Population Matters

2030: Looking at the “Perfect Storm”

June 30th, 2010

Last year John Beddington, England’s chief scientific advisor, caused a minor stir when he warned that population growth, climate change, and the world’s rising demand for food, energy and water constitute a “perfect storm” that is threatening to destabilize the world by 2030 or sooner.

Today, we released a report that takes a closer look at the implications of Beddington’s “perfect storm.” It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up an unpleasant scenario. If economic push comes to demographic shove, the demand for food, energy and water will simply exceed supply. The resulting shortages will precipitate a global crisis, one likely characterized by soaring energy prices, severe shortages of food and water, climate change effects, reource-related conflict, and widespread political instability.

While the entire world might be affected, the suffering would be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, where the effects of climate change may be felt the hardest. Climates experts warn that drought poses a major threat to food production in Eastern Africa, while increased flooding could curtail food production in many parts of West Africa.  South Asia, on the other hand, could be severely impacted by typhoons and, to a lesser extent, rising seas.

The most vulnerable, however, may be those living on living on less than $1 or $2 a day.  When food prices soar, as they did during the 2007-8 food crisis, the impact on the urban poor can be devastating.  A doubling or tripling of rice prices has a negligible impact on American consumers, not so for the desperately poor living in Manila or Mumbai.  For them, it can mean the difference between eating and not eating.

Beddington’s concern, and it’s a valid one, is that the world is simply not prepared for what happens in 10 or 20 years when the rising demand for energy, food, and water collides with resource limitations, as now appears likely.  No one really knows how disruptive the impact could be, but it could be severe.

We are not, as Frank Fenner, a leading Australian scientist, warned last week, condemned to extinction by the end of this century. Humanity’s fate is not writ in stone.  But if we do nothing to ward off the “perfect storm” that is now brewing, some form of catastrophe is almost inevitable.  It may not be the end of Homo sapiens, but it could be the end of life as we have come to enjoy it.

Many will disagree with the scenario as we present it. They will dispute its premises and conclusions.  That’s fine, but let those who differ with it come forth with their own assessment of how we are going to reconcile our insatiable appetite for food, energy, and water with emerging resource limitations.  In the meantime, a  “perfect storm” may be approaching.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Did the G8 Deliver?

June 29th, 2010

Earlier this month, more than three thousand family planning and reproductive health advocates gathered in Washington D.C. for the Women Deliver conference.  At the conference the Gates Foundation delivered:  Melinda Gates announced that the Gates Foundation would be spending another $1.5 billion in support of maternal health and nutrition programs. 

Hopes were high that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s commitment would prod world leaders at the upcoming G8 summit in Canada to commit much larger sums to the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 5, which commits the world by 2015 to: 1) reduce maternal mortality in developing countries by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015; and 2) provide universal access to reproductive health services, including family planning.

This past Saturday, the G8 released the detail of the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal and Child Health, which included a pledge of $5 billion of “new money” from the G8 over the next five years for maternal, newborn, and child health.  It’s still not clear, however, whether that figure is somehow inflated and whether it’s anywhere close to the amount needed to fulfill MDG 4 (reduction in child mortality) and MDG 5.  It’s certainly a positive development, but just how positive is a matter of opinion. Amy Boldosser, from Family Care International, writes in her blog today that:

MDG 5 is farthest away from being achieved by 2015 and estimates are that another $20 billion is needed if we hope to reach those targets for reduction in maternal and child mortality and reproductive health access in time. The Muskoka Initiative doesn’t come close to meeting that $20 billion shortfall, but it is a start.

With respect to family planning, the communiqué says that the additional funds committed by the G8 will expand access to modern methods of family planning to an additional 12 million couples.  Let’s hope that pledge is fulfilled, but–even if it is it–it looks increasingly likely that goal of achieving universal access to family planning and reproductive health services will not be achieved by 2015.  

Women deliver. World leaders?  Maybe not.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Breakaway During the World Cup

June 23rd, 2010

This month marks the start of the World Cup, an international quadrennial competition for the world’s most popular sport, soccer (which is known everywhere else in the world as football.) During the World Cup our partner organization Population Media Center (PMC), along with Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center (EMC) in Vermont, will be launching the first three chapters of an electronic game called Breakaway, which uses the game of soccer to help combat violence against women.

