Category Archives: Women’s Rights

Save Lives—and Money! by Richard Grossman MD

Can you think of any state-funded program that can save seven dollars for every dollar spent? Voluntary family planning programs for teens and young women offer that wide a margin of benefit!

Indeed, family planning can do much more than just save money. It has the ability to change the prospects for people, especially young women. By postponing parenthood, people have the opportunity to mature emotionally, complete their education and improve job skills. An experiment, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative (subsidized by a generous grant) has shown the benefit of making effective contraception available to all women.

OK, I have to admit, women bear an unjust proportion of responsibility for family planning. That is the way it is now; I hope that the future will hold more in the way of birth control for men other than just condoms and vasectomy.

An anonymous donor (reported to be the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation) gave money to fund contraception for women who otherwise couldn’t afford it. This program started in 2009 and finished this summer (2015). It paid about $5 million each year for more than 36,000 women to receive contraceptive information, services and supplies.

Fortunately, during this interval the need for funding decreased because the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) picked up perhaps 25,000 Colorado women who didn’t have prior coverage. Unfortunately there are still many people who don’t have any insurance coverage and cannot afford contraception. They are especially unable to pay for Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive (LARC) methods that are so effective, but have an initial cost of about $1,000. LARCs include four IntraUterine Devices (IUDs) and one hormonal implant.

How did this program save money? If they had gotten pregnant, many of these women would have been on Medicaid or other state-supported programs. Their children would also likely be on taxpayer-funded programs, including children of undocumented women who are citizens as soon as they are born in the USA. The estimate of the amount of money the grant saved just for obstetrical services is $79 million.

The most important savings is in the decrease in the teen pregnancy rate. It is true that all over the country fewer teens became pregnant during the past few years, so not all of the decrease in our state is due to the Initiative. However, Colorado’s teen pregnancy rate dropped an outstanding 40% from 2009 to 2013, largely because of this Initiative.

Colorado's Teen Birth Rate

No one is in favor of unintended pregnancies. This Initiative illustrates what we have known all along: the best way to prevent abortion is with good contraception—and this has been proven over the past 5 years. From 2009 to 2013 the abortion rate for Colorado teens fell 42%, and for women aged 20 to 24 it also dropped significantly.

Good things come to an end, and the Initiative’s grant ended in July. Don Coram, a Republican state representative from Montrose, tried to garner support to continue the program—but unfortunately failed. Fortunately, private foundations stepped in to assure that funding is available.

So far 12 foundations have collaborated to pay $2 million during the next year to continue the Initiative. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to provide services to all who need them, but it is hoped that more funding will follow. Optimistically the State Legislature will see that this program is saving money and empowering young women to become healthier, more productive citizens and will finally fund this program. And maybe other states will then get on the bandwagon to follow Colorado’s lead by funding similar programs.

Dr. Eve Espey is chair of the department of OB-GYN in Albuquerque where I trained many years ago. Her paper “Feminism and the Moral Imperative for Contraception” documents the importance of contraception in the modern world. Not only does family planning provide social benefits to individuals and to their societies, but also it saves lives. Spacing the births of babies promotes healthier children and decreases infant deaths. “It is estimated that, in 2008,” she writes “44% (272,040) of maternal deaths were prevented in 172 developing countries owing to use of contraceptives….”

Not only does contraception save money; globally it saves a quarter million women’s lives yearly!

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If Pope Francis Really Wanted to Fight Climate Change, He’d Be a Feminist by Katha Pollitt

The world will never be healed of its ecological ills as long as women cannot control their fertility. Doesn’t meeting a desire that women already have seem a strategy more likely to succeed than turning the world into vegetarians or keeping the new middle classes in China and India from buying cars and taking vacations?

