Tuesday, December 15, 2009

73 Members of Congress Urge Obama: Make Real Investment in Family Planning

Late last week, 73 members of the House sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama administration to provide one billion dollars in funding for international family planning in his 2011 budget.

The letter highlights the many benefits that such an investment will bring: environmental security, political stability and maternal and child survival. Indeed, a recent report from UNFPA and the Guttmacher Institute makes clear that real investment in family planning is critical to making dramatic health improvements.

UNFPA also recently released its 2009 State of World Population Report making a compelling argument that increased funding for family planning around the world is a key component of both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The congressional letter follows some very important progress. Over the weekend, both the House and Senate passed legislation to increase U.S. support for family planning around the world to $648 million – nearly a 40 percent increase from just two years ago, and more than a hundred million more than last year. This increase will allow more than 3.5 million more women to use contraceptives. But there are more than 200 million women who want to prevent or delay pregnancy but have no access to birth control, so much more needs to be done. That’s why we are encouraged by the strong support shown by Congress for real investment in family planning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Appropriations Finale Brings Real Progress, and some Disappointment

Late yesterday a House-Senate conference met and finalized a “minibus” appropriations bill for FY 2010.

All in all, the outcome is quite positive, with one big disappointment. First the bad news, the conference report does not include a provision – added to the Senate bill by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- that would prohibit a future president from unilaterally acting to reinstate the Global Gag Rule.

The good news is that the bill will provide $648 million for international family planning programs -- an increase of more than $100 million from the current level. Of that total, $55 million will be provided to UNFPA. In addition, the Labor/HHS/Education portion of the bill eliminates funding for Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and provides $114 million for a new “evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program” that will allow federal funding to be used for real sex education. Finally, the bill will repeal the long standing ban on the District of Columbia using local revenues to provide abortion services to low-income women.

Each of these is an important victory. The increased funding for international family planning programs will allow more than 3.5 million additional women to use contraceptives and will prevent more than 2 million unintended pregnancies. The shifting of funding from incomplete, abstinence-only to real teen pregnancy prevention means that American youth will finally be given the information they need to make healthy responsible decisions about sex, and will finally be told the truth about ways they can prevent unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. And finally, the people of DC can make their own decision about the use of their own tax dollars for abortion services.

It seems that in the end, the gag rule issue got tangled up in the debate and discussion of domestic abortion and reproductive health politics and policies. The ongoing debates around the issues as they relate to health reform also played a role in the final outcome. It’s a reminder that members of congress don’t necessarily separate these issues in their own minds the way we do. We think of the gag rule as an issue of global access to family planning – to many of them, it’s just another abortion issue. Negotiators decided they could only pick so many fights on contentious issues, and the gag rule, to them, was one too many. I remain hopeful, however, that we can make a renewed push for this legislation in the coming months and that it can be passed into law in 2010.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Copenhagen Talks Not Just About Energy

By John Seager

As world leaders convene the Copenhagen climate talks, discussion has focused on the need for wealthy countries to reduce emissions. Far less attention has been paid to the inevitable reality that emissions in the poorest parts of the world need to increase. And there has been scant recognition of the role played by rapid population growth in rising emissions worldwide.

President Obama is taking a bold first step in Copenhagen by putting forward an ambitious emissions target for the United States. Yet global population growth threatens to undercut - even cancel - all progress. Global population may grow by 18% or more from 2005 to 2020, according to UN projections.

Reducing carbon emissions is actually three separate but related challenges. First, we must reduce global emissions. Second, we must slow population growth by supporting programs such as voluntary family planning. Third, we must recognize that about half the world now suffers from "carbon starvation" and needs to increase emissions.

Historically, as population has increased, emissions have also risen. Most emissions reductions must occur in wealthier countries since that's where they are highest. At the same time, in order to give billions of poor people a reasonable quality of life, emissions in some parts of the world must increase significantly. Rapid population growth makes this balancing act even more difficult.

Given available technology, the often-tiny carbon footprints of billions of people are both a cause and an effect of impoverishment. The one billion people who struggle to survive on less than $1/day use very little in the way of fossil fuels. And the additional 1.6 billion living on less than $2/day hardly use more. In order to have decent lives, they must increase their emission levels substantially, despite advances in green technology.

