Category Archives: Family Planning

The NSA, Planned Parenthood and Your Right to Privacy by Steven Conn

A crucial Constitutional conundrum: Is there a "right to privacy?"

A crucial Constitutional conundrum: Is there a “right to privacy?”

Not a week seems to go by without more revelations about how the NSA (or recently the UK’s GCHQ) monitors our electronic communications. Who knew that all the time I waste watching old movie clips on YouTube was so interesting to the guardians of our national security.

And not a week goes by it seems without some state legislature in some Republican-controlled state considering yet another bill to intrude on and harass women who need to get abortions. Indeed, to judge by the sheer number of such bills since 2011 you might conclude that women’s pregnancies constitute the biggest problem that the nation faces. There is apparently no need to regulate the financial industry, or toxic chemicals that spill into rivers or the shale drilling business, whose rail cars keep blowing up—those things will sort themselves out. But pregnant women gone wild … they’re the ones the state needs to restrict.

On the face of it these two phenomena don’t have much in common with each other. But they are, in fact, connected by a crucial Constitutional conundrum: Is there a “right to privacy?”

The privacy question has come up mostly in our discussions of the NSA and the new digital world we all inhabit. Beyond the problem of whether our surveillance laws, written during the age of rotary phones, are hopelessly outdated, we have discussed what kind of privacy any of us can now expect when virtually everything we do (or is that everything we virtually do?) leaves an electronic footprint.

But privacy, at least as a legal matter, is also at the center of the debate over abortion and family planning more broadly.

In the 1965 case “Griswold v. Connecticut” which overturned that state’s ban on the sale of contraceptives, the Supreme Court found that there was a basic right to privacy in the “penumbras” of the Constitution. Those “penumbras” included the 9th amendment’s language that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and in the definition of personal liberty found in the 14th amendment.

That legal reasoning became the basis for the Court’s series of reproductive freedom decisions culminating in “Roe v. Wade” in 1973. It’s worth remembering that Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the Court’s majority opinion, had once served as legal counsel for the Mayo Clinic. For him, the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship was a paramount concern and he did not want states to interfere with that relationship.

Since those decisions, the so-called “Originalists”—those legal thinkers who believe the Constitution should only be read according to what the writers originally intended—have been howling. And they are, strictly speaking, right. There is no specific right to privacy in the Constitution—not like there is for speech and religious worship. If the right isn’t there in the text, so the Originalist reasoning goes, and if Congress has not passed a law defining such a right, then you don’t have it.

It is reasonable to assume that the founders never articulated this right, because it never occurred to them that it was necessary. They had a much more rigid separation between the “private” and the “public” than we do now, and they were primarily interested in defining the rules of the public realm. The Supreme Court in the 1960s and ’70s found a right to privacy in these contraception cases and in those penumbras, therefore, because they believed that by forcing itself into people’s bedrooms and doctor’s offices the state was violating a principle we had all simply taken for granted: we are entitled to privacy.

This issue might be easily resolved were we to add a” right to privacy” amendment to the Constitution, and there have been a handful of desultory attempts in that direction over the years. They haven’t amounted to much, nor are they likely to go anywhere precisely because of the abortion issue. Anti-abortion activists know full well that as soon as we all have a clear Constitutional guarantee of privacy, their ability to meddle in our private lives will evaporate.

The contested nature of our privacy rights presents a dilemma for those of us who want the NSA to stop eavesdropping on our cell phone calls too. If conservative judges are successful in eroding the right to privacy by allowing any number of humiliating restrictions on women trying to get abortions (of the sort issuing forth in red states right now), then it will be tougher for the rest of us to argue that our internet searches should be protected from government surveillance.

The revelations about the extent of NSA snooping have put the issue of our privacy on the front page. Those of us who care about reproductive rights have a political opportunity in this. For a generation the reproductive freedom movement has cast the issue as a matter of “choice.” That language resonates with our democratic ethos and our consumer culture. “Choice” is an American birthright, and so it should be.

But perhaps now feminists should start emphasizing the language of “privacy” more than we have in the past. In so doing, we can find common cause with those who want to defend our privacy in the electronic world as well. After all, the choices we make about our reproduction can only mean anything if they are made in the privacy of our bedrooms and doctors’ offices. Before we can protect choice, we need to defend privacy.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-conn/the-nsa-planned-parenthoo_b_4886630.html

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Ghana: Health Minister Calls for Teaching of Family Planning in All Schools

Madam Sherry Ayitey, Minister of Health for Ghana.

Madam Sherry Ayitey, Minister of Health for Ghana.

The Minister of Health, Madam Sherry Ayitey has stressed the need for the Ghana Education Service (GES) to introduce the teaching of family planning in schools to enable the adolescent to know much about their reproductive health.

According to her, the reported huge numbers of teenage pregnancy occurred as a result of lack of knowledge about the importance of family planning among the youth and that the teaching of the subject would help reduce the stigma associated with health education in the society.

Madam Ayitey, who was speaking at the National launch of the 2013 National Family Planning Week celebration in Ho, observed that the time had come for education on family planning to be regarded as a major development issue, because high population rate in the country would definitely have negative effect on national development.

She stressed that the theme for the Family Planning Week, “Your Future, Your Choice and Your Contraceptive” was timely, noting that the issues of girls’ education ought to be regarded more seriously, particularly when large numbers of abortion and maternal deaths are teenagers in the country.

Madam Ayitey said the teaching of family planning in schools ought to be seen as very important because it would go a long way to equip the youth particularly teenage girls to make an informed decisions concerning sex.

The Health Minister continued that traditional authorities and religious leaders should regularly invite expects in family planning in their communities regularly to educate the people on the need to produce the number of children that they could take care of.

According to her, in the world’s poorest countries, contraceptive health and family planning for adolescents have become a taboo, and in many parts of sub-sahara Africa, the issues of family planning and adolescents’ sexual health have been completely ignored, leading to pregnancy and childbirth complications

Madam Ayitey noted that there were still large numbers of the youth who did not gain admission to either Colleges of Education or the universities because of the large population rates, as well as the huge numbers of unemployed youth who completed school or dropped out of school due to early pregnancy.

She said the adherence to family planning education would go a long way to help in dealing with major development problems as reduced population would ensure effective development adding that her outfit would in future include other maternal health issues to the National Health Insurance Scheme to deal with reproductive health that would reduce maternal death.

The Director of the Ghana Health Services, Dr. Ebenezer Appiah Denkyirah said a number of activities had been lined up throughout the country to create the needed awareness about family planning and reproductive health and urged Ghanaians to visit health facilities anytime to be provided with the best family planning that would suit their needs.

Dr. Appiah Denkyirah emphasized that family planning helps to control population growth as well as protect people from contracting sexually transmitted diseases which should not be seen as the preserve for only women and asked men to actively participate in family planning activities with their wives to ensure a healthy family and society.

The Deputy Volta Regional Director in Charge of Public Health, Dr. Winfred Ofosu said family planning would help the nation to grow its population in a sustainable manner as a household, a community and a country in accordance with the resources of the nation.

The Volta Regional Minister, Joseph Nii Laryear Afortey Agbo, noted that family planning had become increasingly important, cost-effective and high yielding intervention that exists in the world.

Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201402102023.html

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15 Years of Telling Stories and Changing Lives Around the World from The Population Media Center

A family in Burkina Faso. Photo courtesy of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

A family in Burkina Faso. Photo courtesy of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

SHELBURNE, VT – In Burkina Faso, François and his wife listen to a popular radio program, Yam Yankre (The Choice), when he gets home from work. François earns meager wages as a mason, which makes it hard to support his wife and six kids.