If the world consisted only of straight men, Pope Francis would be the world’s greatest voice for everything progressives believe in. He’s against inequality, racism, poverty, bigotry and, as his recent encyclical Laudato Si’ made eloquently clear, the rampant capitalism and “self-centred culture of instant gratification” —including excessive meat eating—that fuel climate change and may well destroy the planet. He has a gift for adding warmth to harsh and inflexible dogma, as with his famous comment on gays: “Who am I to judge?” As I write, he has just announced a special year in which any priest may absolve a woman for having an abortion, as long as she is “contrite.” No wonder leftists and liberals and even secular humanists love him. Naomi Klein seemed positively starstruck in her New Yorker piece about her recent visit to the Vatican, where she spoke at a press conference and symposium about the encyclical. Indeed, she was so impressed with the pope’s “theology of interconnection” and “evangelism of ecology,” she forgot to mention that he had nothing to say about the gender inequality that undergirds and promotes our onrushing disaster.

I know I risk being the feminist killjoy at the vegan love feast, but, unlike Vatican City, the world is half women. It will never be healed of its economic, social, and ecological ills as long as women cannot control their fertility or the timing of their children; are married off in childhood or early adolescence; are barred from education and decent jobs; have very little socioeconomic or political power or human rights; and are basically under the control—often the violent control—of men.

For example, consider population growth. Because of its association with coercion, racism, and doomsday predictions that failed to materialize, it’s hard for progressives to talk about overpopulation. But we must: There are 7.2 billion people on the planet—since 2000, we’ve added around 1.2 billion, roughly equivalent to the entire population of North America and Europe. At the current rates of increase, there will be 9.6 billion people by around 2050. Population density affects everything: climate change, species loss, pollution, deforestation, the struggle for clean water, housing, work, and sufficient food. How can we take the pope seriously if he refuses to face these facts?

Pope Francis places the blame for the sorry state of the planet only on excess consumption by the privileged and says that international campaigns for “reproductive health” (scare quotes his) are really all about population control and the imposition of foreign values on the developing world—as if the church itself was not a foreign power using its might to restrict reproductive rights in those same places. But why is it an either/or question? Why not: There are billions of people who want a modern standard of living, which makes a lot of sense compared to the alternative—backbreaking farm labor in a poor village with no electricity or running water—and those desires can only be satisfied if people have fewer children, which happens to be what they want anyway.

True, Pope Francis did say that Catholics needn’t breed “like rabbits,” but he waved away the need for “artificial” birth control. If only those rabbits would use natural family planning! Interestingly, he made that comment as he was leaving the Philippines, a largely Catholic country where the powerful church hierarchy has fought tooth and nail against realistic sex education and government funding of contraception. Not coincidentally, the Philippines has the highest fertility rate among the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

According to a recent report from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, providing family planning to the 225 million women around the world who want it but can’t get it could meet 16 to 29 percent of the necessary decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions. Doesn’t meeting a desire that women already have seem a strategy more likely to succeed than turning the world vegetarian or keeping the new middle classes in China and India from buying cars and taking vacations? Educating girls, keeping women in the workforce, and providing good healthcare for women and children are crucial human-rights goals that also reduce the number of children a woman has.

It’s remarkable that the pope didn’t address a single sentence of his encyclical to these issues, especially since it otherwise deals so intelligently with the interconnection of so many disparate phenomena. Francis has often said that men and women have different gifts and “complementary” roles. He has spoken sweetly of motherhood and femininity and derided the movement for women’s equality as “female machismo.” Yet in Laudato Si’, the word “women” appears only in the phrase “men and women”—that is, people. Don’t women have anything special to contribute to solving climate change beyond serving their too-numerous children less fast food?

As climate disruption heats up, it’s women who will bear the brunt of it, because they are the majority of the world’s poor. Especially in the developing world, they’ll be contending with drought, food shortages, flooding, and forced migration, along with increases in the usual brutalities like rape, violence, trafficking, and war. Under such circumstances, to deny them the ability to control how many kids they bring into the world is to condemn millions of women to the hardscrabble desperation that the pope says he wants to prevent.