Much of sub-Saharan Africa is mired in the most desperate, grinding poverty imaginable. Governments there are already unable to meet the most basic needs of their citizens. And it is these people - who contribute least to climate change - who will suffer most from the problems that climate change brings. Women especially will face new challenges to their health, livelihoods, and even their lives.

Africa's per-capita emissions must increase. But, if Africa's population grows by the 39% that is projected by 2020, it will be nearly impossible to create a healthy quality of life for people in that part of the world.

Population growth will undermine all efforts to achieve lower carbon emissions unless investments in clean energy are matched by equally comprehensive investments in universal access to contraception along with other health and development programs.

As we develop hybrid cars and the like, what about the other half of the world? Will they be left to sweat and starve while we glide forward into a century of renewable energy? Their carbon footprint needs to grow. That can only work if we are willing to meet the population growth challenge.

This is one of those times - and one of those issues - where we need to keep our eye on multiple goals. Reducing emissions is an energy issue. But it is also in equal measure a human rights challenge, one that must include unprecedented investments in a full spectrum of reproductive health services for women and couples. Worldwide, 200 million women have an unmet need for family planning. And demand for contraception is projected to increase by 40% in just 15 years.

If we fail to act on this broader agenda, initiatives for reducing greenhouse gases will be swept away by a tidal wave of population growth. The White House has already made great strides in reversing the pernicious policies of the Bush Administration which turned a blind eye to the needs of billions. But additional bold action is needed.

No doubt President Obama is keenly aware of the multiple dimensions of the climate challenge. Yes, it's about energy. But, more than that, it is about meeting the basic human needs of soon-to-be seven billion people. Universal access to family planning must be a centerpiece of the climate change agenda in Copenhagen and beyond.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stupak Amendment Blame Game

There has been a lot of discussion lately in the blogosphere and op-ed columns about what how and why the Stupak amendment passed the House. One of the themes getting a lot of play here in DC is that we were put on the path to Stupak when “the Democrats” decided after the 2004 elections to aggressively recruit and support anti-choice candidates for Congress.

The facts simply don’t support this. Of the 64 Democrats who supported the Stupak amendment, only 14 were first elected in 2006 and 2008. Of the remaining 50, many have been in office for decades. In fact, the Democratic House classes elected in both 2006 and 2008 are more pro-choice than the House Democratic Caucus as a whole.

The fact is that there have always been anti-choice Democrats in Congress. In the past, though, that was largely balanced by pro-choice Republicans. Today, the balance is gone. The number of pro-choice Republicans can be, at best, counted on one hand. That makes the anti-choice Democrats far more noticeable and, arguably, important. The pro-choice Republicans have largely been replaced by pro-choice Democrats (in New England, for example). Some, of course, have been replaced by anti-choice Republicans (i.e. Dave Reichert for Jennifer Dunn in Washington and Erik Paulsen succeeding Jim Ramstad in Minnesota).

That said, I can’t remember a time when the House – or the Senate – had a true pro-choice majority. It’s undeniable, though, that it’s better now than it has been in the past – but it’s still clearly short of where we need to be.

It’s easy to get frustrated and lash out at allies when something like this happens, but it’s counterproductive. To paraphrase Barney Frank, one of the smartest members of Congress, if what you’re doing makes yourself feel better, it’s probably completely ineffective. We need to focus on making sure the Senate votes down the Stupak amendment, not looking for people to blame for the House passing it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

UN Report Focused on Women, Population, Climate

By Rebecca Harrington, National Field Coordinator

Yesterday, at the National Press Club, UNFPA launched its annual state of world population report entitled “Facing a changing world: women, population, and climate”. The report launch featured an engaging panel that included Rep. Carolyn Maloney, former Sen. Tim Wirth, the current President of the UN Foundation, and representatives from UNFPA, Worldwatch Institute, and PAI.

The meeting room was packed with those in the family planning and environmental communities eager to hear about the often-neglected relationships between population, climate change, and women. The release of the report is timely, as it precedes this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place next month in Copenhagen.

Ironically, while women are least responsible for causing changes in climate, as they are likely to be more “sustainable consumers”, they are affected most by such climate change, according to the panelists. For example, drought uniquely affects women, who are generally responsible for the acquisition of water. As water becomes scarcer, women are forced to travel longer distances to get water. When this occurs, girls are likely to drop out of school to help their mothers with water collection.

