Population Matters

Where are the Pro-Women Men?

March 30th, 2012

What do Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Bishop William E. Lori, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Senator Roy Blunt, Representative Marco Rubio, Representative Darrell Issa, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker all have in common? Other than all being men, over the last year they have all taken part in the ongoing war on women and women’s reproductive health.

While the war on women has been fought for the last year, we have seen it escalate to an almost unbelievable level in the last two months. It seems like I can’t turn on the TV, read the newspaper, or go online without seeing some new outrage being committed against women somewhere in the country. This has been an assault on many fronts, from state-level to national-level attacks and continuing attacks in the media. These attacks have galvanized women across the country to speak out in defense of their reproductive health and rights. However, the longer I watch this debate the more I wonder, where are the pro-women men in this debate?

We have heard from men like Rush Limbaugh who infamously called a Georgetown law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for testifying that health insurance for women should include coverage of birth control. Or Bill O’Reilly, who went on his show to say, “Let me get this straight, Ms. Fluke, and I’m asking this with all due respect,” he said. “You want me to give you my hard-earned money so you can have sex?”

We have heard from men like the Most Reverend William E. Lori, the Bishop of Bridgeport and spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who in his testimony before Congress on an all-male panel discussing the Obama Administrations contraception mandate, compared a Catholic Hospital being forced to cover contraception to a Kosher Deli being forced to sell ham.

We have heard from Mitt Romney who has said he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood.

We have heard from Rick Santorum who has said states should have the power again to ban contraception and girls and women who are raped or victims of incest should not have access to the morning-after pill or an abortion.

While there have been some men who have stood up for women – such as Jon Stewart (here, here, here and here), Senator Frank Lautenberg, Reverend Al Sharpton, and others – their voices have been quiet compared to the raucous male voices speaking out against women and women’s reproductive health.

It makes me wonder: where are the pro-women men?

This fight isn’t just about women’s health. It affects all the men who care about these women – the fathers, brothers, uncles, lovers, friends and husbands. It is time for all of these men to stand up and say that women’s health is important to them and they will no longer stand idly by and watch the women they care for have their well-being be used as a political football. They need to speak out and write their representatives and tell their representatives that they are standing with the women in their lives.

Men, it is time for you to stand up and speak out with women!

Originally posted on Care2 by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy on March 21, 2012

Planet Under Pressure

March 29th, 2012

After completing his 7-mile trip to the bottom of the ocean floor, James Cameron, said he felt like he had gone to “another planet.” And, in a sense, he had. Water pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench is so extreme that it’s like “three SUVs resting on a toe.” At such extreme pressures, life struggles to survive. Cameron, who saw only small-shrimp-like creatures in the water, said the ocean bottom resembled a “barren, desolate lunar plain.”

But the Mariana Trench is not the only part of planet Earth that is feeling the pressure. That’s why, half away around the world, nearly 3,000 scientists this week have assembled in London for a “Planet under Pressure” conference that is raising alarm bells about environmental conditions around the globe. And while those conditions may not approach those found at 7 miles beneath the ocean surface, they raise legitimate questions about prospects for life above and below the ocean waves.

Will Steffen, a climate expert at the Australian National University, warned the attendees that, “The last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in history.” He called this explosive growth in human activity “The Great Acceleration.” Steffen said that Earth’s climate was nearing several “tipping points” that could lead to a “much warmer” world when temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius.

Steffen’s was not alone in his dour assessment. Yvo de Boer, former executive secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said to reporters that, “I think 2 degrees is out of reach.” Several other scientists at the London conference said that there was only a “50-50” chance of even limiting global warming to 3 degrees Celsius.

The “Planet under Pressure” conference may be one of the largest gatherings ever of scientists concerned about sustainability, but where is all this leading? Or as, Steffen so aptly put it, “Where on Earth are we going?”

The next stop, of course, is the Rio+20 “Earth Summit” being held in June. Hosted by the UN, the Rio conference will bring together political leaders, diplomats and scientists from around the world to discuss “sustainable development.”

But the big unanswered question is whether, given population and consumption trajectories, “sustainable development” is becoming an oxymoron. So long as “more” is the goal, is there any combination of green technologies and better environmental practices that will lead us to a sustainable world? If world population climbs to 9.3 billion or higher by mid-century and global standards of livings rise on average by 3-4 percent a year, what does that mean for the world’s environment?

Over the past century we’ve already wiped out 40 percent of the forests, 40 percent of grasslands and half of the world’s wetlands. We’ve already collapsed most of the world’s great fisheries, and boosted the rate of animal and plant extinction by a factor of a thousand.

What kind of pressure will the planet be under if the world’s economic output at mid-century is four, five, or even six times higher than it is today? And what will that mean for climate change? Yes, we’ve been gradually de-linking GDP growth from growth in carbon emissions, but the de-linkage hasn’t stopped greenhouse gas emissions from continuing to rise. Yes, the rate of population growth is slowing, but the latest estimates suggest that world population will not peak around mid-century, as many once previously hoped. And, yes, smarter management of critical bio-habitats could slow the rate of plant and animal extinction, but so far it has not.

If all we get out of the upcoming Rio conference is a pledge to work harder in promoting the adoption of green technologies, it will not fundamentally alter the human trajectory, and it will do little, if anything, to ward off an environmental day of reckoning.

Our only hope — and it’s a slim one — is that policymakers and the public begin to recognize that a “planet under pressure” is the same thing as “humanity under pressure.” We cannot continue to ruin the environment and expect that the environment will continue to support human aspirations.

When James Cameron looked at the barren ocean floor he may have thought that he was looking at “another planet,” but, in fact, he may have been looking at what could happen to our own planet when the “pressure” becomes too great.