According to UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), up to 70% of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime, and among women 15-44 years old, acts of violence cause more death and disability than malaria, cancer, traffic accidents, and war combined. In South Africa, home of this year’s World Cup, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner. It’s a violation of human rights that is deeply rooted in many cultures.

The game Breakaway combines fast-paced soccer with a narrative that encourages positive attitudes and behaviors in combating violence against women. The target audience is boys ages 8 to 15, and the reason is simple: attitudes toward women are formed at an early age. In promoting positive behaviors towards women, the game incorporates the UNFPA toolkit of culturally sensitive approaches, the Sabido approach to using entertainment to help change social norms, and Federation Internationale de Football (FIFA) “fair play” rules.

Breakaway is designed to help shift beliefs, stereotypes, and attitudes on gender issues. In the game, players become a teen hoping to become a champion football player. The game features skill-based mini-games focused on defense, passing, handling, and shooting, along with narrative highlighting positive and negative role models in situations focusing on gender inequity and teamwork. As the game progresses the player is able to see the consequences of his decisions on and off the field.

The game, which is being designed and promoted with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), can be played online for free and CD’s will be distributed to partners on the ground in South Africa during the World Cup. Internationally known soccer star, Samuel Eto’o, striker for Football Club Internazionale Milano, is the spokesperson for Breakaway and will be a featured character in future episodes of the game.

Starting today you can play episodes 1-3 online at www.breakawaygame.com. So while you are enjoying the World Cup this summer, take time to pass this game along to the boys and young men in your life. As Nelson Mandela once said “education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.”

Posted by Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate

Failing, But Still Growing

June 22nd, 2010

Unsustainable population growth is not the only reason why a nation fails, but it may be the most common.

Every year Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace release a Failed States Index that looks in depth on how countries are managing…or not. In releasing the 2010 index, which looked at 177 countries using 12 metrics, the authors note that “for many of the 60 most troubled, the news from 2009 is grave.”

This year’s list of the top failing states does not contain many surprises. They include such headline-grapping failures as Somalia, Sudan Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Some, however, like Chad and the Central African Republic are failing–and suffering–relatively quietly. 

One thing they all have in common is rapid and unsustainable population growth.  The Failed States Index rated every one of the top ten failed states for “demographic pressures” at 8.1 or higher on a scale of 1-10.  Somalia and Zimbabwe, the top two failed states, ranked 9.6 and 9.4, respectively.

The population of the top ten failed states, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) was estimated at 397 million in 2009.  PRB’s projections show their collective population will rise to 560 million by 2030, a 40 percent increase, and to 810 million my 2050, a 104 percent increase.  Of the top ten countries on the 2010 Failed States Index, only one has a total fertility rate below 4.0   In six of the countries, women on average bear five children or more.  

There is, in fact, an alarming correlation between failing states, countries with rapid population growth, and those with severe hunger. Many failing countries are heavily dependent upon external food aid for their survival.  The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) is currently helping to feed one out of four Somalis, but Somalia’s population is expected to jump by more than 150 percent in the next four decades. The Global Hunger Index lists the current situation in Niger as “extremely alarming,” but Niger’s population is expected to triple in the next 40 years.

Population is not the only reason states fail–corruption, conflict and political chaos are also major factors–but rapid population growth can make it a lot harder for countries to pull out of a downward spiral.  Corrupt leaders can be ousted, conflict can be ended, and order restored, but it can take decades to lower fertility rates, particularly in countries where family-size norms are slow to change.

Empowering women and expanding voluntary family planning services alone will not stop a failing state from becoming a completely failed one, but they are often indispensable–and often ignored–parts of the solution.  Investing more resources in women and giving them the power to control their own fertility should be a global priority.  Humanitarians concerns alone require it.

Too many failing states and pretty soon you have a failing world.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

How sensitive is too sensitive?

June 18th, 2010

Last week, in a conversation over frozen yogurt with my twenty-something-year-old friends, I brought up a conference I had been to earlier that day on child marriage. And, without hesitation, the concept of cultural sensitivity was on the table. My friends’ argument, and rightfully so, was that child marriage is customary and therefore deeply ingrained in the culture of many societies. Who are we, as westerners, to tell these cultures that child marriage is wrong? Of course, many people have this unpleasant, visceral reaction to the thought of an eight-year-old being married to a fifty-year-old. But in other parts of the world, in other societies, there are also many people who do not have that same reaction, and child marriage is accepted as a cultural norm.