“Through Yam Yankre,” says François, “my wife and I learned that there are ways to keep from having children. I am very happy now because of this program.”

François explains that he and his wife did not go to school and never learned there was any way to prevent having more children. If it were not for Yam Yankre, François is sure that he and his wife would already have a seventh child.

For 15 years, Population Media Center (PMC) has been reaching audiences around the globe through mass media. Burkina Faso, a country approximately the size of Colorado with a population of almost 16 million located in Western Africa, is one country where PMC works. To date, PMC has had a hand in telling stories that address important health and social issues in more than 50 countries. These stories repeatedly demonstrate the power of entertainment-education to improve the health and well-being of families.

“Impact evaluations and results from our programs provide compelling evidence that entertainment-education can help people adopt healthier, more prosperous lifestyles,” says Bill Ryerson, PMC’s Founder and President.

PMC’s primary activity has been to create long-running radio serial dramas, like Yam Yankre, that engage audiences with authentic characters and culturally appropriate challenges and opportunities. PMC also produces dramas for television, provides training in effective mass-media communications, advises other media productions, and creates national media strategies – all focused on entertainment-education that use the Sabido methodology to create culturally-specific stories with “positive,” “negative,” and “transitional” characters to model behavior.

François began listening because of his wife. He came home from work, and his wife said, “There is a François just like you in this story…you should listen.” In Yam Yankre, the transitional character’s name is François.

“I recognized myself in the character of François,” says the real-life François. “He is being pushed to have too many children without knowing what to do.”

PMC’s serial dramas address numerous issues, ranging from reproductive health and family planning, to environmental preservation, to child protection, to population stabilization. The goal of every program is to model various viewpoints and interpersonal communication, so that locals talk about the issues and ultimately make their own choices.

Throughout its 15 years, PMC can point to very specific accomplishments on a range of issues. In Ethiopia, 63 percent of new health clinic clients seeking reproductive health services said they were listening to one of PMC’s dramas. In Rwanda, listeners to Umurage Urukwiye were 1.5 times more likely than non-listeners to want three or fewer children. In Nigeria, 67 percent of reproductive health clients in the four northwest states named Ruwan Dare as the motivation to seek health services.

“I spend the majority of my days traveling globally, mostly to places you won’t find in vacation brochures,” says Ryerson. “I see firsthand how the increasing number of people on the planet is affecting the lives of many and hindering development. I have witnessed the struggles with hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. It drives home to me the continued importance of PMC’s work in partnership with global agencies and foundations. We’re striving to improve opportunities and the health of people in need and to bring about a sustainable planet.”

ABOUT POPULATION MEDIA CENTER (PMC):
Population Media Center (PMC) is a nonprofit, international nongovernmental organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has over 15 years of field experience using the Sabido methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world.

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Selective Moral Disengagement – Hiding Behind Good Intentions by Albert Bandura

Photo by Szymon Kochanski.

Photo by Szymon Kochanski.

The Population Bomb is Still Ticking

Selective moral disengagement, with the denial it fosters, enables people to pursue harmful practices freed from the restraint of self-censure. This is achieved by investing ecologically harmful activities with worthy purposes through social or economic justifications; enlisting exonerative comparisons that make damaging practices appear righteous; using sanitized and convoluted language that disguises what is being done; reducing accountability by displacement and diffusion of responsibility; ignoring, minimizing, and disputing harmful effects; dehumanizing and blaming the victims, and derogating the messengers of ecologically bad news. These psychosocial mechanisms operate at both the individual and social systems levels.

We can disguise environmentally harmful practices and dress them up in words to help ease our consciences, but such practices will have a negative impact on the planet and the quality of life of future generations, no matter how we label them. We must stop attempting to justify our actions and switch on our environmental conscience to save the  world.

As consumers we are now bombarded with messages telling us to consider the environment and to save energy in the face of global climate change.  However, the fact is that personal economic savings on energy consumption may be offset by increased consumption of  goods and services. What may at first appear to reduce the level of ecological harm that we cause, may in effect be cancelled out and possibly lead to even greater harm.  Moreover, many of us pursue practices that are detrimental to the environment but which we justify by a kind of moral disengagement. This frees us from the constraints of self-censure and we defend our actions on the basis that such practices are somehow fulfilling worthy social, national, or economic causes and, as such, offset their harmful effects on the future of our planet.

Moral disengagement equates to switching off one’s conscience. Convoluted language helps disguise what is being done, reduces accountability, and also ignores and disputes harmful effects.  Learning about moral disengagement shines the light not only on the  malpractices of others but on ourselves.

Human conduct can be distinguished in terms of whether it falls in the realm of social custom or morality. This distinction is based, in large part, on the gravity of the  social consequences of the conduct. Harming others by one’s practices is clearly a matter  of morality. The reality today is that harm to the Earth is largely the product of human activity. Societies, therefore, have a moral obligation to preserve the environment so that future generations have a habitable planet.

We are witnessing hazardous global changes of mounting ecological consequence. They include widespread deforestation, expanding desertification, rising Earth temperature, ice sheet and glacial melting, flooding of low-lying coastal regions, severe weather events, topsoil erosion and sinking water tables, increasing loss of fertile farmland, depletion of fish stocks, loss of biodiversity, and degradation of other aspects of the Earth’s life support systems. As the unrivalled ruling species atop the food chain, humans are, at an accelerating pace, wiping out species and the ecosystems that support life.

Environmental degradation of human origin stems from three major sources:  population size, the level of consumption, and the damage to the ecosystem caused by the  resources used to supply the consumable products which support an increasingly affluent lifestyle. Environmental sustainability must address all three sources of impact on ecological systems and quality of life. There are limits to the number of people the Earth can support sustainably. The world’s population was 3 billion in 1950, more than doubled to 6.5 billion in the next 50 years, and is increasing by about a billion every 15 years—toward a rise of over 9 billion by the year 2050. Adding billions of new consumers will take a heavy toll on the Earth’s finite resources and ecological system. We have already exceeded the size of the human population the Earth can sustain. Converting to clean, green technologies, renewable sources of energy, and adoption of less consumptive lifestyles will help, but adding billions more consumers will offset the  benefits of these other remedies. Lifestyle changes must, therefore, be coupled with  reduction of population growth.

Moral disengagement by indifference to harmful realities extends beyond disregarding, minimizing, or disputing their occurrence. It includes ignoring escalating  population—the root cause of environmental degradation. A view, currently in vogue,  contends that population growth is no longer an ecological problem. This erroneous view  arises from failure to consider the differential pattern of population growth across regions  of the planet, and the changing shift of populations. The population growth problem must  be addressed globally, not dismissed as a myth by selective focus on some industrialized  countries with declining birthrates.

Compare the claim that the population bomb has ‘fizzled’ with actual population growth trends. China has a population of 1.3 billion and is adding about 7 million people  annually. India has passed the 1 billion mark, and is on the brink of surpassing China as  the most populous nation in the world. At its current fertility rate their population will  double to a staggering 2 billion in 44 years.  Africa has a population of 944 million and, at its present growth rate, will swell to 2 billion in 35 years. The population in the Middle East and North Africa is about 400 million and is projected to surpass 700 million in 50 years. The USA has the highest rate of population growth among industrialized countries. Although the rate of population growth globally has slowed somewhat, it is still at a pace to add about 1 billion people every 15 years. Dismissal of global population growth cannot go on indefinitely. Mounting aversive consequences of environmental degradation will eventually force the international community to address the population problem.

