Green ‘Gate: The Population Effect

On October 31, the United Nations officially announced the birth of the world’s seven billionth person. This milestone of the global population has led to much discussion about the effects that rapid population growth will have on our globe.

In The International Herald Tribute last week, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said that with reaching this 7 billion mark, “alarm bells are ringing.” Rapid population growth is a place of concern not just for poverty and social concerns, but also in terms of the environment. As the population grows, more natural resources are consumed and more waste is produced, increasing environmental degradation.

Although population growth is one of the largest causes of ecological destruction, the issue is almost never discussed in terms of environmentalism because it is such a sensitive social and religious issue. Many go as far as to say that dis­cussing population growth has become a taboo.

However, according to The New York Times article published on October 31, “Breaking a Long Silence on Popu­lation Control,” one environmental nonprofit has opened the discussion about the environment and population growth. The organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, is a non-profit focused on preventing the extinction of endangered species such as the grizzly bear and the Atlantic salmon. The group has begun a new campaign that focuses on how population growth is accelerating climate change, and the effects that will have on the earth’s bio­diversity.

Executive director Kieran Suckling was quoted in The New York Times article about why the non-profit decided to focus on the rising population growth.

“All the species that we save from extinction will eventually be gobbled up if the human population keeps growing,” Suckling said.

The group is lobbying in Washington, D.C. for more family planning services that would improve access to birth control and abortions. The Center for Biological Diversity also has a condom campaign, where the group distributes free condoms to encourage the use of birth control. The condom wrappers display an image of an endangered species along with an environmentally themed message, such as “wrap with care, save the polar bear” or “wear a condom now, save the spotted owl.”

Proof exists that lowering population growth would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of cli­mate change. According to an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PSAS), written by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, if the United States’s population growth rate fell from 2.0 to 1.5, greenhouse gas emissions would eventually drop by 33 percent. Therefore, reducing population growth both in the United States and the globe would combat many environmental problems, from climate change to wildlife extinction.

It’s unlikely, however, that population control is going to be on the agenda of major environmental non-profits anytime soon. The topic of family planning, especially in terms of abortion, is so controversial that it’s hard for en­vironmental advocates to begin a conversation about population control. Discussion about family planning is often hindered by strong religious viewpoints on the matter when population control is thought of in the global context. And in the United States, because so much of the population growth is due to immigration, efforts to slow the country’s population growth can be seen as having an anti-immigration, discriminatory viewpoint.

Although the Center for Biological Diversity and the United Nations are taking huge steps by raising the issue of global population growth, discussion about how population growth spurs environmental degradation will most likely remain a taboo but important topic.

Contact Cassidy Holahan at [email protected].