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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….

    Will Renewed Attention to Climate Change Bring Back “Population Control?”

    8:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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    Written by Jade Sasser 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 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, graduate student Jade Sasser discusses the danger that the renewed attention to climate change will revive some of the old debates about population and that arguments in favor of “population control” will resurface.

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

    Who’s afraid of climate change? Well, I am but not necessarily for the reasons you may think. I’m afraid that the recent, much-deserved attention to climate change will revive some of the old alarmist debates on population. And with those debates, I’m worried that the specter of population control will rear its ugly head again.

    You see, as a woman of color, I am particularly sensitive to population control arguments. After all, claims of “overpopulation” usually target women who look like me.

    Throughout the 20th century, coercive welfare policies led to thousands of African-American women in the United States being sterilized without their consent in a procedure that came to be known as the “Mississippi Appendectomy.”  In the 1950s, Puerto Rican women’s bodies were used as the testing grounds for controversial and experimental contraceptive trials, in part due to government perceptions that these experiments could help solve the island’s “population problem.” Around the same time, population control became enshrined within development programs in India and Bangladesh, where use of contraceptives and permanent sterilization were attached to food aid programs and the allocation of land and medical care. And, as recently as the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of poor and indigenous women were sterilized against their will by the government of Peru under the banner of fighting poverty and overpopulation.

    What does all of this have to do with the environment? Well, a lot. In the United States, fears of a “population crisis” exploded onto the scene back in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of the environmental movement, with environmentalists blaming population growth for everything from deforestation and desertification to global food shortages. Neo-Malthusian scholars and activists called for reducing food aid to starving populations in developing countries, and one well-known biologist famously suggested that sterilizing agents be placed into the American water supply.

    Population alarmism gained quite a bit of support at the time, both among the general American public and among some members of the international development sector, who felt that controlling and reducing population growth would be beneficial to the global environment and the security of U.S. borders.

    Luckily, population controllers were stopped in their tracks by a coalition of women’s health and rights reformers in the mid-1990s. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) meetings in Cairo, world leaders agreed that universal access to reproductive health services, within a broader focus on women’s rights and empowerment, would replace population control as the leading paradigm for the international family planning movement. Focused on meeting women’s reproductive health needs, as opposed to controlling and reducing their fertility, this new paradigm was enshrined in a document known as the Cairo Consensus, which was ratified by 179 countries.

    At around the same time, the population bubble burst. According to the Population Reference Bureau, nowadays the average woman in a developing country gives birth to 2.5 children, compared to 6 children in 1950. In the industrialized world, this figure is even lower, with women having an average of 1.64 kids. Although in some regions like sub-Saharan Africa, rapid population growth continues to be carried along by demographic momentum, the trend toward the average woman giving birth to fewer children is a long-term, global phenomenon.

    But is this enough to keep population controllers at bay? I’m not sure. Climate change has received much well-deserved attention lately in the news. And along with it comes the old, familiar population debate.

    In 2009, the Vice Minister of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission told an international audience that the Chinese one-child policy had proved to be an environmental success, adding that the 400 million births that have been prevented since the introduction of the policy have resulted in 1.8 billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. At the same time, several professors in the United States and Australia have proposed carbon taxes for every child born beyond the replacement fertility level of two children per couple.

    In addition, the British charity Optimum Population Trust published a report arguing that spending just $7 on international family planning projects could reduce carbon emissions by one ton, concluding that family planning as a method of reducing future emissions of carbon dioxide is significantly cheaper than many low-carbon technologies. The organization created a website which offers consumers the opportunity to offset their carbon footprint by investing in family planning in developing countries. The site argues that investing in family planning is a “cost-effective and permanent way of reducing CO2 emissions and climate change” with “no downsides,” and  offers wealthy Westerners the opportunity to consume their way into reducing their carbon footprints through reducing the childbearing of other women, rather than changing their own greenhouse gas emitting behaviors.

    Not only do these approaches get into an ethical gray zone, they are based on faulty logic. We have to remember that the United States is the leading global emitter of greenhouse gases, producing 25 percent of the world’s emissions every year, even though our population accounts for just 4.5 percent of the world total. Many global South countries with rapidly growing populations, like Kenya, emit far fewer greenhouse gases than we do; the average Kenyan produces 0.3 tons of emissions every year, compared with the average American’s average 20 tons of emissions. Clearly, it is what we do, rather than how many of us there are, that drives the climate bus.