Notably, and perhaps less obviously, women are also more likely to suffer more in the aftermath of natural disasters. The exceptional impact of natural disasters on women is eloquently discussed in the profile of Mandisa, a young community organizer who worked in New Orleans both prior to and following Hurricane Katrina.

The thoughtful audience members asked interesting questions about youth engagement in food production, the likelihood of these issues being discussed in Copenhagen, and the effect of emerging renewable energy technology on women in developing countries.

Despite these seemingly transparent connections, it is unlikely that the subject of gender will feature prominently in Copenhagen, according to the panelists. Encouragingly, there will be a side event at the Conference where IPPF, its Danish affiliate, Worldwatch, and PAI will discuss the importance of the empowerment of women in mitigating climate change.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Debunking Stupak

By Brian Dixon

New Report Shows House Abortion Restriction Could End Nearly All Insurance Coverage of the Procedure

A new study out of the School of Public Health and Health Services at The George Washington University makes clear that pro-choice advocates are right when they claim that the Stupak Amendment is likely to significantly reduce, if not end, insurance coverage of abortion.

Late last week the main authors of the amendment to the Health Reform bill in the House, Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA), published a letter to the Washington Post in which they said “We are not looking to restrict access to abortion…” The new study points out how utterly disingenuous such a claim is. Of course, it was always obvious that this claim was laughable given the long record of efforts to restrict access to abortion that each has.

The study also claims that the option for women to purchase a “policy rider” to cover abortion is largely meaningless as the amendment likely outlaws such riders in the first place. “In our view, the terms and impact of the Amendment will work to defeat the development of a supplemental coverage market for medically indicated abortions.” Supplemental coverage, or riders, the authors say, must work in conjunction with the basic coverage, but the amendment prohibits that conjunction. So, again we have the authors being either purposely misleading or woefully uninformed about the scope of their own legislation.

The GWU study can prove to be very helpful as we work in the coming weeks to ensure that the U.S. Senate rejects this approach and to convince members of the House who supported the amendment originally that they were misled regarding the scope of the restriction.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Economist is Stingy with Praise for Family Planning Accomplishments

By Marian Starkey, Director of Communications

The print edition of The Economist this week focuses on fertility and population. The lead story, "Falling Fertility" makes important connections between rapid population growth and poverty and the inverse relationship between population stabilization and economic growth. I was reading through the story, pleased with the facts covered, until I came to this paragraph:

In principle, there are three ways of limiting human environmental impacts: through population policy, technology and governance. The first of those does not offer much scope. Population growth is already slowing almost as fast as it naturally could. Easier access to family planning, especially in Africa, could probably lower its expected peak from around 9 billion to perhaps 8.5 billion. Only Chinese-style coercion would bring it down much below that; and forcing poor people to have fewer children than they want because the rich consume too many of the world’s resources would be immoral.
The well-meaning authors of this article are simply wrong here. If women around the world with an unmet need for family planning had affordable access to modern contraception, population growth could be slowing a heck of a lot faster. The authors also failed to disclose that the projection of 9 billion people in 2050 is dependent upon drastic fertility declines in the countries where population is growing fastest. So we're really talking about the difference between 9 and 11 billion (the projection if fertility rates stay the same as they are now), not 8.5 and 9 billion. And to suggest that any sane person supports a population policy that would force poor women to have fewer children so the rich of the world can consume more is just absurd.

The briefing, "Go Forth and Multiply a Lot Less" describes the global move toward replacement-level fertility (the level required for each generation to replace the last). This article at least mentions unwanted pregnancies and unmet need for family planning as factors in high fertility, but the reader is quickly diverted to discussion of girls' education--which is a proxy factor for lower fertility--and then reminded of the terrible coercion of China's one-child policy.

Another briefing, "The rich are different" quickly outlines the phenomenon of rising fertility in the developed countries that have higher gender equality than in the countries where fertility remains unprecedentedly low.

I hate to criticize whenever someone, especially a respected news source, pays attention to population issues, but I just had to point out a couple of the major flaws in the authors' arguments.

Here is the letter I sent in response to the lead article. Letters are published on Thursdays, so we'll see then if mine makes the cut. *Update: There were no letters printed about the fertility articles today. Maybe next week...