Cultural sensitivity is the foundation of effective humanitarian aid. We design interventions, or at least strive to, which are culturally relevant and adhere to traditional customs and local laws. We try (operative word, “try”) to implement policy and foreign assistance programs that respect the cultural attitudes and norms of the people we are trying to help. Thus, when we address issues such as child marriage, we work to be culturally sensitive.

Whether or not child marriage is regarded as a human rights issue, it is an economic development issue, as it is critical to reducing both maternal mortality and high fertility rates. During the USAID Presentation and Panel Discussion: Cross Country Comparison on Delaying Marriage and Improving Reproductive Health Outcomes, we heard about three projects focused on delaying the age at marriage. What struck me about these presentations, and what I think should be the take-away point from this conference, was that the findings of these projects suggest that child marriage is not strictly ingrained in these cultures. Each of the projects, which were conducted in India, Yemen, or Ethiopia, found that communities were open to delaying marriage, so long as they were given alternative avenues for lifting themselves out of poverty. Interventions that offered young women, who would otherwise be married, opportunities for schooling or employment were effectively able to delay the age of marriage.

And yet interventions surrounding child marriage are rare. The projects we heard about are young and considered pilot programs in their field. So why has child marriage become a neglected cause? I think the answer goes back to my conversation with my friends—cultural sensitivity. For fear that child marriage is ingrained in many cultures, we have tip-toed around the issue. But evidence tells us otherwise. These programs suggest that the age of marriage is delayed when young girls and their families are given suitable alternatives. And with this evidence under our belt, it’s time to stop fearing cultural insensitivity and start addressing child marriage. These young women have the right to their adolescence, and a right to control their own fertility and destiny.

Please see our interview with Dr. Rema Nanda, Pathfinder International’s country representative for India. Rema was involved in the design and implementation of Pathfinder’s Promoting Change in Reproductive Behavior (PRACHAR) Project, a project aimed at expanding the use of contraceptives to delay and space pregnancies. This is what she had to say…

Posted by Sarah Chapin, Stanback Fellow

“Too Many People Chasing Too Few Resources”

June 17th, 2010

Economist have long defined “demand-pull inflation” as “too much money chasing too few goods,” but what do you call “too many people chasing too few resources?” 

How about “demand-pull destruction?”  When world population and rising consumption put impossible demands on the planet’s resources, destruction inevitably follows.  If you’re not clear on what I mean by that, let me provide you with two current examples.

Let’s start with the BP oil spill.  For years to come, politicians and lawyers will be debating who is proximately responsible for the spill, but ultimately it comes down to “too many people chasing too few resources.”  In this case, oil.  As the global demand for oil surges and global production stagnates, oil companies are drilling for oil in ever more hazardous and difficult conditions.  It’s no coincidence that the largest new oil find in recent years is in the deep waters off Brazil, or that oil companies are actively assessing the potential for oil at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.  All the easy oil has been found, and satisfying our insatiable appetite for oil will inevitably lead us to take greater and greater risks, particularly as we are adding another billion people to the planet every dozen or so years. 

But oil is not the only current and destructive manifestation of “too many people chasing too few resources.”  The rioting in Kyrgyzstan may be another example. Again, people will long debate who’s responsible for the current fighting between Uzbek and Kyrgyz.  Some believe that former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev provoked the riots to destabilize the country before an upcoming referendum.  Others blame the current government, citing widespread corruption and alleged abuse.

But various analysts report that the recent rioting is over land. In 1990, Kyrgyzstan was racked by rioting that killed over 300 Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh.  The rioting started when the Kyrgyz-dominated Osh City Council announced plans to build a cotton processing plant on land under the control of an Uzbek-collective farm. 

This time around, CNN reports that:

many Kyrgyz in the south fear the Uzbeks, who make up around 15 percent of the country’s 5.5 million population, will swallow up more land, particularly in the fertile plain known as the Fergana Valley, which straddles Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan — all former Soviet republics.

