People of Polar Bears?

September 7, 2013 • Protection of Species, News

People or Polar Bears?

Robin Maynard tells the Ecologist why he is trying to encourage environmental NGOs to have the courage to move beyond a politically correct stance on issues of population growth and really engage with the big questions……

“I don’t give a damn about polar bears! I can live without polar bears,” Professor Hans Rosling told me earlier this year at the G8G20 parlimentarians’ conference, ‘What place for family planning in the future of development?’ His outburst emphasising the deep division between those working in the development and environment sectors: People or polar bears.

Professor Rosling was provoked by my seeking clarification on the figure of 10 billion people he’d asserted in his presentation was the inevitable global population by 2050 – the United Nations Population Division gives a range of projections: Low, 8 billion; medium, 9.3 billion ; high, over 10 billion. Wouldn’t it be possible and better, I asked – given the analysis by the Global Footprint Network that we (or some of us) are using up one and a half planet’s worth of resources annually – to aim for the lower projections? Rosling shot back that it was achievable but, “Only by killing people!”

No wonder environment and conservation NGOs are reluctant to enter into any public discourse involving the ‘P’ word. Attempting to talk about population from an environmental perspective, as opposed to the predominating focus on sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR in the jargon), is to tread a path strewn with super sensitive trip-wires – linking back to historic abuses of human rights through coercive birth control programmes implemented in India and China during the 1960s and 70s.

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