higher. Just four states (California, Maryland, Oregon and Washington) received an “A”. Oregon received the highest composite score. Thirteen states received a failing grade (“F”). States receiving a failing grade included Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Walker said, “The Affordable Care Act this year should have produced a nationwide improvement in access to reproductive health care services, but 25 states have refused to expand their Medicaid coverage leaving millions without increased access to services. It is imperative that people who care about reproductive health and rights know what states are doing in terms of expanded Medicaid eligibility.”

In issuing the report, Walker warned that the status of reproductive health and rights in many states is under continuing assault. According to the Guttmacher Institute states have enacted 106 provisions relating to reproductive health including abortion, family planning funding, and sex education in just the first six months of 2013. While the assault on women’s reproductive health may be losing some momentum at the state level, Walker warned that “Reproductive health advocates must remain ever vigilant.”

For a copy of the report, including a state-by-state breakdown, visit the Population Institute’s website www.populationinstitute.org/reportcard . For questions about the report, call Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy, at (202) 544-3300×108.

Jennie Wetter, jwetter@populationinstitute.org, (202) 544-3300×108
Stephen Kent, skent@kentcom.com, (914) 589-5988

1 Revisiting demographic transition: correlation and causation in the rate of development and fertility decline.

November 1st, 2013

Revisiting demographic transition: correlation and causation in the rate of development and fertility decline.

Please see the following paper by Dr. Jane O’Sullivan, recently presented at the 27th IUSSP International Population Conference, in Busan, South Korea. Titled “Revisiting demographic transition: correlation and causation in the rate of development and fertility decline“. It may be an indispensable addition to your library.

See: http://www.iussp.org/sites/default/files/event_call_for_papers/OSullivan_IUSSP27_DemographicTransition_FullPaper.pdf

Ocean damage ‘is worse than thought’

October 21st, 2013
Ocean damage ‘is worse than thought’
A new report says the world’s oceans are changing faster than previously thought, which could have dire consequences for both human and marine life.LONDON, 3 October – Marine scientists say the state of the world’s oceans is deteriorating more rapidly than anyone had realised, and is worse than that described in last month’s UN climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They say the rate, speed and impacts of ocean change are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought – and they expect summertime Arctic sea ice cover will have disappeared in around 25 years.

Their review, produced by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, agrees with the IPCC that the oceans are absorbing much of the warming caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

But it says the impact of this warming, when combined with other stresses, is far graver than previous estimates. The stresses include decreasing oxygen levels caused by climate change and nitrogen run-off, other forms of chemical pollution, and serious overfishing.

Professor Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford, IPSO’s scientific director, says: “The health of the ocean is spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated.”

The IUCN’s Professor Dan Laffoley says: “What these latest reports make absolutely clear is that deferring action will increase costs in the future and lead to even greater, perhaps irreversible, losses.”

Overpopulation: Why ingenuity alone won’t save us

September 23rd, 2013

Overpopulation: Why ingenuity alone won’t save us
We are running out of tricks to squeeze more from a planet already bursting its seams
See: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-weisman-population-hunger-climate-20130922,0,90687.story

It’s easy to grasp that in a national park, balance must be maintained between predators and prey, lest the ecosystem crash. But when we’re talking about our own species, it gets harder. The notion that there are limits to how much humanity this parkland called Earth can bear doesn’t sit easy with us.

The “nature” part of human nature includes making more copies of ourselves, to ensure our genetic and cultural survival. As that instinct comes in handy for building mighty nations and dominant religions, we’ve set about filling the Earth, rarely worrying that it might one day overfill. Even after population quadrupled in the 20th century, placing unprecedented stress on the planet, it’s hard for some to accept that there might be too many of us for our own good.

A recent essay in the New York Times by University of Maryland geographer Erle C. Ellis, argued that population growth is actually the mother of invention, that it inspires new technologies to sustain ever more humans and to coax more from the land. And as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” “On this Earth there is room for everyone … through hard work and creativity.”

In 2011, I visited the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which had warned in 1994 that it was “unthinkable to sustain indefinitely a birthrate beyond 2.3 children per couple…. The contrary demographic consequences would be unsustainable to the point of absurdity.” Nevertheless, the church still encouraged population growth.

With a billion humans already malnourished, I asked the academy’s director where would we get food for nearly 10 billion by midcentury? Clearing more forests for farming would be disastrous. Beset by floods and erosion, China alone has been spending $40 billion to put trees back. And force-feeding crops with chemistry has backfired on us, with nitrogen runoff that fouls rivers, deadens New Jersey-sized chunks of the oceans and emits large quantities of two greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

To read the full Op-Ed, please click here: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-weisman-population-hunger-climate-20130922,0,90687.story

2013 World Population Data Sheet Now Available

September 16th, 2013

Note: The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) has come out with its annual flagship publication, the 2013 edition of the World Population Data Sheet.