There is a great deal of research on how women’s rights, including reproductive rights, can ameliorate a range of global ills, including poverty and ecological disaster. The pope prefers to elide the whole issue, except when it comes to abortion, which he sees as close to the root of the problem: “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” Given that the church is such a latecomer to concern for the Earth—until recently, the standard theological view held that God put Nature here for Humans to use—there’s a certain chutzpah in using this last-minute conversion to push the same old forced-birth agenda.

Never mind the 47,000 women who die every year in illegal abortions, and the even greater number who are injured: Abortion causes glaciers to melt and species to vanish. From Eden to ecology, it’s always women’s fault.

Source: The Nation online


The annual increase in global population (86.6 million more births than deaths each year) is the most rapid in the history of human kind. A business as usual scenario for the second half of the 21st century suggests the possibility of massive starvation and the certainty of unprecedented migration. In the Sahel the food supply is growing arithmetically the population increasing geometrically. Add in climate change and the possibility of a Malthusian disaster seem possible, unless urgent, large scale policy changes and financial investments in family planning and girls education are made immediately.

Malcolm Potts.

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How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood by Katha Pollitt 

WHY does the pro-choice movement so often find itself in a defensive crouch?

I cringed as I watched Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, apologize in a YouTube video last month for the lack of “compassion” in two doctors’ language at supposed business lunches arranged and secretly recorded by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress.

Not because she wasn’t eloquent, but because of what her words said about the impossibly narrow path abortion providers now are forced to walk. After all, have you ever heard an apology from a crisis pregnancy center for masquerading as an abortion clinic? What about the women in Texas who lost access to gynecological care when the state defunded Planned Parenthood and did not, as promised, adequately replace its services? Has anyone said SORRY about that?

Logically, it’s not important how doctors talk at supposedly private meetings. If they were heart surgeons I doubt it would be an issue. But these are abortion providers, and that makes all the difference. So far, the surreptitiously filmed videos, five of which have now been released, do not, as claimed, show that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit, which is against the law.

But the videos do cleverly evoke visceral feelings of disgust—graphic images, physicians using the words “crush” and “crunchy”—to activate the stereotype that abortion providers are money-grubbing baby killers. Why women end up having second trimester abortions, why they choose to donate fetal tissue, what good the research achieves—who cares, when there is outrage to provoke and express?

There are two reasons abortion rights activists have been boxed in. One is that we’ve been reactive rather than proactive. To deflect immediate attacks, we fall in with messaging that unconsciously encodes the vision of the other side. Abortion opponents say women seek abortions in haste and confusion. Pro-choicers reply: Abortion is the most difficult, agonizing decision a woman ever makes. Opponents say: Women have abortions because they have irresponsible sex. We say: rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, life-risking pregnancies.

These responses aren’t false exactly. Some women are genuinely ambivalent; some pregnancies are particularly dangerous. But they leave out a large majority of women seeking abortions, who had sex willingly, made a decision to end the pregnancy and faced no special threatening medical conditions.

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

The second reason we’re stuck in a defensive mode is that too many pro-choice people are way too quiet. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause. I suspect most of those women had someone who helped them, too—a husband or boyfriend, a friend, a parent. Where are those people? The couple who decided two kids were enough, the grad student who didn’t want to be tied for life to an ex-boyfriend, the woman barely getting by on a fast-food job? Why don’t we hear more from them?

It’s not that they think they did something wrong: A recent study published in the journal PLOS One finds that more than 95% of women felt the abortion was the right decision, both immediately after the procedure and three years later. They’ve been shamed into silence by stigma. Abortion opponents are delighted to fill that silence with testimony from their own ranks: the tiny minority of women who say they’re plagued by regret, rape victims glad they chose to continue their pregnancies, women who rejected their doctor’s advice to end a pregnancy and—l ook at these adorable baby pictures!—everything turned out fine.

