Greenpeace Co-Founder Talks Good Sense on Population

May 7, 2013 • Family Planning, Daily Email Recap

Population and Ecology



World  governments, the public, and the UN now recognize that the human population number matters in achieving ecological sustainability for human communities.


For forty years, since the first United Nations environment meeting in Stockholm in 1972, environmentalists have debated whether we should include human population growth among the urgent challenges of  human consumption, industrial toxins, species loss, global warming, and so forth.


This debate appears to be resolved. Clearly, human population figures have an impact on the health of natural ecosystems. Virtually every nation in the world seeks more commodities for its citizens, and a growing population multiplies the effect of this growing per-capita resource consumption. We could make all the right moves regarding energy systems, transportation, and recycling, and still overshoot Earth’s capacity with unsustainable numbers of humans. It is a good sign that the United Nations now recognizes this.


UN special session on population


Next year, in September 2014, the United Nations will convene a special session on human population. The U.N. General Assembly finally intends to implement a population stabilization plan devised  twenty years ago at the U.N. population conference in Cairo. The original strategy, adopted by 180 nations, cited women’s rights, birth control, and economic development as keys to stabilizing population growth. This strategy remains valid, but is useless if not implemented with meaningful targets and actions. It may also prove useless if we do not re-define “economic development” to focus on better lives for the world’s poor, less wasteful consumption among the rich, and less concentration of wealth among the super-rich.


Since the Cairo conference, the world’s population has grown from 5.7 billion to 7 billion people. We add about 75 million people each year – the equivalent of five cities the size of Beijing each year – but we fail to match this growth with new infrastructure, shelter, food, water, or health care. Adding more people simply puts more strain on Earth’s limited and dwindling resources. As we add more people, we lose some 16 million hectares of forest each year, gain 6 million hectares of desert, lose 26-billion tons of topsoil, deplete aquifers, and drain rivers. These trends are not sustainable.


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