Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Mary Wohlford Foundation Contributes to Population Connection’s Grassroots Outreach

By Shauna Scherer, Major Gifts Manager

The Mary Wohlford Foundation renewed its support of Population Connection this year with a $30,000 commitment. This grant will fund two grassroots fellows who will work alongside field and outreach staff to build constituencies supportive of progressive domestic and international population policies. Alexis Katzelnick-Wise, a graduate of George Mason University with a Master’s degree in Political Science and International Relations, has been selected to serve as the first fellow for 2010.

The Mary Wohlford Foundation’s continuing support allows Population Connection to develop grassroots advocacy skills among young leaders who can positively affect public opinion about women’s reproductive rights and access to contraception. This year’s fellows will play an integral role in building momentum for Population Connection’s Double the Money campaign, which urges Congress to increase the United States’ investment in international family planning aid to $1 billion a year.

The path to a stable population is direct: universal access to affordable, modern family planning services. Yet more than 215 million women worldwide have no access to birth control despite their desire to limit or delay pregnancies. By raising the United States’ share of family planning aid to $1 billion, women and men will receive reproductive health services fundamental to their health and the health of our planet.

For every $100 million invested in international family planning programs:
  • 3.6 million more contraceptive users will be added,
  • 2.1 million unintended pregnancies will be avoided,
  • 825,000 fewer abortions will occur,
  • 70,000 infant deaths will be averted, and
  • 4,000 women will not die in childbirth.
With world population projected to climb to seven billion in 2011, Population Connection is intensifying efforts to raise awareness and educate the public about the detrimental consequences of such rapid population growth. If you would like to become an active voice in your community, please contact Rebecca Harrington, National Field Coordinator, at rharrington@popconnect.org.

If you would like to receive information about making a major gift to Population Connection, please contact Shauna Scherer, Major Gifts Manager, at sscherer@popconnect.org.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050

By Marian Starkey

Joel Kotkin, author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, quotes, "Growth is like toothpaste. Squeezed out of one location, it must go somewhere else." America, it turns out, is that somewhere else. And, according to him, we are lucky that that is the case.

Kotkin predicts that America's relatively high population growth, heavily bolstered by immigration and the descendants of immigrants, will be the magic bullet that will make our economy the strongest in the world, outperforming the aging and shrinking countries of Europe and Eastern Asia. The United States is comparatively welcoming to new immigrants, and second-generation immigrants are much better integrated into American life than their European and Asian counterparts, who tend to live and work in ethnic enclaves and maintain the traditions of their countries or origin.

Without the fear mongering that typically accompanies this discussion, Kotkin states that the U.S. will no longer be a "white country" in 2050. In other words, the United States will be a "majority-minority" country. Because of rapid assimilation, this trend should be welcomed because after a generation or two, immigrants are just as "American" as Americans whose families have lived here for hundreds of years.

Kotkin postulates that the other phenomenon that contributes to higher population growth in the United States is Americans' elevated level of religiosity. In Europe and East Asia, only one in ten young adults belong to an organized religion. By contrast, 60% of Americans believe that religion is "very important" and 75% young Americans consider their religious views important. The author concedes that, "In all countries including the United States, growing affluence and mass education have a dampening effect on people’s willingness to have children." However, he says education and wealth have affected childbearing to a much lesser extent in the U.S., largely due to the fact that religious people everywhere tend to have more children than nonbelievers.

Not mentioned, is the fact that half of all pregnancies and a third of all births are unintended in this country. Far be it for government to dictate how many children couples should have. The government could, however, play a larger role in educating Americans about reproduction and pregnancy prevention so that more pregnancies, and especially pregnancies to teens, could be better timed, i.e. later. Many European countries are experiencing zero population growth largely because teenagers and young adults understand how reproduction works and have easy access to the education and services they need to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Of course the author doesn't mention that these unplanned teen pregnancies usually have negative socio-economic and health outcomes for both the mothers and the babies, detracting from his "high population growth equals strong economic growth theory."

Kotkin outlines the changes that will be necessary in urban planning and commuting trends in order to accommodate another hundred million inhabitants in the next forty years. He dismisses as snobbish the distaste urbanites have for the suburbs with the fact that, actually, most people in this country prefer to live in the 'burbs (the so-called "nurseries for the nation") for the green space and affordability they offer. And survey data show that one in three Americans would like to live in a rural area but do not do so for lack of professional jobs. With the rising popularity of telecommuting and businesses forming or relocating to peri-urban outposts to save money, fulfilling peoples' desire to live the simple life may not be such a distant dream.

He accepts that Americans are addicted to driving and that many would not use public transit even if it were convenient and affordable. Therefore, according to him, building more urban villages centered around subway stations is probably not the answer. Developing suburban communities centered around jobs and recreation opportunities, however, is the best possible solution. At least the people who would drive to work and the grocery store no matter what, would be driving shorter distances.

I like Kotkin's optimism, and agree that many Americans won't live in high-density cities regardless of how convenient and culturally stimulating they are. His idealism sometimes gets in the way of facts though: he exemplifies Los Angeles as the modern, commuter-friendly city of the future. That's a bit backward since LA consistently rates worst for traffic in national data analyses. The wide variety of neighborhoods spread out over vast acreage does not necessarily mean that people are able to afford to live in those neighborhoods that are closest to their jobs.

His hypothesis does make some sense if all we care about is fitting people inside the country's borders. If people can live and work in suburbia or in rural America, currently undeveloped land can absorb the excess population of the next four decades...

