Making ‘Beyond Seven Billion’: Reporting on Population, Environment, and Security

November 12, 2012 • Family Planning, Daily Email Recap

Below is a report written by Carolyn Lamere, and originally posted at the New Security Beat blog, which covers LA Times reporter Ken Weiss’s recent presentation at the Wilson Center in Washington DC. As you will recall, Weiss produced the widely acclaimed, 5 part, multi-media series  Beyond 7 Billion this past summer.

Making ‘Beyond Seven Billion’: Reporting on Population, Environment, and Security


“When I embarked on this series, I approached it as an environmental reporter: What does a growing number of us and growing consumption mean for our planet?” said Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Weiss at the Wilson Center on October 9. Weiss, along with photographer Rick Loomis, recently completed a five-part series and multimedia presentation on global population that was the culmination of a year of research and travel through more than six countries.

Before he began the project, Weiss said, “I knew very little about this topic, and I was too young to have read The Population Bomb when it came out, and so like a lot of people I had this sort of general, vague notion of what this was all about, but it was sort of shrouded in this fog of uncertainty.”

Turning to sources at the United Nations Population Fund, U.S. Census Bureau, and the Population Reference Bureau, Weiss said he found “a clear consensus among top demographers in which direction we’re going.” Although, in aggregate, women around the world are having fewer children, the world’s population is still increasing due to population momentum. Because there are more young people now entering their reproductive years than ever before, even if they have fewer children than their parents, the result is still a larger number of births than before.

“We’re at a very critical juncture in history,” Weiss said. Depending on decisions made by young people today, especially in developing countries, the world population in 2100 could range as high as 15.8 billion people or as low as 6.2 billion, according to UN estimates.

In India, Weiss spoke with Ramjee and Mamta, a young couple who married when they were 10 and 11 years old. After having two children by age 15, Ramjee decided to stop. He wanted to provide for the children he already had and to give them the opportunities he gave up for his early marriage. “He thought it was a mistake for him to start having children so early. He had to give up school, his dreams of going to university and getting a good-paying job,” said Weiss. Despite vehement opposition from his mother and grandmother, Ramjee and Mamta decided Mamta should be sterilized.

In Kenya, Weiss encountered an entirely different attitude. Mohamed Abdi Yussuf, a Somali youth leader in a refugee camp with chronic food shortages, told Weiss he wanted 70 children, saying, “I don’t worry what the children will feed on. They have their own fate. They have their own mouths, teeth. God knows what to put in there.”

Weiss met with Kenyan women who disagreed with their husbands’ wishes for large families, including some who snuck off to a clinic every three months to get a contraceptive injection.

“What I saw over and over again in our travels, is when these poorest, these least-educated women have options, and realize they have options to plan their families, that they seize them,” he said. “And sometimes they do so at the risk of angering their husbands, or even their mothers-in-law.”

To read the full article, please click here:

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