Paving Paradise Podcast – TapDancing Around Overpopulation on World Population Day
World Population Day (today, July 11, 2016) seems a fitting date to launch our new podcast, Paving Paradise: Tales from the Front Lines of GrowthBusting. On a somewhat regular basis I intend to share news, information and commentary to help you stomp out growth addiction in your community.
You can play today’s episode right here:
Today’s episode features some revealing observations from Eben Fodor, the community planning consultant who penned the excellent book, Better, Not Bigger. You probably always suspected the game is rigged in your own community – real estate developers pull all the strings. This comes up as I unpack the insanity of economic developers recruiting new businesses (and the population growth that follows) in places like Arizona and Nevada, as the water level in Lake Mead drops to levels not seen in over 30 years.
I also take the United Nations and UNFPA to task for leaving out the single most important point that should be included every year in World Population Day messaging:
We are in overshoot and need to scale back our population to a sustainable level.
(Yes, I know we also need to scale back our consumption in industrialized nations, but on World Population Day it seems appropriate to put the spotlight on the population multiplier in that famous I=PAT equation developed by Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren.)
Every year a theme is chosen for focus, and to commemorate the occasion, the U.N. Secretary-General issues a World Population Day statement. This year’s theme is “investing in teenage girls.”
Here’s a list of recent themes:
2016 – Investing in Teenage Girls
2015 – Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies
2014 – Investing in Young People
2013 – Focus is on Adolescent Pregnancy
2012 – Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services
2011 – 7 Billion Actions
2010 – Be Counted: Say What You Need
2009 – Fight Poverty: Educate Girls
2008 – Plan Your Family, Plan Your Future
2007 – Men at Work
2006 – Being Young is Tough
2005 – Equality Empowers
2004 – ICPD at 10
2003 – 1,000,000,000 adolescents
Notice anything missing? No “Do Your Part to Reduce World Population.” No “Choose to Have a Small Family.” Even in 2008 when the theme was “Plan Your Family, Plan Your Future,” not a word was included in U.N. communications about reversing or even slowing population growth. From the UNFPA press release:
“The theme of World Population Day 2008, ‘Family Planning: It’s a Right; Let’s Make it Real’, provides a chance to raise awareness of the many benefits of family planning, including its vital role in enhancing maternal health, gender equality and poverty reduction.”
This year’s communication is no exception. No mention of population on the UNFPA’s World Population Day page. There is a nice video about the high percentage of teenage girls getting married in the developing world. An important topic, to be sure.
We find the same deficit in U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon’s message.
It’s quite clear the U.N. and UNFPA are tap-dancing around the most compelling reason to observe World Population Day every year. I’m sure the conversation at some point went like this:
“We can’t come right out and say the world is overpopulated and we want to contract world population.”
“What? Even though that is essential for anyone to have any quality of life in the future?”
“You know it’s controversial. Kinda like climate change; not everyone believes in it.”
“But it’s a scientific fact. Just look at the shrinking biocapacity of the planet as we expand the human footprint!”
“I know, I know. But we’ll lose support if we talk about overpopulation. People will think we hate babies, or hate human beings. They might assume (incorrectly) that we want to take away their reproductive freedom. We can’t afford to lose any funding. Look, we can still achieve our objective. We know that educating girls and honoring women’s rights will lead to smaller families. Let’s just talk about gender equity and eliminating poverty. We’ll get to the same place!”
“But I know plenty of educated, empowered women right here in the U.S. who choose to have 6 kids!”
Now, it’s all well and good to bring attention to topics like poverty, education, and equality, but if the UN cannot also, year after year, hammer home the fact that the world is overpopulated and the goal is to ease world population back down to a sustainable level, then what hope do we have that as we educate girls and honor the rights of women, these women will choose to have no children, or at most one, in order for the children of the world to have a fair shot at decent lives?
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