Make no mistake: Those voices are heard in high places. In his 2007 Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy specifically mentioned the “unexceptionable” likelihood that a woman might come to regret her choice. That women (not mne!) need to be protected from decisions they might feel bad about later—not that there was any evidence supporting this notion –is now a legal precedent.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves—that one in three—look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

Women aren’t the only ones who need to speak up. Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood? Where are the doctors who object to the way anti-abortion lawmakers are interfering with the practice of medicine?

On the issue of fetal-tissue research, we need to hear loud and clear from the scientific community. Anti-abortion activists are calling for a ban on this research, which ironically is used primarily to find treatments for sick babies. Will scientists let that happen?

Planned Parenthood is big. It estimates that one in five women have visited its clinics for health care. But the implications of the video sting, and the congressional scrutiny Planned Parenthood now faces, are even bigger. They’re about whether Americans will let anti-abortion extremists control the discourse and dictate the agenda around reproductive rights, medicine and scientific research. Silence, fear, shame, stigma. That’s what they’re counting on. Will enough of us come forward to win back the ground we’ve been losing?


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Regulating Abortion and Boating: A Modest Proposal by David A. Grimes 

"I Trust Women" bumper sticker from

The recent avalanche of state abortion regulations (for the sole purpose of improving safety) has had the desired salutary effect. Indeed, thanks to the Republican Party’s preoccupation with gynecology, the risk of death from abortion has over the past decade gone from one death per 100,000 procedures to one death per 100,000 procedures. (The challenge was considerable, since getting lower than one is tough.) After the bevy of new restrictions, abortion today is safer than an injection of penicillin (as it was before the new regulations). Emboldened by their dramatic success in improving abortion safety, Republican-led state legislatures should now direct their medical expertise to non-gynecologic public health threats.

Danger in an abortion clinic?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past decade the average number of deaths in the U.S. from legal abortion has been about 10 per year. Induced abortion and miscarriage remain the safest possible conclusions of pregnancy. In my home state of North Carolina, no abortion-related death has occurred in decades.

Danger on the high (and low) seas

In North Carolina, 16 persons have died in boating accidents in the first few months of 2015. In 2014, 26 persons died in boating accidents in the state. Most fell overboard and drowned, and most of these deaths could have been prevented had life jackets been worn.

Nationwide, 610 persons died in boating accidents in 2014, for a boating risk of death of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 registered boats. Many of these deaths were preventable. Among drownings for which information was available, 84 percent of victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Time for new laws!

As these federal statistics reveal, each year about 60 times more Americans die from boating than from abortion. While the risks are not directly comparable, having a boat is clearly more dangerous than having an abortion. Hence, more boating regulations are needed. Modeled after the highly successful abortion regulation blitz, the following is a tongue-in-cheek legislative agenda for the Republican Party.

Boaters’ Right to Know Act

Because of the dangers involved, women must receive state-mandated counseling about boating safety before launching. A script written by part-time politicians in the state capital will advise boaters of the risks, benefits, and alternatives of boating. The state-scripted counseling must include the following:

  • Boating causes long-lasting psychological distress related to leaving terra firma (dubbed the “post-nautical stress syndrome”).
  • Government-issued nautical charts are unreliable; the earth is indeed flat, and boats routinely fall off the edge.
  • Wearing a life jacket increases the risk of breast cancer from friction with the chest.

Crisis Boating Centers

State-mandated counseling will refer potential boaters to information centers sponsored by golfing organizations opposed to boating. Proceeds from state-sponsored license plates saying “Choose golf” will subsidize these centers, which provide both on-site and Internet information about boating.

Ultrasound requirement

All boats must have an ultrasound transducer (sonar). The boat operator must provide a narrated description of the contours of the bottom of the river, lake, or ocean to women passengers before launching.

Hospital proximity

Boats can only be operated on waters within 30 miles of a hospital in the rare event that hospitalization of a passenger or crew member is needed.