In “Go forth and multiply a lot less,” the UN medium population projection of 9.2 billion in 2050 is accepted as destiny. As The Economist surely knows, projections are dependent on assumptions. The scenario that would deliver a population of 9.2 billion is ambitious fertility decline starting now. In fact, projections range from 8-11 billion people, depending on how quickly fertility falls. If it drops drastically and soon, growth could stop at 8 billion; if fertility decline stagnates, population will still be growing at 11 billion in 2050.

Kenya’s fertility rate was declining impressively until a couple of years ago, when the country experienced a significant reduction in family planning aid. As a result, population projections for 2050 were doubled. Timing is everything because of the inherent momentum that keeps population growing even after “replacement level fertility” is achieved. The larger the base of women yet to reach their reproductive years, the larger the population will grow once they start having children.

The rapid fertility decline in Matlab, Bangladesh was precipitated by the availability of contraceptives, not higher incomes or better health—those followed as a result. Fertility drops when incomes rise because people can finally afford contraceptives. When contraception is available at no cost, all economic quintiles have similarly low fertility, as in Thailand and Vietnam. Educated women are, indeed, more likely to want fewer children. But they’re also more likely to be in economic positions that allow them to purchase contraceptives.

The article got most things right, but it simplified the role of family planning in fertility decline. Women want smaller families and tend to use contraception if they are educated about the methods and most importantly, if they have access. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have high fertility because many women have no access. Donor countries have fallen shamefully short of the amounts they pledged for family planning assistance at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. Every year that we under-fund family planning is another step closer to a world of 11 billion.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

U.S. finally on board with progress

By Brian Dixon

Last week, the United Nations held a special session to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and to review progress toward meeting the ambitious goal of ensuring universal access to family planning by 2015.

At this meeting, a U.S. official delivered an important statement reiterating that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are committed to expanding global access to family planning. He said, “The United States strongly supports the goals and ideals of the ICPD, and under President Obama’s leadership has renewed our commitment to work with the international community to implement the ICPD Program of Action.”

Such an expression comes after eight years of Bush administration actions designed to undermine progress on family planning. Speeches are nice and can be helpful, but actions are more important. To that end, we’ve been extremely pleased by the significant increases in international family planning that the president has called for and that congress is moving toward approving. We’re also very happy with the president’s decision to restore U.S. aid to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and to lift the harmful Global Gag Rule that barred U.S. assistance to some of the most experienced and effective providers of family planning in the developing world.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Not Yet Rain" had advocates pouring in

By Rebecca Harrington, National Field Coordinator

On Thursday, October 15, we held a film screening in Columbus, OH, the first in a series of events for our Double the Money campaign. We showed the film Not Yet Rain at the well-loved Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse. A one-screen theater with a vintage feel, funky wall murals, and a cozy bar, the theater is a staple of Clintonville, a hip northern Columbus neighborhood.

For the screening, we partnered with the Columbus International Film and Video Festival and the local chapter of the Sierra Club. The Film Festival prides itself on 57 years of showing and granting awards to unique and edgy films. The Sierra Club chapter works on environmental issues specific to central Ohio.

A diverse and interesting crowd braved the Ohio cold to watch the film, chat with Population Connection staff and other guests, and to eat delicious food from the local Surly Girl Saloon, another Columbus favorite. In addition to discussing the film as a group and connecting with people at a reception following the screening, many of those in attendance signed our petition to Double the Money, and requested copies of the film to share with classes, groups, and friends.

A few especially memorable guests included a physician’s assistant student from Cleveland, who was grateful for (and startled by) all she’d learned from the film and discussion; an anthropology professor from Tennessee, who wants to screen the film with her classes; and a mother and daughter pair who are passionate about both the arts and women’s issues.

In addition to representing a diversity of interests, people of all ages attended the screening. Everyone was equally energetic and engaged, and the group melded nicely. Free dinner, beer, and cupcakes always brings a group together!

The screening was a great way to kick things off in Ohio, and we’re very much looking forward to our next event in Columbus.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lots of Surprising Results

By Marian Starkey

The XXVI International Population Conference (IUSSP) ended last Friday in Marrakech and I am finally settling back into my normal office routine. I didn't have the greatest Internet connection while I was overseas so I neglected to post a final blog entry about the conference sessions. Here it is, a week late.