There is also mass migration of people from heavily populated poor countries to more habitable or prosperous ones. Some of the people are migrating in search of a better life. Others are seeking a safe haven from internal ethnic atrocities. And still others are ‘environmental refugees’ subjected to forced migrations because of the growing  inhabitability of their environment as their once-fertile land turns into desert through   prolonged drought and inadequate water resources. The oft-repeated scenes of hordes of emaciated people struggling to survive under squalid conditions in refugee camps is more likely to depersonalize and  dehumanize them than raise social compassion. Large-scale international migration, which will swell with increasing environmental destruction, is changing the face of national populations and becoming the source of major regional upheavals that breed sectarian violence.

The population bomb is rapidly ticking away, but is being ignored as a major contributor to climate change and ecological destruction. Population  growth is an escalating global problem—not a disappearing one. In an attentional sleight of hand, soaring population growth disappears as a problem and population decline is  elevated to an alarming one that ‘haunts our future’.   Even some of the leading environmental and conservation organizations, which morphed  from active grass-roots environmentalists to cautious bureaucracies, have, in accommodating political forces, disconnected ecological damage from population growth. The population of the USA was 150 million in 1950 but grew to 300 million  in 2006 and is heading to 420 million in the next 45 years. Most of this increase stems from migration. After a grueling internal fight over the role of immigration in population growth, for fear of its racial implications, the Sierra Club jettisoned domestic population growth from their agenda as an environmental conservation issue.

Fear of alienating donors, criticism from the progressive left, and disparagement by conservative vested interests claiming that overpopulation is a ‘myth’, served as further incentives to cast off the rising global population as a factor in environmental  degradation. Population growth vanished from the agendas of other mainstream  environmental organizations that previously regarded escalating numbers as a major  environmental threat. Greenpeace announced that population “is not  an issue for us”. Friends of the Earth declared that, “it is unhelpful to enter into a debate about numbers”. The common justification for the retreat is that it is consumption not human numbers that is creating environmental problems, despite evidence that more people produce more ecological damage. To construe ecological woes as due to consumption and dismiss the number of consumers as of minor consequence overtaxes credibility.

David Brower, the inspiring founder of the Sierra Club, would have probably viewed this retreat for political reasons as a tragic irony. He put it well when he once  said, “You don’t have a conservation policy unless you have a population policy”.  The escalating global population which already exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity is now a much more serious ecological threat. Some prominent scientists have taken bold steps in the inhospitable political-correctness climate to break the stranglehold of the population taboo. Christopher Rapley, Director of the British Science Museum, argues that stabilizing human population at an ecologically un-sustainable level is not much of a solution. In his view, we need fewer people to curb global warming.  A few columnists and commentators are also beginning to give voice to the global consequences of willful indifference to the population aspect of the problem. Mounting ecological degradation will force renewed attention to population growth.

Population growth has become politically incorrect for a variety of reasons.   About two-thirds of the greenhouse gases are produced by the richest industrialized countries with high consumption lifestyles, but only about 3% by Africa, the poorest continent. To target poor countries that suffer the ecological harm of extravagant lifestyles spewing pollutants elsewhere is analogous to blaming the victim. Ironically, ignoring poor people’s need for help with planned childbearing and social supports that  enable them to achieve it, is victimization by benign neglect.  High consumption lifestyles wreaking havoc on the environment and harming other people’s lives is a moral issue of commission. Evasion of the influential role of population growth in environmental degradation is a moral issue of omission.

Immigration is a minefield in political life. On the one hand, industrial, agricultural, and service industries want cheap labor and workers to perform the dirty and low-wage jobs that their own citizens will not accept. They rely heavily on migrant workers, both legal and illegal. Using economic justification, the industries also argue that they need cheap labor to stay competitive in the global markets. They use their political clout to secure their labor needs. On the other hand, migrant groups are marginalized, denied adequate services, even human rights. Families that are better off are not about to groom their own offspring for toilsome menial jobs with paltry wages and lowly social status. So migrants are welcomed although they tend to become a disadvantaged ethnic underclass that remains largely unassimilated and is resented for its  intrusion on the prevailing cultural norms, traditions, and practices.

To complicate matters further, immigration is an emotionally charged issue with  deeply-engrained prejudices, favoritism toward certain ethnicities and occupational  stratums, and indignation over illegal entries. These conflicting forces have spawned  political correctness in both the political right and political left.  Some people exploit   this contentious issue for political purposes, but most do not want to talk about  population growth for fear of rousing the controversial specter of immigration and being  branded a racist.

Burgeoning populations also fuel civil strife with devastating humanitarian  consequences. In many underdeveloped countries a major share of the population is under 20 years of age. As previously noted, populations in many developing countries will double in 20–30 years. The added stress of deteriorating life conditions  facilitates the collapse of weak states and the rule of law. Many recent conflicts occur in countries with young populations, living in poverty, without jobs or skills, under autocratic rulers often plagued by corruption. The age structure, intense competition for sparse resources, and widespread social discontent make young men ripe for recruitment for civil wars and terrorist activities, and provide a growing threat to international security. To worsen this problem, water sources are being rapidly depleted as the demand by soaring human numbers outstrips the supply. The looming water crisis will spawn  growing regional conflicts over the allocation of water from sources crossing national borders. In the 21st century, water will be a major global issue over which people will fight.

Expanding economies fuelling consumptive growth by billions of people is  intensifying competition for the Earth’s vital resources and overwhelming efforts to  secure an environmentally and economically sustainable future. Powerful parochial  interests create tough impediments to improving living standards globally through  sustainable eco-development with economic growth which preserves the Earth’s environmental base. Employing collective practices driven by a foreshortened perspective, humans may be well on the road to outsmarting themselves into an irreversible ecological crisis.

Many people are beginning to express concern over catastrophic climate change, advocate environmental conservation in the abstract, but resist curbing their behavioral practices that degrade and destroy the life of the planet. Under troublesome life conditions people generally seek quick fixes that require no significant changes in lifestyle. Once they get wedded to rewarding lifestyles that exact a toll on the environment they devise schemes that enable them to stick with their behavioral practices without feeling bad about their adverse effects. They make cosmetic changes in their energy and resource use that make them feel like conservationists. On average, Americans consume more energy in a week than an inhabitant in India does in an entire year. Environmental conservation calls for more fundamental lifestyle changes than switching to more efficient light bulbs and  doing a bit of recycling. People remain faithful to their driving habits but seek to power  them with supposedly environmentally-friendly fuel that inflicts hardships on the less advantaged. [Think ethanol and catastrophically rising corn prices in Mexico.] They create marketplace systems that enable them to continue their consumptive ways but grant them forgiveness for their ecological sins through the purchase of carbon offsets for green projects. Through carbon cap and trade schemes, industries can spew greenhouse gases but buy carbon credits from more efficient companies with unused allowances rather than clean up their act. Going green through ecologically degrading behavior is an odd way of saving the planet.

As in the case of token remedies at the individual level, tinkering with  environmentally and economically unsustainable systems, while aggressively promoting ever-rising consumption rates with polluting technologies, will not beget a green future.  Substitutes for genuine behavior change usually accomplish too little too slowly. If we  are to preserve a habitable planet it will not be by token gestures and schemes for buying  one’s way out of wasteful and polluting practices. Rather, it will be by major lifestyle  changes with commitment to shared values linked to incentive systems that make  environmentally responsible behavior normative and personally worthy. A sustainable  future is not achievable while disregarding the key contributors to ecological   degradation—population growth and high consumptive lifestyles.

