|People gather to get water from a well in the Indian state of Gujarat. Population growth is putting pressure on the world’s resources. Image credit: Reuters|
This year, World Population Day, July 11, fell on the same day as Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and it's not hard to figure out which one was "trending" on the Internet. Raising awareness about the All-Star Game, as far as I can tell, has no long-term consequences, while a dialogue about securing reproductive health and family planning options for the world's women affects the entire future well-being of people both in developed and in developing countries.
Last fall, Forbes columnist Erica Gies wrote a column on not having kids, arguing that the 7 billion and counting people in the world are consuming resources at a rate that can't be sustained. She's also sure that her kids' quality of life will be worse than her own so she can't bring them into the world in good conscience. It's easy to see that we live on a finite planet and that our resources are also finite. But we continue to think that population growth and economic growth can be sustained indefinitely. It just doesn't add up.
The projections are for the global population to reach 9 billion by mid-century -- that's 2 billion more people than today. If you think our natural resources are stressed and stretched now, then wait until 2050. Maybe it's better then to move population growth issues to the front burner and not reach 9 billion in the first place. Kudos to the Gates foundation for making family planning part of their strategy. According to their pamphlet, over 200 million women worldwide who want to use contraceptives don't have access to them (see the annual number of abortions below).
At the end of her essay, Gies links to "Worldometers", which gives a running population ticker as well as many other related social, energy and environment tickers. I encourage you to see the tickers spin for yourself but some numbers (rounded, as they change rapidly) are below:
Births this year: 70,000,000
Deaths this year: 30,000,000
Net population growth: 40,000,000
Abortions this year: 22,000,000
Deaths of children under five this year: 4,000,000
People with no safe drinking water source: 900,000,000
Forest loss this year (hectares): 2,800,000 (about the area of Massachusetts)
Desertification this year (hectares): 6,400,000 (about the area of West Virginia)
CO2 emissions this year (tons): 18,000,000,000
Other numbers: more bikes are being produced than cars, there are 50% more overweight people than undernourished people, cellular phones sold today outsold tv sets worldwide 6 to 1, and far too many women (182,000) died in childbirth this year.
We can reuse and reduce as much as we want, and we should, but if we keep allowing our own numbers to increase then we're going to overwhelm the natural resources and be in a much more difficult place than we are now. And all the All-Star Games in the world won't save us.
So what can you do? Find a way to celebrate World Population Day (it doesn't matter that it was yesterday). Help put population growth and women's reproductive health on the radar of the blogosphere, the mass media, pop culture and ultimately, government and international policy. Here's a positive news item from the good people at the Huffington Post, and some suggestions from the good people at the Feministing community. Dave Gardner, who produced the documentary Growthbusters, has also put together a great resource of videos. Check them out!