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Starting a Family? Think Small (World Population Day 2014)

As we approach World Population Day 2014 (July 11), it’s well past time we seriously consider the role of human population level in the sustainability of our civilization.

Over the last century the scale of the human enterprise has mushroomed, eventually surpassing the capacity of the Earth to sustainably support us. Scientists at the Global Footprint Network estimate we crossed that threshold about 40 years ago. Every year we get an update from WWF revealing how far into overshoot we have ventured.

Our Ecological Footprint, from Living Planet Report

The path we’ve taken closely mirrors a scenario run by a group of scientists at MIT that shows our life-support systems failing this century, under the heavy load of human activity. Evidence of overshoot, while seldom characterized as such, is in the news every day.

Limits to Growth, Business as Usual Scenario

Business-as-Usual scenario from The Limits to Growth

If we wish to leave future generations a planet worth inheriting, we need to scale back. We need to “Think Small.” Contracting our economic activity is challenging, though it must be done. We have a hard time imagining how to run our world without economic growth.

Population growth, on the other hand, has a very simple solution. It’s possible to fix, and we know how to do it. Returning world population to a sustainable level is mathematically achievable within a century. Fertility rates have been declining; we just need to accelerate that process. To do that, yes, we need to empower women. We need to make family planning affordable and accessible. We need to arm couples making family-size decisions with good information about overshoot and sustainability. We need to make small families cool, and large families,…well, NOT.

You’ve probably seen some people brag about their large family. I’m sure you’ve seen the window stickers.

Large stick figure family on SUV rear window

I’ve come up with the antidote to big stick-figure families. It’s explained in this video:

Please do your part. Get your sticker here. Share a photo of video with your story of why you have chosen to have a small family.  Share this video. Also, take the Sustainable Population Pledge over at World Population Balance. Let’s make “Think Small” more popular than “Where’s the Beef?”

Dave Gardner directed the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. He blogs regularly at and is founding contributor at

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Comments (2)

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    Michael A. Lewis


    I’m 65 years young, and I’ve been married… well, more than once, and I’ve not fathered any children. My present wife has one child from a previous married.

    I decided, fifty years ago to never have children, as the world was in such bad shape, even then, that more children would only make it worse, and would have to live with the consequences.

    My wife read The Population Bomb and immediately joined the Stop at One campaign, after the birth of her daughter.

    As we look back on our lives, from our comfortable and simple retirement, we’re pleased that we, independently, made these decisions. Our hope is that we have contributed to a better world by leaving it less crowded.


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