Originally posted by Robert J. Walker, President of Population Institute, on The Huffington Post on March 28, 2012

Progress in Reducing Severe Poverty?

March 20th, 2012

The World Bank a few weeks ago reported that both the number of people living in extreme poverty and the poverty rate itself declined in every region of the developing world during 2005-2008. The data released by the World Bank’s Development Research Group showed that “22% of the developing world’s population – or 1.29 billion people – lived on $1.25 or less a day in 2008, down from 43% in 1990 and 52% in 1981.”

The new estimate is certainly reason for celebration, but some caveats are needed.  While the estimate of the number of people below the severe poverty line ($1.25 a day) has fallen, the number of people living just above the line has soared.  According to the Bank, 1.18 billion people lived on between $1.25 and $2.00 per day in 2008 compared to only 648 million in 1981.  The total number of people living on $2.00 a day has changed very little over the past few decades:  2.47 billion in 2008 compared to 2.59 billion in 1981.

Arbitrary definitions of poverty based on reported income and the purchasing power of the local currency fail sometimes to give a complete picture of poverty.  For example, over 2.6 billion people in the developing world still lack flush toilets and other forms of improved sanitation, and yet at least 130 million of those 2.6 billion would not be considered poor even under the “$2 a day” definition used by the World Bank.

Even more disturbing is the lack of confidence that many experts have in the World Bank methodology.  Obtaining reliable estimates of poverty at the country level is notoriously difficult.  Countries can go for several years between household surveys.  In the interim periods, the World Bank is forced to make estimates based, in large part, on data collected from neighboring countries.  Current data is particularly lacking in sub-Saharan Africa, where many of the world’s poorest live.

In reviewing the World Bank numbers, two experts at The Brookings Institution cautioned that:

Calculating poverty numbers requires making many assumptions and the World Bank should be commended for making its methodology (and data) available in a transparent fashion. But one should not take the bank’s final figures at face value; there are too many discrepancies with common sense.

The researchers noted, for example, that using the Bank’s methodology one has to assume that “North Korea has roughly the same poverty rate as China.” A dubious assumption.

But even assuming that the poverty estimates produced by the World Bank are relatively good approximations, there is still another shortcoming that everyone should be aware of when reviewing the progress that we are making in reducing severe poverty.   Some of the reduction in poverty may not be sustainable.  If a farmer, for example, pumps water at an unsustainable rate from a local aquifer in order to boost crop yields, the income gain he sees may be temporary.

That’s why, with many of the Millennium Development Goals due to expire in 2015, a growing number of development experts are calling for the design and implementation of “Sustainable Development Goals” to help ensure that the progress we are making in improving human welfare is actually sustainable.

Any sign that we are making progress in reducing severe poverty is good news, but the questions being raised regarding the latest World Bank estimates suggest that we need to: 1)  devote more resources into measuring poverty and evaluating living standards in the developing world; and 2)  do a better job of determining whether the gains we are making today are coming at the expense of tomorrow.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, President

International Women’s Day – Hold the Celebration

March 8th, 2012

Today is the 101st International Women’s Day, a day set aside to celebrate the social and economic progress of women around the world. Unfortunately, this year does not give us much cause to celebrate.  Both at home and abroad, the reproductive health and rights of women has been under unprecedented assault, imperiling many of the gains that have been made over the past 101 years. Hard- fought gains that we have long taken for granted are in jeopardy.  Looking back over the past year I don’t see a cause for celebration.   I see an escalating attack on the health and well-being of women.

Domestically, we have seen innumerable attacks on the reproductive health and rights of women:

This, of course, is just a sampling of the escalating attacks on the reproductive health and rights of women in the U.S.  But the war on women is a global fight. In Congress, the same opponents of contraception in the U.S. are trying to slash funding for international family planning programs. They are also trying to eliminate U.S. support for the UN Population Fund and reinstate the global gag rule, a policy that hinders women in developing countries from getting access to contraception.

With the war on women showing no signs of abating, it is imperative that women stand together with women around the world in fighting for their reproductive health and rights.  But men also need to get off of the sidelines.   Working together, as men and women, we can put an end to this continuing war on women.  Next year, perhaps, we will have something to really celebrate on International Women’s Day.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

Bringing the War on Women to a Legislature near You

March 6th, 2012

As the contraception debate continues to rage on Capitol Hill – from the all-male panel testifying on the birth control health care mandate to the defeated Blunt amendment in the Senate, which sought to allow employers to deny coverage of contraceptives on moral grounds — you may not have noticed what’s been happening in a state legislature near you.

On Saturday New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof looked at what’s happening at the state level (“When States Abuse Women”). In his column, Kristof takes a critical look at a law recently signed by Governor Rick Perry of Texas.  The new restriction requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an invasive and medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound, during which their doctor is required the describe the features of the fetus. The woman must then sign a document stating that she understands what she was told before waiting a further 24 hours for an abortion. Many critics of the procedure are decrying it as “state-sanctioned rape” and “demeaning” to women and medical professionals alike. “State by state,” Kristof wrote, “legislatures are creating new obstacles to abortions and are treating women in ways that are patronizing and humiliating.”

A similar measure was recently debated in Virginia before being revised to omit the controversial procedure. However, women in Virginia are still required to undergo an abdominal ultrasound 24 hours prior to having an abortion.

Similar “informed consent” measures like the one in Texas are being put on the table in Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Mississippi. Family planning and sex education programs around the country continue to be at risk. According to the Guttmacher Institute, state legislators in 2011 introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions.

Just over two months into 2012, it appears that the legislative attacks on reproductive health and rights are escalating. It’s time for women and men alike to stop the assault on women’s health. Contact your local representatives and let your voice be heard.

Posted by Christina Daggett, Program Associate