    As Lisa Hymas argued in her recent article, not all Americans consume the same volume of resources in the same way. Middle and upper class Americans who drive multiple vehicles, build vacation homes, and race to buy every new technological gizmo that comes on the market have a significantly higher carbon footprint than the working class and poor. At the same time, we have to think about the bigger actors that dwarf all of us in their climate-changing behaviors. Mega oil corporations, for example, earn billions of dollars in profits when they extract, burn, refine, and sell fossil fuel products.  And, how could we ever forget the role of the military in this conversation. Its atmosphere-polluting activities are often hidden in the debates over climate change and population growth—a shocking fact, considering that the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of oil in the world.

    Despite the fact that they consumer fewer environmental resources, women, communities of color, and the poor suffer more of the impacts of climate change. Climate-related natural disasters, which are on the rise, disproportionately impact women around the world, who are much more likely to drown or die in accidents. Those who survive are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poor reproductive health outcomes.

    Climate change does, however, offers us opportunities to address women’s human and reproductive rights, but the connections must be made in the right way. Ensuring universal access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including emergency obstetric care, both hormonal and barrier methods of contraception, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing, counseling and treatment, and referrals for services for gender-based violence, promotes basic human rights–all women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual lives–and are important components of a gender-sensitive approach to adapting to the effects of climate change. Supporting coercive population interventions among the poor as a means of mitigating or preventing climate change, on the other hand, is not a defensible approach.

    We must be ever vigilant, keeping the principles of reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice for women at the heart of the approach. Through this framework, and the protection of women’s rights to have children, not to have children, and to parent the children that they do have, we can remain on the right side of both the climate justice and reproductive justice debates.

    On World Contraception Day, A Call to Pass the Responsible Parenthood Bill in the Philippines

    11:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

    Written by Jessica Mack 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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    Today is World Contraception Day. It’s actually a day just like any other, because it’s a day when so many women worldwide remain without access to birth control or other reproductive health services, and in which reproductive choice for all women remains an elusive goal.

    Launched in 2007 by a coalition of global reproductive health partners, the mission of World Contraception Day is a world where every pregnancy is wanted. Hm. This is good, but I might suggest the following rewrite: a world where unwanted pregnancy hardly ever happens, because women have unfettered access to contraceptives.

    I would then add this important follow-up, that when unwanted pregnancy does happen, which it inevitably will, women should have the choice and access to do something about it. Guess I shouldn’t be in the tag-line business, but this is definitely the world I want to live in.

    As advocates, our emphasis shouldn’t be on making pregnancies wanted, but on making unwanted pregnancies nil. The latter places the burden on government, health systems, policymakers, and even parents, teachers, and insurance companies to ensure that individuals have the access to the tools they need. What they do with that information, that access, and those supplies is their choice.

    After a hectic week at the UN General Assembly, one world leader who really seems to get this is Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino spoke out passionately about the importance of personal choice when it comes to family planning. After taking office just over one year ago, the President has courageously thrown his weight behind the Philippines’ most famous Bill-that-never-was. Read the rest of this entry →

    International Family Planning Saves Lives. So Why Is the GOP Cutting It?

    7:57 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

    Written by Rep. Nita Lowey 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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    Cross-posted with permission from Impact, a magazine produced by Population Services International.

    Few examples of U.S. foreign assistance provide benefits as tangible, cost-effective, life-saving and critical for both the United States and aid recipients as do international family planning and reproductive health services. Women and families across the developing world are healthier and stronger – and societies are more stable – as a result of access to basic health services.

    According to the Guttmacher Institute, for every $10 million invested in international family planning and reproductive health:

    ➤ 610,000 women and couples receive contraceptive services and supplies;

    ➤ 190,000 fewer unintended pregnancies occur;

    ➤ 83,000 abortions are avoided;

    ➤ 500 maternal deaths are averted; and

    ➤ 2,300 fewer children lose their mothers.

    According to the Council on Foreign Relations, studies indicate that meeting the unmet need for family planning could reduce maternal deaths by approximately 35 percent, reduce abortion in developing countries by 70 percent and reduce infant mortality by 10 to 20 percent. Read the rest of this entry →

    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 →