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The World at Seven Billion: A Global Milestone That Reflects the Needs of Seven Billion Individuals

1:17 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Susan Cohen for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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After three children, Filipino mother Gina Judilla tried to induce abortion, but failed. She can't get birth control. (IHT)

According to the United Nations, the world’s population will reach seven billion later this year and, if current trends continue, will rise to more than nine billion by the middle of this century.1 This new population milestone—and the projection—prompt renewed debates about the balance between population size and consumption of natural resources, about age structure and political stability, and about the consequences of rapid population growth rates for poor countries’ ability to develop economically.

These relationships and others pertaining to population size and the rate of population growth are complex and their implications often controversial. To a large extent, however, these macro-level dilemmas reflect a micro-level problem about which there is a universal consensus and where the solution is relatively straightforward. Millions of women and couples, especially in the developing world, are still unable to control for themselves the timing, spacing and total number of their children. Recognition of this fact provides a road map for moving forward that can address the needs of the people and the planet at the same time. Read the rest of this entry →

Sex and Sustainability: Reflections for My Son Nick

12:43 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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Written by Roger-Mark De Souza for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check and with Laurie Mazur as guest editor, to examine the causes and consequences of population and environmental change from various perspectives and the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, Roger-Mark De Souza reflects on the world his son is inheriting.  All of the articles in this series can be found here.

“Are we going to talk about sex again?!” screamed my 12-year old son, Nick, as he ran down the stairs, away from me.  That was five years ago and I had just sat down with him to have one of our father-son talks, this time about sex and sustainability.

Now Nick, a rising senior, is preparing for college at the same time as the global community is preparing for an important landmark of its own: the United Nations predicts that by October 31, world population will reach 7 billion.

The confluence of these two events gives me reason to think about the world Nick is inheriting from my generation, and makes me consider what I can say to him as he heads off to college.

This World of 7 Billion

I try to get my head around it. It’s a world of 7 billion people. With greater connectivity than I could have ever dreamed possible. A world of widening disparities and growing environmental degradation. A world with a changing climate. A world of crashing economic markets and changing debt ceilings.

It’s also a world of finite resources and growing demand.

Consider water. As the world’s population grows, the demand for water mounts and pressure on water resources intensifies. Unfortunately, the areas where water is most scarce are typically those with high population densities and rapid population growth. Population growth limits the amount of water available per person, and drives people into marginal regions – which are also water-stressed.

Consider forests: The top 10 countries experiencing the greatest loss of forest cover generally have large, fast-growing populations. Increased demand for fuel wood is driving a great deal of deforestation in the populous regions of East Africa and South Asia. Often, forests are cleared by migrant families that have been forced out of their crowded areas of origin.

Consider habitat loss: Global population is projected to grow to anywhere between 8 billion and 11 billion by the middle of the century, with much of that growth expected to take place in the humid tropics that harbor the planet’s richest biodiversity.  Habitat loss is generally greatest where population density is highest. Urbanization also takes a toll: sprawling cities have led to the disappearance of numerous habitats. And city-dwellers consume more, increasing pressures on ecosystems.

Consider changing climate: An analysis by the organization where I work, Population Action International, identified 33 population and climate change “hotspots.” These fast-growing countries are extremely vulnerable to climate change, in part because they face water shortages and declining agricultural production. The average number of children born to each woman in hotspot countries is five, and the average population growth rate is 2.5 percent – a rate that, if unchanged, would result in a doubling of the population in just 29 years.

But continued population growth is not inevitable: In these hotspot countries, an average of one in four married women would like to avoid pregnancy, but is not using modern family planning.  Addressing that “unmet need” for contraception would slow growth, reduce pressure on resources, and increase resilience. Investing in a woman’s right to decide how many children she can have, when she can have them, and ensuring that she can have them safely is fundamental.

Reflections for Nick
These challenges may seem remote to my son, Nick, growing up in suburban Virginia. But they will shape the world he inhabits in profound ways.  So what can I share with Nick as he launches into this world of seven billion?

“Son, as you continue to develop into a young man who will assume responsibility in the world, recognize the following:”

  1. Understand the complexity of the world as you feel it. The starting point for your career and your contribution must be to recognize the world’s complexity and find your place within it. The United Nations projects that when you are 56 years old, in 2050, world population may have reached 9.3 billion. The size, shape, and form of that population matters to you as it will affect your health, well-being, and security.
  2. Recognize the value of women. I know that you already know the value of young women. I want you to know that the decisions these women make have a profound effect on the world. Ensuring that women can decide how many children they want, when to have their children, and the ways that they invest in those children is one of the most important moves we, as a society, can make. It is at the core of our lives. Recognize this and play your part as a man, particularly if you’re lucky enough to get married, and perhaps even be the father to a daughter.
  3. Incorporate the needs of communities to ensure value-added. As you think of your areas of study and learning, be sure to respond to real demands in order to add value.   Don’t assume that you know what others need. Discover the genuine needs both of individuals and communities, and then respond.
  4. Size (and scale) matter. Your world is inherently more complex and connected than I could ever have imagined. It will only get more so. Determine where your impact can be most felt, and focus on the best way to have an impact at that scale. And, be sure to recognize how you can leverage innovation to maximize your impact.
  5. Do the right thing. You know in your heart what’s right. Infuse that sensibility in your contributions to the world. Individual rights are fundamental to human well-being. Don’t confuse rights and wants. Make your contribution one that’s based in a rights approach, but make it practical and palatable. Go with your convictions.