Climate change was a bigger topic of discussion at this conference than at other demography conferences I've attended in recent years. Brian O'Neil, who does population/climate research at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria was supposed to present his research but was not able to make it to Marrakech at the last minute. His colleague, Leiwen Jiang, presented in his place. Basically what they've found is that aging has a negative effect on carbon emissions while urbanization and smaller households have a positive effect (in this instance, negative means "good" i.e. fewer emissions, and positive means "bad" i.e. more emisisons). They stress that although the number of people on earth does have an effect on emissions, more potent factors are the age structure and lifestyle choices of those people.

The Guttmacher Institute led a training session early on Thursday morning for demographers who wanted to learn to translate their research results into policy recommendations. Session panelists encouraged researchers to communicate their results by starting with the study conclusions and not getting bogged down in methodology, which lawmakers and program managers trust them to execute responsibly. I have to admit that sometimes at these conferences I wish demographers would spend more time presenting their results than their methods for the same reason. Their papers are usually available for download for those who wish to delve deeper into the study methods they used.

A few sessions focused on the demographic consequences of HIV/AIDS. Lori Hunter, who edits the journal Population and Environment, found that families in South Africa who have experienced the death of a family member due to AIDS were negatively affected in terms of food security. One person she talked to actually said, "Locusts are our new beef." Losing an adult in a family of dependents has severe destabilizing effects, both socially and economically.

Another researcher found that female infidelity in Africa might be more widespread than previously believed, based on the high number of couples in which only the woman was infected with HIV. The somewhat counterintuitive results also suggest that girls who attend school are at higher risk of contracting HIV because they are away from their families and experience more independence than girls who stay home.

Joseph Potter from the University of Texas-Austin presented a very interesting study of women in El Paso, TX who use the contraceptive pill. Those who traveled across the border to Mexico to buy pills over the counter for about $5 per pack had much lower discontinuation rates than women who got one pack at a time at the El Paso clinic for free. Only when women were given six packs or more at the clinic did their discontinuation rates drop to the level of the women who bought them at Mexican pharmacies. These results imply that increasing ease of accessibility (no clinic appointment) and providing multiple months of protection at a time increase the continuation rates of pill users.

A researcher from the American University in Cairo studied the fertility differences between Morocco and Egypt. She asked the question "Why is fertility decline faster in Morocco when Egypt has a higher Human Development Index?" She found that although desired fertility is higher in Morocco, later marriage and longer birth intervals make actual fertility lower. The fertility rate of educated women in Morocco is lower than equally educated women in Egypt.

As usual, the most valuable parts of being at this huge conference were the side conversations I had with people at lunch and during coffee breaks. I made a lot of new professional alliances and reinforced existing ones for Population Connection. I know that our info table also helped spread the word about our unique and important work. By the end of the week, only a few copies of The Reporter remained in my booth--everything else had been taken.

The next IUSSP conference will be in four years, location as yet undecided. I am already looking forward to it and will make sure to stock my table more heavily with the fun supplies that conference-goers like to take home: pens, tote bags, stickers, etc. For a serious bunch of researchers, they sure do like their freebies.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eager to show off

By Marian Starkey

Marrakech presents itself as laid back and fast-paced all at once. Men lounge at cafes drinking sugary mint tea while motor scooters whiz by, nearly crashing into pedestrians and each other at every turn. Horns honk and donkeys bray, trying to be heard over the calls to prayer which blare throughout the city over loudspeakers five times a day. Still, everyone has a smile and is eager to help the tourists from France? England? No, USA! Ah, USA! New York? No, Washington, DC. Ah, Washington, welcome my friends!

I spent the last two days playing hooky to conference sessions and instead visiting various agencies and organizations around Marrakech and the surrounding towns. Yesterday, my bus got a police escort and a royal welcome at the reproductive health clinic about an hour southeast of the city. Town residents lined up along the streets for miles, waving us in. Doctors and staff at the clinic were eager to show us their beautiful facility at the foot of the Atlas mountains. Women who had just given birth proudly showed us their newborn babies. We were all impressed to hear that all services at the clinic, from family planning to safe delivery, are free. Perhaps clinics like this are the reason why Morocco has been so successful at reducing its fertility rate from over 7 to 2.4 in just four decades. The urban fertility rate in Morocco is just an even 2, lower than the U.S. rate.