Mandatory waiting periods

Because women boaters are flighty and irresponsible, a mandatory waiting period is required. A three-day wait sounds about right. For example, if a woman decides after work on Friday to take her children fishing, she could receive the obligatory state counseling about risk and then cast off from the dock… on Monday evening. She has the entire weekend to reflect on whether fishing was a prudent plan for her family.


Only Coast Guard-licensed captains can operate boats (despite decades of evidence that such extensive training and experience are unnecessary).


Since ambulatory surgical centers are (incorrectly) thought to be safer than abortion clinics, similar upgrades are needed for boating:

  • Only Coast Guard-inspected vessels may be used for recreational boating.
  • Boats must be at least 40 feet long and 14 feet wide, with a canvas or hard top for sun protection.
  • All boats must be equipped with a chart plotter, autopilot and radar.
  • Only diesel engines are allowed, since this fuel is less flammable than gasoline used in outboard engines.


With state regulation of abortion coverage in health insurance as a model, states will determine which private insurance carriers can underwrite boat insurance policies. Insurance companies need legislative help.

Politics and public health

As Groucho Marx aptly noted, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Dr. David A. Grimes is the author of Every Third Woman in America: How Legal Abortion Transformed Our Nation. He is the former Chief of the Abortion Surveillance Branch at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Source: Huffington Post 05/27/2015. Follow David A. Grimes on Twitter:

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WHO expands list of recommended birth control options in order to save women’s lives by Al Jazeera Staff Reporters

Every year, 87 million women become pregnant unintentionally due to the underuse of modern methods of contraception.

Every year, 87 million women become pregnant unintentionally due to the underuse of modern methods of contraception.

The World Health Organization just added a series of long-acting, hormonal contraceptives to the list of globally recommended birth control methods, which will significantly reduce mothers’ risk of dying during childbirth, experts say. The WHO’s guidelines relax restrictions on the use of hormonal methods for breastfeeding women who are less than six weeks postpartum, according to researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The guidelines are welcome in many poor countries, where the researchers hope policymakers and health industries will adopt the updated recommendations to battle high maternal death rates.

More than half of women in low- and middle-income countries (defined as nations with a gross national income less than $12,615 per capita) become pregnant within two years of a first birth, despite their desire to postpone pregnancy or not have another baby at all, according to a study in Contraception, a reproductive health journal. Pregnancies that occur within that interval are at higher risk of resulting in maternal, newborn or child death, according to the researchers.

Experts writing on ‘Global Health Now’, a blog affiliated with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called the move “bold” and “overdue” – one that increases women’s chances to access safe reproductive healthcare worldwide.

Every year, 87 million women become pregnant unintentionally due to the underuse of modern methods of contraception, according to a 2014 study in 35 low- and middle-income countries published in Human Reproduction, an Oxford University journal. An estimated 222 million girls and women who want to avoid another pregnancy are not using any method of contraception, according to the WHO.

While more than 92% of mothers do not wish to give birth again soon after a pregnancy, 61% of postpartum women in low- and middle-income countries do not use family planning methods, according to the Contraception study.

But at least half of these women give birth again within an interval that’s deemed unsafe to the mother’s health, according to the same study. Even when a mother is using contraceptives, the study found, she is relying on short-acting methods rather than long-acting ones such as implants.

Previously, medical practitioners were discouraged from prescribing hormonal birth control such as patches and implants to women who are less than six weeks postpartum. Many women rely on barrier methods, such as condoms, or believe that practicing breastfeeding prevents pregnancy, fueling many unwanted births that put mothers’ health at risk, according to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s researchers.

“The support for postpartum family planning contained in the revised MEC [WHO recommendations] should usher in a wave of policy changes that make the FP2020 commitment an attainable goal rather than a lofty target,” the researchers added, referring to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s public health target of reaching 120 million more women and girls with voluntary family planning options.


