Family Planning

Why World Population Day Matters

Michael and Dax Khoo

Originally posted on National Geographic

In case you hadn’t heard, today is World Population Day and there are now about 7,058,000,000 of us. Another 200,000 will be added tomorrow.

Last October, when the world hit the 7 billion markPopulation Action International developed an online app (above) called What’s Your Number to show people where they fit in among the many billions. For example, when I was born in 1971, there were 3,810,168,030 people on the planet. By the time my son Dax was born last November, he was baby number 7,004,637,914. But what do those numbers mean? Population conversations usually start with numbers, but they’re really about people.

That’s why population matters. On a large scale, demographers talk about how rapid population growth contributes to migration and urbanization challenges. How it makes education and employment more difficult for struggling countries. Let’s break that down. This means a father might have to leave his village because his farm no longer provides enough to feed his family. It means a girl might be pulled out of school to work and care for younger siblings. It means a woman faces health risks because of repeated births, and has fewer opportunities to work outside of the home.

In a time when climate change is already having drastic effects on agriculture in developing countries, population growth adds even more challenges. Unpredictable rainfall patterns destroy crops and make women and girls walk much farther to get water. When we interviewed Aregash Ayele in rural Ethiopia about it, she said, “A woman’s life is hard, and climate change makes it harder.” So,  what does she do in her limited spare time? Volunteer at the local family planning clinic.

In developing countries, where the majority of population growth will occur, women and families can be empowered to cope with changes that will affect their environment, their economy and their health.

On Monday, the British journal the Lancet released a special issue that looked at how family planning is the key to solving a host of development problems, from maternal mortality, to economic development. Melinda Gates co-authors the introduction, saying, “At the household level, families are able to invest more of their scarce resources in the health and education of their children. Girls from smaller families are more likely to complete their education and women with fewer children are more able to seek employment, increasing household income and assets.”

We know from recent studies [Guttmacher’s Adding It Up] that 222 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy, but lack modern contraception. Programs exist to provide family planning but they are under-funded and too often women must walk miles to the nearest clinic only to return empty handed.

Fortunately, the Gates Foundation today partnered with the UK Department for International Development to announce a new plan to get contraception to 120 million women in the poorest countries who want it. They know that contraception is a simple and critical part of planning for your future. They know that contraception is supported by the vast majority of people, even in the U.S., from across the political spectrum.

The 8 billionth new baby is about a decade away. Let’s give her a life of promise by planning for her future today.

4 Responses to “Why World Population Day Matters”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    What is Galileo is doing tonight? My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave. How, now, can Galileo possibly have peace? So few scientists speak out clearly and loudly regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about at least one root cause of the distinctly human-driven global predicament looming so ominously before humanity: human population dynamics and its relationship to the human overpopulation of Earth. The human community could soon be confronted by multiple global threats to human wellbeing and environmental health that appear to result directly from the unbridled overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species now overspreading the Earth and threatening to ravage the planetary home we are blessed us to inhabit? Many too many leaders and a predominant coterie of the’ brightest and best’ experts are choosing to remain silent rather than acknowledge science. Please consider how the elective mutism of so many of the most fortunate and knowledgeable elders among us could be contributing mightily to the ruination of Earth and its environs as a fit place for human habitation.

    Where are the intelligent leaders and established professionals with appropriate expertise who will stop colluding in silence, who are willing to examine and report on science that exists in solid research and validated empirical data? Look at the dismaying disarray in which we find ourselves now and how far we have to travel in a short time to move the human family away from precipitating some unimaginable sort of global ecological wreckage. What would the world we inhabit look like if scientists like Galileo had chosen not to disclose science and instead adopt a code of silence? In such circumstances Galileo as well as scientists today would speak only about scientific evidence that the super-rich and most powerful people of the day believe to be politically convenient, religiously tolerable, economically expedient, socially correct and culturally prescribed. By so doing, Galileo and modern-day scientists would effectively breach their responsibilities to science and duties to humanity to tell the truth as they see it, as best they can report it.

    Heretofore hesitant and inert scientists are called upon now to follow the good example of Galileo. The politically correct silence of so many knowledgeable but apparently dumbstruck experts on one hand as well as the incessant mass media jabber of sycophants and other minions of wealthy power brokers on the other hand could be killing the world we inhabit as well as life as we know it. Most scientists have not actively engaged in inimical ‘sins of commission’, as have many too many deceitful, chattering experts; and yet too many scientists on our watch have chosen to maintain their silence by not speaking out ‘as if each one was a million voices’. It appears scientists have been and continue willfully to deny the best available scientific evidence that specifically regards human population dynamics. Is their collusion to remain electively mute correctly described as a sin of omission? If science does not overcome silence, then much of the world the human community believes we are preserving and protecting will be irreversibly degraded and unknowingly dissipated, if not destroyed outright. Surely, truthful empirical reports from intellectually honest and moral courageous scientists regarding the population dynamics of the human species and the human overpopulation of Earth will give Galileo Galilei peace.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    Chapel Hill, NC

  3. Steven Earl Salmony

    It appears to me that there are several things we can at least begin to think about: learn how to live without fossil fuels; adapt to the end of economic growth; substitute a steady-state economy for the one we have now; stabilize human population numbers worldwide; and deal with the relentless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the reckless degradation of its environs, the wanton extirpation of its biodiversity as well as confront other human-induced threats to our planetary home as a fit place for human habitation. In any event, I trust most of us can agree that stealing the birthright of children everywhere, mortgaging their future, and exposing them and life as we know it to danger cannot somehow be construed as the right things to be doing.

    We have to think clearly and as keep our wits about us as we move away from big-business-as-usual practices to a way of life that embraces true sustainability, I suppose. Perhaps necessary changes to more sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises are in the offing.

    Thank you.

  4. Steven Earl Salmony

    Somehow we have to grasp much more adequately the sum and substance of our distinctly human nature, with special attention given to improving our ‘reality orientation’ with regard to such vital issues as human population dynamics. Although relatively small in number, evolutionary biologists and scientists in other fields of research understand what the best available science indicates to us about the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time.Research of outstanding scientists indicate that the population dynamics of the human species is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. We have uncontested, apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome scientific evidence regarding the ‘placement’ of the human species within the order of living things that is everywhere denied; whereas, preternatural theories (eg, Demographic Transition Theory), political ideologies (eg, Conservatism and Liberalism) and economic theologies (eg, neoclassical economics) are widely shared and consensually validated as somehow supported by science. To elect to extol the virtue of ideas that have been refuted by scientific research (evidence which is consciously and deliberately ignored, avoided and denied) cannot be construed as the right thing to do. Even though ‘political correctness’ is predominant and accepted as real, when theory, ideology and theology are directly contradicted by science, then science must be shared. Scientific knowledge must prevail over theory, ideology and theology.

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