Water, however, is a much bigger threat to the peace of Central Asia.  Decades ago, the former Soviet Union famously diverted the region’s two major rivers–Amu Darya and Syr Darya–to expand cotton production in the region.  The diversion of water for cotton irrigation, however, also contributed to the draining of the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea, and chronic water shortages for many farmers in the region.  Since then, water scarcity has emerged as a major source of tension in much of Central Asia. 

Kyrgyzstan consumes about one fifth of the total water resources originating on its territory. That means 80 percent of its water flows to other countries in the region, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.  But Kyrgyzstan has an unmet and growing demand for electricity, and most of its electricity is hydroelectric. When it needs more electricity it discharges more water from its reservoirs, but that means less water is available later in the year to downstream countries that want that water for irrigation. 

In a major speech delivered earlier this week, Ms. Kori Udoviиki, United Nations Assistant Secretary General, spoke to this issue:

Water is obviously at the core of the world’s energy, food security, and broader human security concerns. Effectively addressing these issues globally and in Central Asia would resolve a great part, and perhaps the most difficult part, of the sustainable development agenda. In Central Asia the livelihoods of some 22 million people—nearly half the region’s population—depend directly or indirectly on irrigated agriculture. Hydro power accounts for more than 90% of the electricity generated in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Central Asia’s mountains contain some of the world’s largest glaciers, which provide downstream countries with water year round, especially for agriculture.

Experts, however, are worried that when global warming melts those glaciers the amount of water available for irrigation and hydroelectric power in the region will shrink dramatically.  Population, however, will not.  The populations of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are expected to increase by 50 percent over the next 40 years.  Tajikistan’s population is expected to grow by more than 80 percent. 

Thus far, disputes over water have not led to conflict between these former Soviet Republics, but security experts warn that it’s only a matter of time, unless something radical is done to boost water conservation in the region.  It’s another instance of “too many people chasing too few resources.”  In this case, water.

But the Gulf of Mexico and Central Asia are not the only areas in the world where our insatiable appetite for resources is leading to destruction in one form or another.  Look at what deforestation is doing to the Amazon or overfishing to the world’s oceans.  Look at the fighting that is still raging in the Sudan or the earlier genocide in Rwanda.  It’s almost always a case of too many people chasing too few resources.

And it’s only going to get worse. Over the next 20 years, the demand for food and energy will rise by 40-50 percent, while the demand for water will grow by close to 30 percent.  And we will try to satisfy those rising demands despite the obstacles posed by climate change and resource scarcity.  John Beddington, England’s Chief Scientific Advisor, last year called these trends a “perfect storm” and warned that it could be terribly destabilizing for the world. 

It already is.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

When it Comes to Reproductive Health…

June 15th, 2010

Education is empowerment. That was the overarching message of a global conference held last Friday in the National Press Building. The discussion, “Young Leaders Working to Achieve Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health (SRRH),” brought together three young women—from Belize, Nigeria and India—who have worked to ensure SRRH within their communities and countries at large.

According to Nigerian youth advocate, Kikelomo Taiwo, comprehensive sexual education is directly correlated with the wellbeing of young people worldwide. “There are so many young people who die everyday, who get infected or affected by their lack of sexual education…so many young people out there would have a better life if they only knew that abortion is not the only way of contraception,” she declared. Taiwo is undeniably correct. Education is absolutely crucial in combating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and preventing unintended pregnancies.

Approximately 1.3 million unintended pregnancies occur annually in Nigeria and more than half of these pregnancies are terminated in abortion. As many as 215 million women in developing countries have an “unmet need” for family planning, meaning that they want to delay or stop childbearing altogether, but are not using a modern method of contraception.  Some of these women lack access to family planning services, but many are simply uninformed.  Others face cultural barriers to controlling their own fertility.  As a result, an estimated 19 million women every year undergo unsafe abortions.

By the age of 17, panelist Ishita Chaudhry became alarmed as she noticed that youth in India understood little about their sexuality and basic rights. For example, nearly three in four women in India have misconceptions about HIV transmission, a growing problem facing youth in the country. “I really wanted to challenge the way that I was becoming part of a generation of young people who were really unaware of what they were doing,” she explained during Friday’s conference.