Too many bodies? The return and disavowal of the population question

September 7th, 2013

Too many bodies? The return and disavowal of the population question
See: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644016.2012.730268#tabModule


During the 1960s and early 1970s population growth was regarded as an urgent environmental issue. Since then the topic has fallen into abeyance. Despite continuing demographic expansion and anxieties about a range of socio-ecological problems – from the stresses of high-density urban living to climate change, water, energy and food insecurity and loss of biodiversity – there is currently scant consideration of the benefits of population stabilisation or decline. Indeed, the problematisation of population numbers is widely disavowed or regarded with profound suspicion. Why have we become so reluctant to ask whether we are too many or to countenance policies that might discourage further growth? I identify five discourses – population-shaming, population-scepticism, population-declinism, population-decomposing and population-fatalism – that foreclose public debate and subject them to critical analysis. I end by eliciting signs of a hesitant revival of the population question alongside the enduring potency of silencing discourses.

Main article

In 1950 world population had recently exceeded 2.5 billion. By 1990 it had doubled and by 2020 it will have tripled. October 2011 marked one among numerous demographic milestones on this expansive journey as the 7 billion threshold was crossed. This is in line with conclusions to the United Nations’ 2010 revision that ‘world population is expected to keep rising during the 21st century’, albeit more slowly during the latter part. It projects some 9.3 billion of us by 2050 and over 10 billion by the century’s end (United Nations 2010). Such an ongoing increase surely conveys an alarming story to anyone concerned about environmental sustainability and social wellbeing. Or does it? I ask why concerns about population growth and over-population have virtually disappeared from the political agenda of developed countries, especially, since the mid-1970s. Have they simply forgotten about, even resolved, the issue? Or is it rather, as my analysis suggests, that problematising it has been foreclosed? For despite periodic eruptions of concern among democratic publics, members of the policy community have been noticeably reluctant to address these anxieties. Even among critical theorists and Greens, scant attention has been paid to the topic over recent decades. Indeed, it is noticeable that insofar as population numbers are mooted as a contributor to socio-ecological problems – from environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity to food and water insecurity or deteriorating wellbeing – pre-emptive dismissals swiftly follow.

The analysis that follows identifies five categories of silencing discourse: population-shaming; population-scepticism; population-declinism; population-decomposing and population-fatalism. These are analytic distinctions. In practice the discourses overlap or work in conjunction, the most obvious factor they share being antipathy to the Malthusian equation between population growth and resource shortages. But these are not merely analytic categories; they are also profoundly political. Each has a distinctive genealogy in terms of its ideological and professional investments, the political interests it serves and the narratives in which it is embedded. The more that key demographic variables become amenable to policymaking, the greater the impact of the discourses that frame them.

To read the full paper, please click here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644016.2012.730268#tabModule

Population growth increases climate fear

September 7th, 2013

Population growth increases climate fear
Carolyn Lochhead
Updated 11:26 pm, Monday, September 2, 2013
See: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Population-growth-increases-climate-fear-4781833.php

Washington –

California has 157 endangered or threatened species, looming water shortages, eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of trash washing up on its coast each year.

California also has 38 million people, up 10 percent in the last decade, including 10 million immigrants. They own 32 million registered vehicles and 14 million houses. By 2050, projections show 51 million people living in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980.

In the public arena, almost no one connects these plainly visible dots.

For various reasons, linking the world’s rapid population growth to its deepening environmental crisis, including climate change, is politically taboo. In the United States, Europe and Japan, there has been public hand-wringing over falling birthrates and government policies to encourage child-bearing.

But those declining birthrates mask explosive growth elsewhere in the world.

In less than a lifetime, the world population has tripled, to 7.1 billion, and continues to climb by more than 1.5 million people a week.

A consensus statement issued in May by scientists at Stanford University and signed by more than 1,000 scientists warned that “Earth is reaching a tipping point.”

An array of events under way – including what scientists have identified as the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s 540 million-year history – suggest that human activity already exceeds earth’s capacity.

To read the full article, please click here: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Population-growth-increases-climate-fear-4781833.php


2010/2011 Annual Report

In 2010-2011, PMC had projects in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Caribbean, Ethiopia, Mexico, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, the United States, Vietnam and a worldwide electronic game.

2010/2011 Annual Report (PDF, 5.5 MB)

Soap Operas for Social Change to Prevent HIV/AIDS

This training guide is designed to be used by journalists and media personnel to plan and execute the production and broadcast of Sabido-style entertainment-education serial dramas for HIV/AIDS prevention, especially among women and girls.

Using the Media to Achieve Reproductive Health and Gender Equity

In 2005, as a companion piece to the training guide, PMC developed a manual documenting best practices in the application of the Sabido methodology of behavior change via entertainment-education.

Read more about these guides and download »