    As I share these reflections with Nick, the world reaches the seven billion population landmark, and my family reaches a personal landmark of launching a child out into this expanding world, I’m reminded of a question from my younger 16-year-old son, Miki. Standing at the front door as he signed for a package from the mailman, he screamed: “Dad, did you order these condoms with endangered species slogans on them?”

    The conversation continues….

    Pointing Toward the Future: How Environmental and Women’s Rights Groups Can Work Together to Solve Global Problems

    11:28 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

    Written by Dr. Carmen Barroso and Carl Pope for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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    This fall, world population will reach seven billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check, with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines the causes and consequences of population and environmental changes from various perspectives, and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

    Here, RHRC asks two experts, Dr. Carmen Barroso, Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, and Carl Pope, former Executive Director and current Chairman of the Sierra Club, to explain the connections between environmental and population issues and how the movements can work together.

    All of the articles in this series can be found here.

    RHRC: When did you start to see the synergy between environmental and population issues?

    CARMEN:

    I remember when we didn’t see them. In the 1980s, I was living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a sex education program with local women’s organizations.  True to our feminist lineage, we were advocating for women’s right to decide in matters relating to sex and reproduction. Working in the context of Brazil’s left movement, our sex education also included a critique of population control, which was a prevalent symbol of imperialism at the time.

    Our concern was both with coercive practices, such as sterilization without consent, and with the notion that population stabilization could somehow be interchangeable with a fair global economy, the “new economic order,” as it was called then.  At that time, there was considerable tension between social justice-oriented feminists and environmentalists who championed population control. Read the rest of this entry →

    The Earth is Not Ours, We Merely Borrow it From Our Children: Lessons from the Maya Q’eqchi

    8:06 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

    Written by Saul Paau Maaz for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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    This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines population and environmental change from various perspectives and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

    Here, Saúl Paau Maaz explains how his people, the ancient Mayans—and their indigenous descendants in Guatemala—saw the profound interconnectedness of human reproduction and stewardship of natural resources, and practiced respectful restraint. But traditional ways are being destroyed, and new solutions are needed.

    All of the articles in this series, Seven Billion People, can be found here.

    Growing up in the deep, lush jungle of Petén, under an endless green canopy, I learned that human life and the natural world are inseparable. My parents and grandparents taught me that people are just one element of Mother Nature; her protection and care is our responsibility.

    For generations, my people, the Maya Q’eqchi’, have inhabited the Petén, which has always been sacred for its forests, which shelter a diverse array of animals and plants. The wealth of those forests extends well beyond Guatemala’s borders: in fact, researchers describe them as the Americas’ “third lung” because of their oxygen production.

    But today, my homeland is in trouble. Read the rest of this entry →

    I Am the Population Problem

    9:17 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

    Written by Lisa Hymas for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

    This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check and with Laurie Mazur as guest editor, to examine the causes and consequences of population and environmental change from various perspectives and the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

    Here, Lisa Hymas explains how for population and personal reasons she has decided not to have kids. All of the articles in this series can be found here.

    Both local and broad scale environmental problems often are linked to population growth, which in turn tends to get blamed on other people: folks in Africa and Asia who have “more kids than they can feed,” immigrants in our own country with their “excessively large families,” even single mothers in the “inner city.”

    But actually the population problem is all about me: white, middle-class, American me.

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    Steer that blame right over here. Read the rest of this entry →

    Putting Reproductive Rights and Population Growth in Perspective

    12:36 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

    Written by Carmen Barroso for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

    This post is published as part of our series in recognition of International Human Rights Day 2010 on Friday, December 10th.  Read more International Human Rights Day 2010 posts here.

    You may remember the book by Heidi Hartmann The Unhappy Marriage of Feminism and Marxism, published in the 1980s.  Well, I was a daughter of that marriage.

    In the 80’s with the support of the Ford Foundation, I was on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a methodology for sex education with grassroots women. The purpose was to promote the right to decide and, very advanced for that time, the right to seek pleasure. As you see, true to form to the feminist lineage.

    But I was also mindful of the leftist milieu that nurtured all progressive thinking in the country and to which feminists were held accountable if they wanted to be part of the “luta geral.” So, our sex education project also included a critique of population control. Our concern was both with coercive practices and with an ideology that seemed to promote population stabilization as a substitute for a fairer global economy, for a new economic order, as it was called then. Lyndon Johnson’s statement that five dollars spent in family planning was more productive than one hundred dollars spent in development seemed to justify this view of the population agenda as a threat to the right to development.  

    The methodology we were developing was participatory. We used cartoons or photographs to start consciousness-raising discussions. One of the cartoons depicted two women. One of them was saying: “Did you see the TV last night? They said we are poor because we have too many children.” The other responded: “That is nonsense. They should distribute income instead of the pill.”

    Even if this dialogue sounds bizarre, it reflected our mentality. Fortunately, I had then one of the teaching moments of my life.  The grassroots women of the periphery of Sao Paulo were unanimous in pointing out the flaw in this dichotomy: they all wanted better income distribution AND the pill.

    Many years have passed and I have since tried to contribute to a virtuous synergy between a macro and a micro approach to population and reproductive rights. Read more