In response to this need, she founded The YP Foundation, which provides young people with an opportunity to promote their rights and effect positive social change. Over the past eight years, the organization has worked with more than 5,000 young people—a testament to the social justice void that desperately needed to be addressed.

In a recent blog, Chaudhry wrote;

I always found it interesting, that if you wanted to talk about sexuality, you were asked instead, to talk about reproductive health. That if you wanted to talk about HIV/AIDS, you were asked to talk about abstinence and prevention, instead of being able to talk about rights, treatment and care. And it’s made all of us question, Why is sexuality so problematic?

Why as society, are we so scared to address any kind of sexuality education or rights cohesively? What stops us from giving people complete rather than half baked information that is critical and live saving and that can protect them from disease, empowers them to be informed individuals and that teach them to be respectful to their own needs and desires and to be respectful towards the rights of others as well?

If we want to do a better job of preventing unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS, we must provide young people with the necessary sexual education and health services. They deserve the right to take responsibility for their own sexual and reproductive health.

We had a chance to speak with Taiwo and Chaudhry after the conference.  Listen to what they had to say:

Grace Under Fire

June 10th, 2010

One of the films featured at this week’s Women Deliver conference in Washington was a new BBC documentary that takes a much needed look at women and reproductive health care in one of the most violent conflicts of the 21st century.  I saw it last week at a special viewing offered by the U.S. State Department.  It should be required viewing for anyone concerned about the welfare of women and children.

Produced by Dr. Grace Kodindo, OBGYN and professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, “Grace Under Fire,” is an emotionally compelling film about the severe lack of reproductive healthcare in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The DRC has been torn apart by a horrific civil war fueled in part by its rich supply of natural resources.  In recent years, over 5 million people have died as a result of the conflict and related disease, many of them women and children.

The documentary follows Grace as she makes her dangerous journey from city to village to meet with women and health officials directly affected by the conflict in the DRC.  She visits local health facilities and talks directly with women who are willing to talk about their experiences.  In the DRC mass rape has become a weapon of war; it’s used to humiliate women and families and marauding troops use it to gain control over communities and spread terror.  Survivors fearing stigma and ostracism often do not speak out about it.  It’s heartbreaking to watch Grace as she talks to young women who have been raped and impregnated by soldiers.

Many of these women were forced to give birth on the road instead of in a hospital.  In assisting these women, some families had access to emergency birth kits consisting of a sterile plastic sheet, a razor blade, rubber gloves, soap, and medical tape.  The kit is no substitute for trained medical care, but it’s cheap, and in a country torn apart by violence, it can make the difference between life and death.

Grace also interviews a mother and father who have 12 children and don’t want any more, but like many parents in this region they lack access to family planning services.  She travels further west to Katsiru, visiting displaced people living in UN camps where she speaks to more women who have been raped.  The numbers are staggering. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded in the DRC in the past decade.  Many of them live in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces, which are hosting 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDP).

In Katsiru, Grace visits the only health facility, one that is trying to care for the 17,000 people living in Katsiru, along with three IDP camps.  It’s woefully ill-equipped. When there are complications during childbirth, the villagers must make a stretcher and carry the woman to another clinic over 12 miles away.  Though the facility treats an average of 20 reported rape victims a month, there are no rape kits, no emergency contraceptives, no antibiotics, no HIV tests, no rubber gloves, no emergency birthing kits, no midwives, and only three condoms.  It’s an eye-opening and depressing account of the need for family planning and reproductive health care in the DRC and other conflict zones.

At the end of the film we are shown a road side court martial of a group of soldiers accused of rape, who are sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor.  At least some of the perpetrators are being brought to justice, but women in the DRC continue to be raped, and continue to suffer from a health system that is unable to respond to their needs.  In this conflict as in many, women and children are the real victims, not the soldiers.

It’s important to remember that what’s happening in the DRC is also happening in some fashion in other war zones, like the Sudan.  What’s needed is a committed and coordinated international effort to bring reproductive health services into areas affected by conflict.  Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation pledged $1.5 billion for family planning, maternal health, and nutrition services in developing countries, and the issue of maternal health is high on the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit in Canada.  Maybe this documentary will help to stir the conscience of both foundations and donor nations.  The need is certainly there.

For more information on the film visit this site.