Ecological systems are intricately interdependent. Global changes affect  everyone regardless of the source of the degradation. Because of this interconnectedness, lifestyle practices are a matter of morality, not just environmental sustainability. Most current human practices work against a less populated planet whose inhabitants live sustainably in balance with natural resources. Given the growing human destruction of the Earth’s environment, Paul Watson [Founder of the Sea Shepherd Society] may not have been too far off the mark when he characterized the human species as an “arrogant primate that is out of control”.  Moreover, this arrogant human is morally disengaged from his own actions. If we are to be responsible stewards of our environment for future generations, we must  re-engage moral sanctions with lifestyle changes and ecological decision-making as we seek to build a sustainable world.

This article was taken from the academic treatise: Bandura, A. (2007)  “Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement”, International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol. 2, # 1, pp 8-35.  Reprinted with permission of the author.

Biographical note: Albert Bandura is an internationally acclaimed Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. He is a proponent of social cognitive theory. His landmark  book, Social Foundations of Thought and Action: a Social Cognitive Theory,  provides the conceptual framework for this theory. In his book, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, he presents the definitive exposition of the centrality of people’s beliefs in their personal and collective ability to exercise some measure of control over their self-development, adaptation and change. He was elected to the presidency of the American Psychological Association, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Book review: Life On The Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation

In Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation by Professor Philip Cafaro of Colorado State University and Professor Eileen Crist of Virginia Tech, we find top authors and scientists attempting to alert humanity to its impending future viability on this planet.

In Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation by Professor Philip Cafaro of Colorado State University and Professor Eileen Crist of Virginia Tech, we find top authors and scientists attempting to alert humanity to its impending future viability on this planet.

If you look around the United States, even in the overcrowded, overpacked and gridlocked cities of America—you won’t hear conversations about overpopulation. Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and more cities feature enormous brown clouds blanketing their cities with an airborne toxic soup that every citizen breathes with every breath. Brian Williams reports on the horrific traffic jams on the East Coast, but he won’t mention the overpopulation factor causing them. Same with Diane Sawyer, Scott Pelley, Wolf Blitzer, Megyn Kelley, Robert Siegel and all the top anchors on all the media reports!

They convey that none of us should question unending growth. It’s like a 450 pound fat man on “Biggest Losers” TV show who can barely walk, knows he’s going to die of a heart attack—but he decides to follow the American mantra of “Sustainable Growth” and keeps shoving Big Macs with double cheese, French fries and a Big Gulp down his gullet until he reaches 550 pounds and beyond.

Both his path and the United States’ path can only end up in the same condition: human misery, suffering and ultimately collapse. But in the case of human overpopulation around the planet, we humans destroy millions of other creatures along the way to our own destruction.

In Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation by Professor Philip Cafaro of Colorado State University and Professor Eileen Crist of Virginia Tech, we find top authors and scientists attempting to alert humanity to its impending future viability on this planet.

In Chapter 4, Martha Campbell asks, “Why the silence on overpopulation?”

“By 2050, human population is projected to reach as high as 10.5 billion,” said Campbell. “Uganda is projected to grow from 33.8 million to 91.3 million. Niger from 16 million to 58 million, and Afghanistan from 29 million to 73 million.”

That’s not all the growth! India adds 11 million net gain annually to its 1.2 billion (in 2012), while China adds another 8 million net gain annually. Both countries expect to explode to about 1.6 billion. If you have watched NBC lately, Brian Williams reported on the air pollution cover Shanghai and Beijing. He hasn’t covered the water pollution, but the Ganges and the Yangzi Rivers feature open sewer pipes that turn into 20,000 square mile dead zones at their mouths. How do I know? I sailed on both rivers and the water-plastic-debris-trash-human waste made me sick to my stomach.

"OverLoaded Train" in India, more and more people are crammed into the same space, trying to live, breathe, grow food, find jobs and enjoy 'quality of life'.  In a country of 1.26 billion people (and still growing rapidly!) is there any room for tigers or elephants or other creatures?  Photo from churchandstate.org.uk

“OverLoaded Train” in India, more and more people are crammed into the same space, trying to live, breathe, grow food, find jobs and enjoy ‘quality of life’. In a country of 1.26 billion people (and still growing rapidly!) is there any room for tigers or elephants or other creatures? Photo from churchandstate.org.uk

At 82 million, Egypt, a country that cannot feed itself in 2013 and relies on grain imports, expects to hit 150 million by mid century. Do we need to guess their fate?

“In 1900, Ethiopia had 5 million, in 1950 it had 18.4 million, in 2010 it had 85 million and is projected to reach 173 million by 2050,” said Campbell. “Their rapid population growth figures in the decimation of nearly all of Ethiopia’s forests and consequently climate change.”

On a personal note, I researched to find that Africa houses nearly 1 billion people in 2013, but expects to reach 3.1 billion within 90 years. Can you imagine every human scavenging every last creature on this beautiful continent for food? Nothing will be left of all those wonderful creatures. In 1900, Africa sported 12 million elephants. Today, 475,000 remain and their numbers are dwindling fast due to poachers.

Campbell calls the subject of population “delicate” because it involves sex, cultures, religions and serves inequities around the world. Such religions as Islam, the Catholic Church, and many others don’t take kindly to birth control.

Campbell discusses the six reasons for the population “Perfect Storm” facing all life on this planet, especially humans causing it.

  1. While birth rates fall, the sheer number of humans causes growth, due to ‘population momentum’.  Right now that momentum adds about 1 billion people every 12-13 years.
  2. Overconsumption of water, resources, animal life, arable land and resource exhaustion accelerate with the population momentum.
  3. Anti-abortion activists, religious leaders and conservative think tanks have intentionally reduced attention to population growth.
  4. Many folks think that disease like AIDS have stopped population growth. Not so!
  5. Even after the Cairo population conference and the Rio debates, there is still not enough financing of family planning programs on a global level. Cultural and religious practices still dominate women in too many places.
  6. The dominant “endless growth” paradigms of countries like Canada, America, Australia and even Europe—maintain a death grip on any discussion of overpopulation.
"Garbage Family"  Despite China's rapid economic growth and strict no-migration laws, there remains a marked disparity between the country's wealthy and the poor. This family, originally from Guizhou Province (far-western China) moved to the rich Delta Yangtze River coast in search of a better life. They currently work in a Jiangsu landfill, sifting through garbage in search of any re-sellable items.  In a country of 1.35 billion people (and still growing!) -- is there any room for Pandas or any other wildlife?  Photo and commentary by Sheilaz314/Flickr/cc

“Garbage Family” Despite China’s rapid economic growth and strict no-migration laws, there remains a marked disparity between the country’s wealthy and the poor. This family, originally from Guizhou Province (far-western China) moved to the rich Delta Yangtze River coast in search of a better life. They currently work in a Jiangsu landfill, sifting through garbage in search of any re-sellable items. In a country of 1.35 billion people (and still growing!) — is there any room for Pandas or any other wildlife? Photo and commentary by Sheilaz314/Flickr/cc

Campbell said, “Use of family planning prevents death from unintended pregnancies and from induced abortions. Children from smaller families are more likely to enter and stay in school.”

This chapter brings home the enormity of the power of cultures and churches and corporations to squash the population discussion. It shows that cultures and beliefs trump and override reason, empirical evidence, common sense and logical action.

Thus, 10 million children and 8 million adults die of starvation and starvation related conditions every year around the globe. Another 18 million stand in the doorway of death in 2013. All life on the brink?  If we do nothing about overpopulation, iit’s only a matter of time.

Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents—from the Arctic to the South Pole—as well as eight times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. He presents “The Coming Population Crisis facing America: what to do about it” at <www.frostywooldridge.com>.  His latest book is: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World, copies at 1-888-280-7715.

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If Norway Can Prosper with a Stable Population, Why Can’t Australia? by Charles Berger

Melbourne city sprawl.

Melbourne city sprawl.

