Laurie Anderson, a writer, director, visual artist and vocalist and has published seven books. Her visual work has been presented in major museums around the world and she has released seven studio albums. She is currently an artist in residence at the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York. Anderson conducted the following interview of Barbara Crossette in late 2012. Crossette is a former United Nations Bureau Chief at The New York Times and lead author of the 2010 and 2011 World Population Reports for the United Nations Population Fund.
There was a time when I knew everyone in the art world, or at least the downtown scene. Today, that would be absurd, given the exponential rise in the amount of people who are part of it. Of course growth is not limited to the art world. The total world population grew from 4.4 billion to 6 billion between 1980 and 2000, according to the World Bank. In October 2011, we hit 7 billion.
It was during a trip to Avignon last summer, for the city’s annual festival, that these mind-boggling statistics really struck me. There, scientist Stephen Emmott presented “10 Billion”, a theatrical lecture that zeros in on the dangerous implications of a world with 10 billion inhabitants. As we multiply, he explained, so too will demands on earth’s land and water. The shift will also exponentially speed up the rate of deforestation and need for energy. Further exacerbating the situation is climate change.
All of this got me wondering not just about the way my own world has changed but also how such staggering population growth has affected people everywhere. To help unpack the topic I approached Barbara Crossette, a former United Nations Bureau Chief at The New York Times and lead author of the 2010 and 2011 World Population Reports for the United Nations Population Fund. We sat down in my studio this past December to discuss these reports and their immediate and long-term implications.
Laurie Anderson: Are you seeing any positive developments that give you hope population can be maintained at a sustainable level?
Barbara Crossette: Today there’s a new report out about how population growth is going down in the United States. Immigrant women are having fewer children. It shows that if you just let women from the developing world have the same rights-or, rather, access-that we have, they make smart decisions.
The whole world population rests on women. You have to start with the woman. And the woman will make her own decisions. If you want to have five or ten children, fine. You can have big families or small families, but you have the family you feel you can afford or feed. In China the one-child policy is already finished-on its way out because the economic conditions end up producing the same effect. If people want an expensive flat in a place like Shanghai, you can’t have more than one child or two.
I was traveling in rural Ethiopia with a health worker and she’d have women jumping out of bushes at her because they didn’t want to be caught seeing her at home. They’d ask “Please, an injection, an injection.” And then the husband, who perhaps has forbidden her to visit a family-planning clinic, doesn’t know, because an injectable contraceptive leaves no evidence.
As a former head of the United Nations Population Division used to say, “Give women the information and the access and they’ll bring fertility down.” This way you’re not using women’s bodies-you’re letting women make the decisions. If it slows down population growth, fine, but that is the side effect. Not the other way around.
Laurie: How did you become interested in the question of population growth?
Barbara: Reporting from Asia and at the UN as a New York Times correspondent, I got very interested in development and in women, who represent the key to economic and social development, and almost everything else, including the ability of a community to rebuild after war or a disaster like the Haiti earthquake.
When I went to the groundbreaking UN population conference in Cairo in 1994, I was really drawn into the discussion, which put women at the heart of population and development. They were finished talking about birth quotas, enforced by countries like China and India. We were finished talking about using women’s bodies to achieve development. We were now going to say, “The women make all the decisions and whatever else happens, happens.” And what happens is almost always good. But then in the following years, support for family planning diminished. There were many who felt that putting money into family planning was an infringement of cultural norms.
In other words, you go to countries in Africa and the government officials-all men-say, “It’s not our culture. Child marriage here is important to the family. Female genital mutilation is part of our society.” And then you go out to the villages and the women act like, “Where did you get this?” There’s this gap between what is officially coming out of a lot of countries at the UN and what the people no one ever hears think. Women know exactly what they need.
To read the full interview, please click here: http://creativetimereports.org/2013/02/01/5-billion-more/
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