Posted by Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate

Women Deliver. Will the G8 Summit Deliver?

June 9th, 2010

Over the past three days, over three thousand maternal and reproductive health advocates convened in Washington for the second Women Deliver conference.  For all those concerned about the future of family planning and reproductive health programs, the news from Washington is decidedly upbeat. On Monday, Melinda Gates announced that the Gates Foundation was committing $1.5 billion over five years for family planning, maternal and child health and nutrition in developing countries. 

But while the world’s largest philanthropy is ramping up its support for family planning, it’s not yet clear that donor nations will follow suit.  In less than three weeks, the G8 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.) will meet in Huntsville, Ontario, and family planning is high on the agenda…or not.  

Earlier this year, Canada’s foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, caused an international stir when he announced that Canada, the host of the upcoming G8 Summit, had decided to exclude support for contraceptive programs, supplies, and information from its maternal health programs.  Canada’s retreat from family planning was driven by the Conservative government’s opposition to abortion and the family planning providers who assist or promote abortion services. 

In recent days, however, press reports indicate that a G8 compromise is in the works that would allow Canada to provide support for family planning and maternal health programs.   The draft agreement reportedly stresses that “women in poor countries need access to better sexual and reproductive health-care services, including family planning, but make no specific mention of abortion.” That would leaves G8 countries free to decide whether their maternal health and family planning programs will fund abortions. Canada, in fact, is reportedly prepared to pledge $1 billion over five years to this new initiative if other nations make comparable contributions on maternal health.

If these reports are true, it suggests the G8 Summit might yet generate a significant boost in support for family planning from donor nations. If so, that would be good news for all those women in developing countries who want to avoid becoming pregnant, but who currently lack access to modern methods of contraception.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

From DINKs to GINKs

June 1st, 2010

Lisa Hymas, the senior editor at Grist, an environmental blog, may be on to something.   She says that there’s “a lot of green good that comes from bringing fewer beings onto a polluted and crowded planet.”  She classifies herself as “Green Inclination–No Kids” or GINK for short.  And in a world increasingly threatened by climate change, loss of biodiversity, and diminishing resources, she’s not alone.  More and more people are deciding not to have kids or fewer kids than they might otherwise choose.

In explaining her personal decision not to have children, Hymas first clarifies in her blog that’s she not anti-parenting:

I like kidsmany of them, anyway.  Some of my best friends, as they say, are parents.  I bear no ill will to procreators, past, present, and prospective.  I claim no moral or ethical high ground.

If being a parent is something you’ve longed and planned for, or already embarked upon, I respect your choice and I wish you luck.  Go forth and raise happy, healthy kids.  May they bring you joy and fulfillment.

She also makes clear that her decision not to have kids was not a painful one. She recalls that in 1969, Stephanie Mills, a graduating college senior expressing concern about the impact of population growth upon the planet, once famously said at her commencement that, “I am terribly saddened by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is to have no children at all.”  Hymas, however, writes that “I am thoroughly delighted by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is to have no children at all.” 

As evidenced by the decline in fertility rates in the past half century, a lot of couples have decided that children are not for them, my wife and I included. More than three decades ago, marketers began identifying couples who decided to pursue careers rather than children as “Dual Income, No Kids” or DINK, for short. In making that decision, many couples did not consider the environmental consequences of bringing more people into an overcrowded world, but many have. Stephanie Mills is not alone.

What is new, however, is that more and more people are speaking out publicly about their very personal decision.  Chris Bolgiano, who lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and has authored or edited five books, wrote a Mother’s Day column recently for the Baltimore Sun in which she talks about her decision.  She wrote that:

It takes a Third World village to use all the resources that a single American consumes and, often, wastes every day. So even though the birthrate in America is historically low, curbing it further would be a good place to begin when trying to save the world. I am pleased to do my part.

She goes on to conclude that:

It seems to me that the encouragement of child-free couples is crucial to saving the planet. A child-free life celebrates humanity’s most profound conquest of nature: not the engineering of dams or genes but control of conception. Give every woman that choice, and the world will change.

In the next few months, we will be doing videotaped interviews with people who, out of concern for the planet and humanity’s future, have decided to have fewer children or no children at all.  And because their voices should be heard, we will be posting their remarks on our website.  Stay tuned.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President