The projection that Australia’s population will grow to 36 million by 2050, contained in the 2010 Intergenerational Report, was received very differently by Australian governments and the community.

Many Australians are deeply uncomfortable with rapid population growth. A  recent poll found that 48% of Australians thought such growth would be bad for Australia, while only 24% thought it would be good. They intuit, perhaps, that governments might not be up to the task of providing sustainable water, energy and transport infrastructure for rapidly growing cities.

The Government’s stance has vacillated between claiming that such rapid population growth is inevitable on the one hand, and assuring us that it is good for Australia on the other.

The claim of inevitability is disingenuous and easily dismissed. While some degree of growth is inevitable over the next few decades, both the pace of growth and the ultimate trajectory are well within the government’s power to influence. Migration is the largest determinant of long-term population growth for Australia, and different migration levels mean the difference between population stabilization and ongoing rapid growth.

More interesting, and more forthright, is the claim that rapid population growth is in Australia’s best interest. Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has been the government’s most vocal proponent of the “Big Australia” preference. In a recent piece, Tanner asked “Do we want lower productivity and less economic growth?”, implying that lower population growth could only damage our economy.

Is there good evidence for or against a link between population growth and economic prosperity? Tanner unfortunately offered none in support of his argument for rapid growth. One’s view on the question depends largely on an assessment of so-called “economies of scale” and “dis-economies of scale”. Economies of scale are things that get better the more of us there are—greater diversity of restaurants is an example that rings true for me. Diseconomies of scale are things that get harder the more of us there are. For example, water supply tends to get more expensive per unit as population increases, as increasing supply requires resorting to progressively more distant and difficult to access sources. A desalination plant is more expensive than extraction from local wells, for example. Congestion is another diseconomy of scale, and greenhouse pollution is rapidly emerging as another.

Economic modeling conducted for the Intergenerational Report concluded that lower population growth would mean lower per-capita GDP for Australia, among other ills. But a closer look reveals some flaws. For one, the modeling excluded any environmental parameters, such as the potential impact of a larger population on greenhouse pollution, water use, and congestion. The omission seems all the more glaring when you consider that climate change was identified as one of the two most important intergenerational challenges facing Australia today. In effect, the Intergenerational Report included many potential economies of scale, while excluding the most important dis-economies of scale. The result tells us more about the modeler than about what is likely to happen in the real world.

The most considered and balanced treatment of this issue in recent times is the final report of the National Population Council, an official Commonwealth body, released in 1991. Although nearly two decades old now, its analysis remains compelling and relevant. It is not, I should stress, an “anti-growth” document.

On the link between population and economy, the Council found that the jury was still out: “because of our limited present direct knowledge of economies and dis-economies of scale, it is not possible to state … that population growth per se enhances or reduces the productivity basis for economic progress.”

Unfortunately, our knowledge of economies and diseconomies of scale is no better today than it was back then. This leaves Tanner’s claim that we’d be less prosperous if we don’t grow our population on a pretty shaky theoretical base.

But enough of economic models, what about the real world? The Intergenerational Report discusses just two examples: Italy and Japan. Both nations have experienced very low fertility levels, rapidly ageing populations, and slow economic growth in recent decades. On the basis of these two countries, the Intergenerational Report concludes, “A key lesson from the international experience is that countries with low population growth or declining populations such as Japan and Italy face lower potential rates of economic growth than countries with relatively healthier population growth.”

But why focus on those two countries? A broader look across the OECD shows that rapid population growth is neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve solid per capita GDP growth. (I leave aside here the question of whether per capita GDP growth is a useful goal to strive for, except to say that Joseph Stiglitz and many other mainstream economists have cast doubt on the wisdom of an excessive focus on GDP.) In fact, no fewer than 11 OECD nations achieved faster per-capita economic growth than Australia from 1997-2007, despite slower population growth or even in some cases no population growth or a slight decline.

Clearly enough, experience shows us that rapid population growth is no guarantee of economic prosperity, and conversely a stable population does not doom a country to economic failure.

The real puzzle here is why the Intergenerational Report discusses only the two worst performing countries among OECD nations on this issue, rather than looking at some of the success stories. Norway looks like an interesting case—thriving economy, despite an ageing population and much lower population growth than Australia. Or how about Slovakia, with a stable and ageing population and a booming economy? The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Finland … with so many intriguing examples of countries with stable or low-growth populations that somehow continue to enjoy vibrant economies, it’s a pity the report didn’t take a more lateral approach.

As for the significant environmental, planning and social challenges of population growth, the report acknowledges them but plays them down in a single line of optimism: “The risks in these areas are manageable provided governments take early action to plan for future needs.” Sure, but that’s a pretty big proviso. It’s a bit like saying I can win a marathon, provided I run really fast: technically true, but it really begs the question of how.

Lindsay Tanner similarly suggests that we focus on better planning and less profligacy, rather than worrying about population. One can hardly argue against better planning and lower ecological footprints; they are desperately needed. What is beyond me is how he can be so sanguine about our ability to achieve those ambitious goals, in the face of all evidence that we’re nowhere close to the trajectories required even to reduce the ecological footprint of the present population.

Population growth and wildlife come into conflict.

Population growth and wildlife come into conflict.

The truth is we are struggling just to catch up with the huge backlog of infrastructure, social and environmental investments for our 22 million people, let alone the 36 million we will have if current migration trends continue.

A better approach, again, is that provided by the National Population Council in 1991. It stated: “Solutions should not be assumed for population-related problems through other policies, unless the institutional and other mechanisms required to effectively implement those solutions are in place”.

The assumption that the impacts of population growth will be defrayed by technological and planning improvements is the opposite of a precautionary approach. It is fine to hope for the best possible outcome, but reckless to pursue policies that will increase our population on the expectation that the best possible outcome will occur. And even more reckless in the face of the facts are that Australia’s per-capita greenhouse pollution continues to increase year on year, our cities continue to push beyond urban growth boundaries, and few of the policies or practices that would signal a transition to a genuinely sustainable lifestyle are in place.

In the end we as a nation have options about our future population. The Intergenerational Report and the government treat us as if we have none, confronting us with a false choice between rapid population growth or economic calamity. The truth is that we can care for an ageing population, enjoy economic prosperity and work towards ecological sustainability without rapid population growth. How? Just ask the Norwegians. Or the Slovaks. Or the Dutch. Or …

Charles Berger is director of strategic ideas at the Australian Conservation Foundation. This commentary was first posted February 22, 2010.

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Respect Women’s Choices by Dr Richard Grossman

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

“What does a woman want?” ~ Sigmund Freud

Freud’s question obviously has many answers. Some women are happy with their role as wife and mother, the picture that some men still have of “the perfect woman”.

My mother, who was born in 1903, decided her future when she was just eight. She told me that she asked her third grade teacher what they had just read. “That is a story” was the teacher’s reply.

“No, what is it called when you study all sorts of stories?”

“That’s called ‘literature’.”

“When I grow up, I want to teach literature”. And she did for almost 40 years in the Philadelphia Public Schools.

She graduated from high school at 16. Her father believed that the woman’s place was in the home, so disapproved of higher education for my mother. Nevertheless, she went through teacher training with no support from her family. She had to be top in her class to receive one of only two scholarships. At age 18 she was teaching a class of 40 fourth graders.

During the past century a woman’s role in US society has changed drastically. For instance, when I entered medical school in 1965 there were only six women in my class of 125. Now there are equal numbers of men and women in medical schools. My specialty, OB-GYN, used to be ruled by men but now women make up the preponderance.