...But only if we don't mind tearing up the green space and wildlife habitats that make living on the edges of suburbia so attractive to so many Americans. “As urbanized regions become even more crowded and expensive, and as new technologies emerge, more and more Americans will find their best future in the wide open spaces that, even in 2050, will still exist across the continent.” It's anyone's guess how long those wide open spaces would exist beyond 2050 if we exploit them to the extent that Kotkin suggests.

He takes shots at environmentalists and "aesthetes" for caring more about nature and its beauty than people and their happiness. He doesn't agree with conserving nature for nature's sake. Rather, he believes that people are entitled to carve up the land however they wish, as long as it makes their lives more comfortable and lucrative.

Since persistent land development is inevitable as long as the population continues to grow, and much of the fertility-dependent population growth in this country is actually an economic burden due to the social programs it necessitates, rather than a boon to the economy in the form of educated workers, I still vote for stabilizing population in the United States.

There are a lot of reasons that the United States should welcome documented immigrants. But the U.S. should also help developing countries slow population growth through family planning assistance so that there isn't as much "toothpaste" to be squeezed. Whether here or "there," population growth places demands on infrastructure and the environment that no amount of urban planning can counterbalance.

*New* Here's an interview with the author, in which he explains why he thinks the U.S. can sustain high population growth.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book Review: Second Nature

By Marian Starkey

Jonathan Balcombe, PhD--Population Connection member and animal behavioralist--sent me a copy of his new book, Second Nature, as soon as it was printed. I only wish I had gotten it a few weeks earlier so that I could have reviewed it for the last issue of The Reporter, which focused on animals and the ways in which human population growth impacts them.

The book was so interesting and accessible that I almost felt guilty reading it at work. Dr. Balcombe provides entertaining anecdotes and objective research results that reveal the magnificent sentience of so many species that we often think of as operating on survival autopilot.

We learn that bats and chimps will share their food if they realize that others in their group are going without; that zebras will only travel as fast as their slowest member is able to go (debunking the myth that injured or old animals are always left to die in the wild); and that many animals will nurse an orphaned baby of their same species even though there is no genetic advantage to them doing so.

Other examples of animal emotiveness abound: A whale showed gratitude when divers untangled it from fishing ropes, nuzzling each diver individually afterward. Elephants expressed grief over the death of another elephant, but also showed remorse over the death of a human keeper that they accidentally killed. A dog refused to do tricks when he realized that the dog next to him was being rewarded with food for doing tricks and he was not (he understood that the situation was unfair).

If this book were just a collection of funny, interesting, and sometimes heart-rending animal stories, I wouldn't be reviewing it here (although I would still read it on my own for pleasure). But since Dr. Balcombe dedicated the last section of the book to the detrimental effects of human population growth for the animal kingdom, Second Nature is extremely relevant to our mission.

The author explains the concept of both human and animal carrying capacity--the biological limit to how many of a certain species can be sustained in a given area. He describes the ways that humans are the greatest contributing factor to the current Sixth Great Extinction of Species. And he convinces the reader that animals' lives are complex and valuable and worth saving.

He advocates for reducing (or even better, eliminating) meat consumption but does not preach or condescend. He also mentions lack of knowledge of family planning in the context of unsustainable population growth in the developing world. He stops short of advocating for increased funding for family planning or liberalized contraceptive laws. Such a stance would have been outside the scope of the book though, which is really meant to change the way we think about the other life on this planet and how humanity is not necessarily the pinnacle of evolution, deserving to destroy everything in its path for its own "advancement."

I highly recommend this book, but in case you don't get around to reading it, here are some population-relevant excerpts:
“Human population growth—and the concomitant increase in human consumption of resources—underlies some of the most serious problems faced by animals, including humans. Conventional wisdom holds that the planet is filled to capacity, and there isn’t room for any more consumers, human or nonhuman. When we add more, others have to make room. Which means that as the human population grows, other organisms are inevitably being pushed out.”

“It has been calculated that if twentieth-century rates of human population increase continued for the next thousand years, a mass of humanity would cover the earth shoulder to shoulder more than a million deep; another thousand years on and the mountain of humanity would be approaching the edge of the known universe, traveling outward at the speed of light. This imaginary scenario illustrates the inevitable link between economic growth and ecological sustainability. It also shows that any link between growth and a higher quality of (human) life is tenuous, and at best temporary. As long as economic models are defined by growth in consumption, ecosystems will increasingly feel the strain as more human consumers population the land, and as more resources get used up.”

“We can be certain that with more humans there will be fewer animals living free in the world. Animals need wild places to live, and we continue to take them away. Nearly half of all tropical rain forests worldwide have been destroyed for human use, and about one percent of what remains is being taken away each year.”

“Having more humans on earth does not improve the quality of life for humans, either. Human overpopulation has strong links to poverty and hunger (admittedly not new problems), pollution and climate change. In tropical regions, local population density has been directly correlated to the poverty status of the local people, most of whom lack an education in family planning. Human overpopulation is driving climate change through loss of trees and the burning of fossil fuels.

"These ills denote a self-centered ethic--an unwillingness to restrain ourselves. A paradigm shift in humanity's relationship to the planet and its other life forms requires the acknowledgment that growth is no longer a good thing. Chief among those things that need to stop growing is the human population.

"Today, however, addressing human overpopulation remains firmly off the public policy agenda. This is paradoxical when the problem either fosters or exacerbates so many of the challenges faced by modern societies: hunger, gridlock, habitat and biodiversity loss, water shortages, violent conflict. The idea that growth is progress is an anachronism that today serves only those relatively few who profit from another residential development and a longer line at the cash register."