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Westerners Don’t Appreciate How Amazing Contraception Is by Faustina Fynn-Nyame

Faustina Fynn-Nyame

Faustina Fynn-Nyame

When Alima was 15-years-old she travelled to the Ghanaian capital to work as a head porter in the market, planning to save money to buy household items for her marriage. But girls working in the market often end up sleeping rough. Some end up pregnant because they are raped or forced to exchange sex for somewhere warm to sleep.

Fortunately, Alima heard about our clinic from peer educators who we had trained to raise awareness in the market. She went for counselling with the nurse and decided to take up a method. Alima spoke to our team about what she could do. We made some suggestions, and in the end she chose a five-year implant. Instead of buying crockery with her savings, she decided to go home and enroll in school.

Working in clinics in Ghana and Kenya, I have seen the consequences when contraception is not available. I’ve seen women dying in childbirth, mutilating their bodies or risking their lives with backstreet abortions. In developed countries such as the UK, contraceptive use has plateaued between 60% and 80%. In east Africa, if current trends continue, it will take another 45 years to reach 60%. While in west Africa, where I am from, the same rates will not be achieved for 500 years. That’s the year 2515.

I believe that being able to choose if and when to have children is a basic human right. Economically, it makes sense; for every additional pound invested in contraception, the cost of pregnancy-related care is reduced by £1.47. In fact, just last year a leading economist associated with the Copenhagen Consensus Centre think tank rated investments in sexual and reproductive health as “phenomenal” and described family planning as “inexpensive with clear benefits”.

But you also cannot underestimate the significance of contraception in giving girls and women control over their lives and futures. When girls have the choice, like Alima, they have children later. This means they can finish their education, become financially independent and contribute to society. They can space their births further apart, which means healthier lives for them and their babies.

Women in Africa want contraception. While the west waffles on about providing aid for family planning, Africans are asking for it. I met one woman called Hawa in a remote village in Kenya who knew about contraception but was living far from a clinic. She hadn’t been able to use it and was struggling to feed her five children. She was very angry and felt her life could have been very different if only she had access to contraception. Women and men see the importance of making our own choices and determining our own future. It’s not the west telling us to do something.

In my jobs as country director for Marie Stopes in Kenya and Ghana, I have met amazing girls and women whose stories make my heart swell. Women like Miriam who, after having four children one after the other, was at risk of becoming homeless when her husband became too ill to support them. Then she met one of Marie Stopes’ community workers and decided to use a copper IUD to protect her for years to come. We were also able to put her in contact with a women’s microfinance company that helped her find the money to set up a kiosk selling tinned food, soft drinks and biscuits. She told me : “Now I am using contraception I am finally in control of my life. Instead of begging on the streets, I can go to work and look after myself, my husband and my children.”

Yet 225 million women around the world who don’t want to get pregnant are not using any form of contraception, with some areas much worse affected than others. As a result, every day, around 800 women are dying from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. When a mother dies her children’s best hope for survival dies with her.

As someone who has lived and worked in clinics from Brixton to Accra, the main difference I see is that women in the UK are empowered. They can take control of what happens to their body and what they want from their futures. In countries such as Ghana and Kenya that agency is not there. But the women in Kenya and Ghana are brave because they are challenging the status quo. I meet girls with hope in their eyes and ambition in their voices, who give me the sense things can really change. They are challenging what their mother and grandmother, religious leader and husband tells them. Their husband may not be happy about their choices, he may even beat her until she’s black and blue but they are determined to create real change.

Women in the UK have such an advantage and they don’t even know it. They are far more educated about contraception and can make more informed choices. We need to make sure that girls the world over have the same opportunities.


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Population: Passing on the Baton by Jonathon Porritt

'Facing the Population Challenge' Edited by Marilyn Hempel

‘Facing the Population Challenge’ Edited by Marilyn Hempel

I’ve been tracking the population debate for the best part of 40 years. So how come I’d never heard of Professor Albert Bartlett before?