More important, women increasingly take leadership roles. Whereas males used to preside over politics, we’re seeing more and more women in Denver and Washington. Many captains of industry and of education are now women. Indeed, it was Dr. Dene Thomas, the first female president of Fort Lewis College, who inspired this column.

In our country the movement for women’s suffrage started in the late 19th century. Colorado was early in recognizing a woman’s right to vote—in 1893! This movement ended in 1920 with passage of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution. It reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Unfortunately there are still people who think that a woman’s place is at home, and women must be subservient to men. Some candidates in the last election came up with some really stupid statements.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” As a specialist in reproductive health, I am not sure what “that whole thing” refers to, but I suspect that Mr. Todd Akin was referring to a woman’s ability to conceive.

Thirty years ago I investigated a statement in the antiabortion literature. Antiabortion people maintained that women don’t get pregnant from rape. I tracked down this untruth to a statement that 200 women who had been raped were followed and none of them conceived. The man who started this falsehood admitted to me that it had no basis in reality. The reality is that rape often leads to pregnancy.

This fall another Republican candidate, Richard Mourdock, said: “When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Was he implying that God intended the rape to happen?

Todd and Murdoch disagree whether rape can result in pregnancy. I cannot agree with either of their attitudes toward women. Neither could 55 % of female voters, according to exit polls at the November election, since a large majority of women voted for Democratic candidates. How could Romney and Ryan tolerate to be associated with these clowns?

Fortunately President Obama has recognized the importance of contraception to America’s women. Starting in 2012 all insurance plans must pay for any birth control without copayment. This mandate has the great promise of decreasing our atrociously high rate of unplanned pregnancies, and of slowing growth of our population.

Why do women value family planning services? They say that access to contraception allows them to take better care of themselves and of their families, helps them support themselves financially, and permits them to complete their education and to be employable. This information is from a recent survey of over 2000 women using family planning clinics across the country.

Barak Obama has just been inaugurated for his second term of office. His popularity confirms that people want a change from archaic concepts of the role of women. We want healthcare for all, freedom to access contraception and, when necessary, safe abortion services.

Source: © Richard Grossman MD, January 2013. First appeared in the Durango (Colorado) Herald. Reprinted with permission.

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UK Parliamentarians Call for Action to Protect 10 Million Girls from the Abuse of Child Marriage

Portrait of Mohammed Fazal, 45, with his two wives (L-R) Majabin, 13, and Zalayha, 29 in the village on the outskirts of Mazar Al Sharif. Fazal was offered Majabin as a debt settlement when a fellow farmer could not pay after a night of playing cards. They have been married for six months.

Portrait of Mohammed Fazal, 45, with his two wives (L-R) Majabin, 13, and Zalayha, 29 in the village on the outskirts of Mazar Al Sharif. Fazal was offered Majabin as a debt settlement when a fellow farmer could not pay after a night of playing cards. They have been married for six months.

Every year, 10 million girls around the world are married while they are still children. With a rising global population, numbers of child brides are predicted by United Nations experts to increase to 14 million per year in the next decade. Following a hearing into child marriage, a cross-party group of UK parliamentarians are calling for governments here and abroad to take urgent action to protect girls from the consequences of being married and becoming mothers while they are still children themselves.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health (the Group) is calling on the government to tackle child marriage on two fronts. In the UK, this includes a recommendation to implement statutory guidance on forced marriage, training for professionals, inclusion of consent in marriage and sexual relations in the personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum, compulsory registration of all religious marriages and an increase in the minimum legal age for marriage to 18. They are also encouraging the Department for International Development (DFID) to conduct research into the prevalence and practice of child marriage, to evaluate existing interventions to ensure that UK aid is spent effectively and to scale up programmes to prevent child marriage and support survivors. In particular, they would like to see British aid being spent to meet the needs for family planning, sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare of girls and women of all ages and whatever their marital status.

Baroness Jenny Tonge, Chair of the Group and the hearing, said,

‘Every three seconds, a girl is coerced or forced into marriage, losing her childhood, her dreams and the opportunity to make her own choices about her life and relationships. This is not just bad news for the girls themselves, it also means that too many children are born into a world that is already overpopulated and half of the productive population of a developing country cannot participate fully in their societies because they are uneducated and unable to contribute to the workforce. Countries where girls are educated, marry later and have fewer children show higher economic growth and a better standard of living for all.’

Child marriages are driven by poverty, gender inequality and harmful traditional practices. In the developing world, a lack of access to education is both a symptom and a cause of child marriage. Child brides are generally expected to bear children from an early age, leading to a prolonged period of reproduction and larger numbers of children, yet adolescent girls are twice as likely as women in their twenties to die in childbirth. Some don’t even make it that far. Gauri van Gulik of Human Rights Watch told the hearing about Elham Mahdi al Assi, a thirteen-year-old girl in Yemen who died just days after her marriage to a man in his twenties in a ‘swap marriage’ exchange in which her brother also married her groom’s sister. She died from internal bleeding as a consequence of her husband raping her. Delaying marriage saves lives as well as giving girls and women equal opportunities to boys and men.

In most cases, laws and international conventions are in place to protect children from being forced into marriage. Yet, time and again governments fail to implement these protections. Evidence shows that British girls are being taken out of the country to be married against their will and here in the UK, families are getting children married off in ‘community’ or religious ceremonies or by taking advantage of the fact that the law in Britain allows the marriage of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds with parental consent.

The British government recently announced plans to criminalise forced marriage. Nearly 30% of the calls received by the UK Forced Marriage Unit helpline this year related to minors, so implementing this change in the law should also help British girls. Jasvinder Sanghera, author of the memoir Shame and chief executive of the Karma Nirvana support network for those affected by forced marriage and child marriage in the UK, said,

‘I welcome the fact that our Prime Minister has committed to making forced marriage a criminal offence – my plea is that we work to also enforce what already exists. Statutory guidelines continue not to be implemented or monitored effectively and the lack of school engagement remains concerning. There remains the need to universally agree a minimum age of marriage, it cannot be right that children as young as 8 years old here in Britain are entering a marriage arrangement. This is abuse and not part of anyone’s culture or tradition and we as a society have a duty to recognise it as such.’ 

Baroness Tonge’s message for parliamentarians, DFID and those working in child protection in the UK is simple: ‘Resolve to do something about our sisters worldwide whose cries are not heard.’

 Source: UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health press release 26th November, 2012.

 A Childhood Lost, the report of the parliamentary hearing on child marriage held by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, will be published on 27th November 2012, and available to download from the Group’s website: http://www.appgpopdevrh.org.uk/parliamentary%20hearings.html

 The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health (the Group) aims to encourage initiatives to increase access to, and improve reproductive and sexual health programmes worldwide. It has 70 members, from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, representing the UK’s main political parties. The Group provide members with a forum for discussing population, development and reproductive health. For more information please go to www.appg-popdevrh.org.uk

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Denmark: Small Happy Prosperous Families by Marilyn Hempel

Danish coffee and pastries.

Danish coffee and pastries.

According to the OECD 2012 world report on life satisfaction, Danes are the happiest people in the world.

Have you ever tasted a freshly baked Danish pastry?  It’s delicious—why wouldn’t the Danes be happy! Putting pastries aside (reluctantly), studies of the happiness of nations are always fraught with difficulties. How does one quantify such a nebulous term as happiness? Isn’t happiness an individual state of mind? As it turns out health, a balance of work and leisure, and a strong social support network continue to correspond highly with happiness.

Despite the difficulties associated with quantifying happiness, each year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) unveils its report on life satisfaction in the developed world. Since it was founded in 1961, the OECD has strived to help governments design better policies for better lives for their citizens. Based on this experience, its 11 topics reflect what the OECD has identified as essential to well-being in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance).

Once again, the United States failed to make the top 10 list of happiest nations in the world, while all the Scandinavian nations did. They all have small stable populations. The US has the highest population growth rate of any industrialized nation.

Denmark tops the OECD ranking with the most satisfied citizens. If one only glances at the numbers, the reason is not obvious. Denmark ranks no higher than fourth in any of the categories that appear to correlate strongly with overall satisfaction. Yet, in addition to the OECD, organizations such as the World Map of Happiness and the World Database of Happiness have consistently put Denmark at the top of their list of the world’s happiest countries.

When asked why they are happy, Danes usually give two reasons. First, they point out that most of their society is not created for the upper class. Just the opposite, nearly all things are catered to the middle class. Hence, there is a sense of contentment, which is key. There is little of the mentality of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or a 1% vs 99% debate.

Second, they mention the great services that the state provides. This comes at a price—extremely high taxes. But it turns out high taxes have another benefit. People tend to decide on an occupation based on what they like and not based on earning potential. Incomes are somewhat comparable across the country so that a garbage collector lives in the same kind of neighborhood as a doctor. As a general rule, prestige is not so important: the garbage collector gets the same kind of respect as the doctor for a job well done. This creates happiness as well.

Denmark has a high employment rate (73%), and a low percentage of employees working long hours (less than 2%).  Not surprisingly, having enough leisure time affects a person’s mental health and strongly impacts happiness. The citizens of Denmark have the most leisure time per day of any country in the study, at 16.06 hours (including sleep) —and this is encouraged by government policies.

Badly hit by the 1973 Arab oil embargo, Denmark responded with a sustained, focused and systematic approach to energy production and use that today is the envy of the world. Denmark is one of very few energy independent nations. This didn’t happen by Danish politicians telling their people the solution was ‘drill baby drill’ and fracking.

What did Denmark do? They imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy—while barely growing their energy consumption—and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

Government policies have spurred developers to build homes with thick insulation, and consumers to only buy energy-efficient appliances.

The result of these and many other policies is that Denmark’s energy consumption—the amount of fuel it uses to heat its buildings, drive its cars and power its economy—has held stable for more than 30 years, even as the country’s gross domestic product has doubled. (Remember, the population is stable as well.) During the same period, energy consumption in the U.S. has risen 40 percent, while its GDP has quadrupled. The average Dane uses 6,600 kilowatt hours of electricity a year (even with their fierce winters), compared with 13,300 for the average American.

Danish parents feel their children are safe within their families and in society as a whole (not true for American parents); baby prams are left unattended; bicycles are left unlocked; trust in other people and government is high.

Education, including sex education, is available to all with equity and with ease—99 percent of children graduate from high school (68 percent for the US). Higher education doesn’t come with an enormous student loan price tag that requires trading off financial ease for knowledge and expertise.

Denmark has national health insurance which provides for all. Family planning, counseling, and pre- and post-pregnancy services are given free. The Danes accept sexuality as a normal part of life, and feel that abortion should be allowed free of charge. They decided that prevention of adolescent pregnancy should have high priority, therefore sex education and responsible parenting classes are part of their school curriculum, starting at an early age. Denmark’s conception rates are less than 1/2 of those in the US.  Not surprisingly, there are very few unwanted pregnancies, and few babies to be adopted.

Denmark is a small country with a relatively miniscule defense budget and no major defense obligations. Yes, if Denmark were attacked by a larger country, it is possible the Danes could not resist. However, they have good relations with their neighbors, and have no reason to fear them.

Denmark has a stable population, social cohesion, a great educational system, energy independence, fine health care including free family planning, jobs and a retirement system for everyone, comfortable housing, lovely countryside and plenty of leisure time to enjoy it. In short, why wouldn’t the Danish people be happy? They have built themselves a society that looks after their citizens and gives them many reasons to be satisfied with their lives.

Marilyn Hempel is the editor of the Population Press.

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Do Economists Have Frequent Sex? by Martha Campbell and Malcolm Potts

Melinda French Gates and participants at a Sure Start Project initiative to promote maternal and newborn health in Kathghara Village, Fatehpur District, U.P., India on March 23, 2010. The women are playing a stacking game to promote family wellness.

A flawed paradigm confusing coincidence with causation

Last year a World Bank economist gave a lecture on development in Africa on the UC Berkeley campus. His audience asked him about rapid population growth in that continent. He immediately dismissed the question, saying that population growth did not need any special attention. It would look after itself. He was voicing an uncritical interpretation of the demographic transition, a “theory” which has as much evidence to support it as the fictitious Da Vinci Code, although like the Da Vinci Code it remains perennially popular.

In the mid-twentieth century, writers such as Frank Notestein and Kingsley Davis described how western societies had begun with high birth and death rates, that death rates fell before birthrates leading to a growth in population until a new equilibrium was reached where low death rates were matched by low birth rates.  This classic description of the demographic transition is in textbooks and on UTube. As a set of general empirical observations it has some usefulness.  However, when empirical observations are elevated to become a “model,” or a  “theory” seemingly capable of providing an “explanation” of demographic change, then we have a serious problem. The explanation can become grievously misleading.  When the demographic transition theory is used to predict future population growth, then it becomes downright dangerous.

The theory has proved unusually persistent and remarkably impervious to criticism. Economists have mistakenly bought into the concept that when societies become richer and better educated—often referred to as socio-economic conditions—then fertility (the average number of children per woman) will decline.  Careful studies of the theory in Europe have found only a weak relationship between socio-economic conditions and fertility decline. Reviewing the success of organized family planning programs in Asia and Latin America, researchers Bongaarts and Watkins concluded, “there is no tight link between development indicators and fertility,” yet they still felt compelled to assert “the role of socio-economic development in accounting for fertility declines remains inherently plausible.”

It is almost as if the demographic transition model has some divine power that must never be questioned. A panel of the US National Academy of Science in 2000 concluded “fertility in countries that have not completed transition should eventually reach levels similar to those now observed in low fertility countries.” Editing a volume called The End of World Population Growth in the 21st Century, Wolfgang Lutzwrites, “the well-founded, general notion of demographic transition is the basis of our expectation that world population growth will come to an end during the second half of the 21st century.” Tim Dyson, in a 2010 book Population and Development: The Demographic Transition, sees demographic transition playing a “central role in the creation of the modern world,” asserting that demographic transition is “self-contained and inexorable over the long run.”

But is this expectation well founded, and are the empirical processes actually “self-contained and inexorable”?  Recognizing a serious problem in this thinking, Simon Szreter has commented, “the [demographic] model’s conceptual structure was allowed to become so general and the theoretical relation so flexible that, as a causal explanation of change, it became an empirically irrefutable theory.”

There is no empirical evidence that all countries and regions will drift in some magic way to a two-child family and then live happily ever after. Indeed, anyone who has glimpsed the patriarchal cultures found in Afghanistan or Northern Nigeria would suggest the empirical evidence is the exact opposite. Such regions are likely to go on having large families unless a massive effort is put into helping women achieve the autonomy they deserve. A common assumption that “once fertility declines are underway they tend to continue” did not prove true in Kenya, where fertility decline was well under way in the 1980s but stalled after 1994 when foreign aid budgets for family planning collapsed. It was also assumed that when societies reached replacement level fertility then the birth rate would stop falling, but that has not happened in Russia or most of Europe.