Al Bartlett died last year, at the age of 90, after a lifetime teaching Physics at the University of Colorado, and strenuously advocating zero population growth and environmental sustainability. He captured that advocacy in 21 ‘Laws Relating to Sustainability’.

I won’t stick them all in here, but here’s a taste:

[1] Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

A population growth rate less than or equal to zero, and declining rates of consumption of resources, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a sustainable society.

Persons who suggest that sustainability can be achieved without stopping population growth are misleading themselves and others.

The term ‘Sustainable Growth’ is an oxymoron.

In terms of population sizes and rates of resource consumption, the only smart growth is no growth.

[2] In a society with a growing population and/or growing rates of consumption of resources, the larger the population, and/or the larger the rates of consumption of resources, the more difficult it will be to transform the society to the condition of sustainability.

[3] The size of population that can be sustained (the carrying capacity) and the sustainable average standard of living of the population are inversely related to one another. The higher the standard of living one wishes to sustain, the more urgent it is to stop population growth.

[4] The benefits of population growth and of growth in the rates of consumption of resources accrue to a few; the costs of population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources are borne by all of society.

[5] One cannot sustain a world in which some regions have high standards of living while others have low standards of living.

[6] The benefits of large efforts to protect the environment are easily cancelled by the added demands that result from small increases in human population.

[7] If, for whatever reasons, humans fail to stop population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources, Nature will stop these growths.

[8] The addition of the word ‘sustainable’ to our vocabulary, to our reports, programmes and papers, to the names of our academic institutes and research programmes, and to our community initiatives, is not sufficient to ensure that our society becomes sustainable.

Most of which makes a heck of a lot of sense to me.

So I’m very grateful to Marilyn Hempel, Editor of the new book, ‘Facing the Population Challenge: Wisdom from the Elders’ in which I first encountered Al Bartlett and his sustainability laws, and to Malcolm Potts, one of the liveliest and authoritative of those Elders, who I had the privilege of getting to know when we were both on the Royal Society’s Working Group that produced the ‘People and the Planet’ report in 2012.

Marilyn asked Malcolm and 14 other Elders (including Paul and Anne Ehrlich) to write a short piece in answer to the following question: ‘If you could assemble the world’s leaders in a room and address them, what would you say?’

The responses are inevitably somewhat uneven, and inevitably somewhat repetitive, but those world leaders would sure as hell have got the message at the end of the 15 sessions! Collectively, the wisdom of these Elders is mighty impressive.

Al Bartlett himself puts it most succinctly: ‘Every government needs an Office of Common Sense. But don’t venture in there until you understand the arithmetic of population.’

I’m sure that all those Elders will be hoping that their work will be picked up and taken forward by the next generation (and, no doubt, by the one after that!) of population campaigners. Including, I imagine, Emily Maynard, who emailed me recently with a new infographic aimed particularly at public health practitioners. It’s somewhat apocalyptic for my taste, but with 76 million more of us on Earth at the end of every year than at the start of that year – year after year! – the logic is compelling.

Facing the Population Challenge: Wisdom from the Elders’, edited by Marilyn Hempel, published 2014 by Blue Planet United, ISBN 9780692212271 

CLICK HERE to order the book online.


The Hon. Sir Jonathon Espie Porritt, 2nd Baronet, CBE (born 6 July 1950), is a British environmentalist and writer, perhaps best known for his championing of Green issues and his advocacy of the Green Party of England and Wales. Porritt appears frequently in the media, writing in magazines, newspapers and books, and appearing on radio and television regularly. He has also written a number of books. His newest title, The World We Made (Alex McKay’s story from 2050) was launched in October 2013. Porritt acts as advisor to many bodies on environmental matters, as well as to individuals including Prince Charles. From 2000 to 2009, he was chair of the Sustainable Development Commission set up by the then prime minister, Tony Blair. He was, however, critical of the Labour government for its environmental record and its pro-nuclear stance, and has campaigned against nuclear power. Porritt is a patron of Population Matters (formerly known as the Optimum Population Trust).

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