Another almost religious belief of disciples of the demographic transition is that the engine driving the transition is a fall in death rates. Some parts of this observation hold water, but as there is no place in the world where deaths have not fallen significantly (except, sadly, for maternal deaths in a number of countries) the assertion cannot be proved. In England and Wales the birth rate fell a generation before infant mortality fell. Infant mortality in Madagascar (42/1000 births) is slightly lower than that in Bangladesh (45/1000), but the total fertility rate (TFR) in Bangladesh is 2.4, in Madagascar it is 4.6.  This reversal is most likely because Bangladesh has ready access to contraception and safe abortion, while Madagascar does not.

Access to modern contraception and safe abortion is often a more consistent correlate with fertility decline than socio-economic progress. By access we do not mean just that the contraceptives are in the community, but also that there are many barriers between women and contraception, including unjustified rules and tests, misinformation, providers not allowing unmarried women to have contraception, and many more.

Family size can fall even in poor and illiterate communities once the many tangible and intangible barriers that bar women from access to the technologies and information they need to separate sex from pregnancy are removed. Such barriers are often visible to women, but not seen so distinctly by some demographers, nor by ministries of health. Curiously these barriers seem to be largely invisible to a large portion of economists, including most economists in the World Bank.

In Nigeria the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is 5.6 (average children per woman). 44% of the people are under age 15. Average life expectancy is age 51.
Photo from Juju Films/Flickr/cc

The reality of human behavior

The demographic transition theory postulating a predictable, self-regulating world, where virtually all countries will have a two child family by 2100, is a mirage created by writers who see a world of people who are able to make easy decisions about whether and when to have a child. They seem not to recognize that human beings across societies worldwide, unlike most other mammals, have sex hundreds or even thousands of times more frequently than is necessary to conceive the number of pregnancies they want.  Unless women have the knowledge and the means to separate sex from childbearing, their default condition is a large family.

In many countries women still live in the depths of poverty and have little access to contraception. Such a woman does not have enough power to tell her husband “no sex tonight”—lest he treat her roughly or take on another wife or girlfriend—leaving her and her children with less food.  Oddly, economists seem to miss the realities of this sad situation, where women have few options about their childbearing.  Several years ago we came to realize that most economists might not be aware that couples everywhere have sex frequently.  In jest we then began to propose to our students that the only explanation we can think of for why economists seem not to be aware of this common pattern is that maybe economists don’t have frequent sex.

The UN population projections have assumed since the spring of 2010 that all but a small number of the fastest growing countries will reach replacement level by 2100. This is the Da Vinci Code at its worst. In parts of West Africa, current observable rates of increase in the use of contraception means that it will take over 90 years for countries to reach replacement level fertility (just over 2 children on average).  Even when replacement level fertility is achieved, the population will go on growing for several generations, because of the enormous number of children already born.

Today 1.2 billion people live in high fertility countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, which include countries such as Niger, Yemen and Afghanistan. These countries with the highest average family size, from four to seven or more children per women, account for 18% of the total global population.  If that percentage continues to expand, which is likely as long as those averages of numbers of children continue, these countries will remain poor.  No country has been able to develop with an average of five or more children per woman. Even if the overly optimistic UN projections are achieved, these highest fertility countries alone will grow to between 2.8 billion and a staggering 6.1 billion by 2100, or to the UN’s medium variant projection of 4.2 billion.

Whatever the exact number—unless there is a sense of urgency and significant investment by the rich world—by the second half of the 21st century the overwhelming majority of people in the high fertility countries will still be living in abject poverty, largely uneducated, and almost certainly unemployed. Not only will it be necessary to make family planning readily accessible in the remaining high fertility countries, but also it will be imperative to invest heavily in girl’s education. Without a large external investment in girls’ education, many such countries are likely to continue to treat women in atrocious ways.

Chart courtesy of Martha Campbell/Venture Strategies.

Currently, between 12 and 18 million people in the high fertility countries of the Sahel, the countries bordering the southern edge of the Sahara, are hungry. As the population of this ecologically vulnerable region doubles by 2050, and as the crops wither and the camels die as a result of global warming, tens of millions of people will migrate to big cities and across borders in what may become the biggest forced migration in history. Suffering and death are already accompanying that migration. Other countries will become failed states, like Somalia (TFR 6.4). Terrorist groups like Boko Haram (literally “education is sacrilege”) in Northern Nigeria will become more common and al-Qaeda will continue to metastasize, as it has in Mali.

The power of family planning

The current population of Niger is 16 million, and even if that country could reach replacement level fertility (just over two children average) by 2040 the population would not stabilize until 80 million by about 2100. In a country where one in five women has 10 or more children and only one in 1,000 girls completes secondary school, all hope of socio-economic progress is being swept away by a tsunami of human numbers.  If Niger delays reaching replacement until 2080 the country will not stop growing until it reaches over 220 million people. Obviously that will not be sustainable because deaths from malnutrition, starvation and conflict will rise to unprecedented levels bringing with them an unimaginable intensity of human suffering.

Lack of focus on family planning since the Cairo conference has allowed a great deal of demographic momentum to build up in many high fertility countries, as Niger makes so unambiguously obvious. Statements such as Lutz’s, “we demonstrate in this book that world population growth will likely come to an end in 21st century through the benign process of declining fertility rather than the disastrous process of increasing death rates by overshooting global carrying capacity” are highly misleading. It implies that global problems of tectonic significance will somehow take care of themselves. They will not.

Unless two and two no longer make four, there is a compelling and urgent need to make family planning universally accessible and desirable, and to invest heavily in girls’ education, whether or not there are actual schools. Family planning is catalyst. It was the horse that pulled the development cart in Asia, and it is a prerequisite today for progress in Africa, and in countries like Afghanistan.  Investing in girls and young women is always important, and it is particularly urgent in societies where the ongoing abuse of compulsory teenage marriage and early childbearing continues unabated.  Strong family planning and education are synergistic, not competitive alternatives.

The ‘Program of Action’ from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development was an eloquent call for making family planning universally available, even where socio-economic development has not yet caught up.  It stated: “The success of population education and family planning programs in a variety of settings demonstrates that informed individuals everywhere can and will act responsibly in the light of their own needs and those of their families and communities.”

In low resource settings family planning should be the first element of primary health to be made widely available. Even health extension workers take many months to train because they must be able to diagnose diseases before they can recommend a therapy. Family planning is an individual woman’s voluntary choice and can been made widely available by training community volunteers in one or two days.

A new paradigm

As a collection of empirical observations, the demographic transition describes changes in birth and death rates leading to changes in the size of the total population—no more and no less.  The demographic transition cannot be turned into what Dudley Kirk called in 1996, “one of the best generalizations in the social sciences.”  As a paradigm, the demographic transition is like Karl Marx’s Das Capital or Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams—an idea that seems to have the power to gather generations of faithful followers, who cheer for one another while systemically ignoring external criticisms.

As more and more exceptions to the demographic transition theory have been documented, some demographers and economists have been left looking like pre-Copernican astronomers inventing increasingly improbable explanations of a flawed geocentric system rather than accepting the fact that the earth goes round the sun.

After 20 years of international antagonism and apathy, the London Summit on Family Planning (July 11, 2012) saw the tide turn in favor of renewed support for family planning wherever it is needed. The words ‘demographic transition’ passed no one’s lips on that day. Instead this landmark event was based on two much more profound observations than a library full of demographic theses confusing coincidence with causation. They have been perfectly summed up by Melinda Gates: “The most transformative thing we can do is give people access to birth control.” And, “Sweeping changes begin at the individual family level.”

 Martha Campbell, PhD, is president and founder of Venture Strategies for Health and Development, based in Berkeley, CA. Malcolm Potts, MB, PhD, holds the Bixby endowed chair in Population and Family Planning in the School of Public Health, University of California-Berkeley, CA. He has published ten books and over 200 scientific papers. His most recent book is Sex and War: How Biology Explains War and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World

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