Today I visited an intake center at the hospital for women and children victims of violence. Doctors were sensitive to the victims' privacy and did not allow us to tour the center, but were happy to answer many of our most pressing questions in the courtyard outside.

This afternoon, I went to a local orphanage for kids 5-18 years old. Many of the 80 residents were plucked from the streets where they had been abandoned by their parents and were begging for a living. They now attend school full time and share a loving home with dedicated staff.

I always expect program directors to exaggerate the success of the work they're accomplishing, but all three of these operations truly did seem to be improving the lives of the most vulnerable women and children who live in and around Marrakech.

Tomorrow it's back to the grind with back-to-back research sessions all day. Publications are flying off my info table too, which is a very good thing, not least because it means I won't have to lug them back to good old Washington, DC.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

International Population Conference Day 1

By Marian Starkey

Greetings from Marrakech! I am here for the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) conference, which happens in a different location every four years. This is the first time that the conference has been held in an African and/or Arab nation, and King Mohammed VI has been a very gracious host so far. He even invited the participants to a special dinner on Tuesday evening. Of course, there are 2,300 of us, so I'm guessing it won't be an intimate affair with lots of photo ops one-on-one.

The conference started today with side meetings, rather than typical research presentations. My first session was a follow-up to the research conference I attended in Ghana last September. It was fun seeing friends that I made a year ago and hearing about the success many of them have had in getting their papers published. There was also a request for more research in the future that could be translated into policy, which I was happy to hear.

The next session I attended featured our expert Board member, Duff Gillespie, as a panelist. The topic was training a new generation of reproductive health specialists and how to do that most effectively. Duff told the story of his own career (I learned that he actually trained in criminology before becoming a USAID career professional!). He criticized donors for neglecting population studies and identified this as the core reason why the field of demography is not sustainable. He called for a renewed interest in population studies by private donors and governments in order to keep the field alive.

The day ended with the official opening ceremony. We heard from IUSSP president, John Cleland; UNFPA director Thoraya Obaid; and several other panelists (who spoke in Arabic so I could not understand their addresses, unfortunately). Berber percussionists rounded out the evening with their energizing chanting, dancing, and drumming.

I got my information table set up this morning and by the end of the day all of the tote bags and pens that I brought were gone! Hopefully now that the "fun" freebies are gone, people will feel compelled to pick up a copy of The Reporter or some of our educational materials.

More tomorrow, after I visit a local reproductive health clinic...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is family planning a carbon mitigation panacea?

By Marian Starkey

Several newspaper articles have covered the release of a report about family planning and climate change from Optimum Population Trust (OPT), an organization in the UK. I have been posting those articles on our website's "News" page. The attention has reached a critical mass and now it's time to comment.

The study claims to prove that meeting all unmet need for family planning is a more cost effective way of reducing carbon emissions than are other "green" technologies. To do this, the researchers calculated how many tons of carbon will be emitted between now and 2050 without meeting unmet need. They also determined how many tons of carbon would be emitted if unmet need were met (i.e. if there were fewer people emitting carbon). Then they subtract the latter from the former to calculate the difference in tons of carbon emitted between the two scenarios. Finally, they divided the total cost of providing family planning to the women with unmet need for the next 40 years by the number of tons of carbon that would be avoided by meeting unmet need. This is the cost per ton of carbon mitigated, which they estimate is $6.46.

The press releases have all stated that OPT commissioned the London School of Economics (LSE) to do the research, which leads one to believe that world-class faculty researchers are behind the paper. This is not the case. The research paper was actually written by a student at the LSE with the help of a non-faculty supervisor.

While population stabilization is obviously crucial to solving the climate crisis, there are a few methodology issues in this study that must be addressed. Here are the biggest ones, in descending order of importance:

  • The figure used for current unmet need--201 million women--refers only to women in the developing world. The authors calculate the proportion of people in the world with unmet need by dividing 201 million by the current world population--6.8 billion (the result is 3%). They assume that this proportion of "unmet need" equals "demand for family planning," which they hold constant for each year between now and 2050 for their cost-benefit analysis. Of course, demand for family planning is not actually the same as unmet need, and is much greater than 201 million women worldwide.
  • Then they take a figure from Guttmacher Institute, again for developing countries only, that unintended births could be reduced by 72% if all unmet need in the developing world were met. They apply this figure to every country in the world, including developed countries. Meaning, for example, that they assume that women in the United States who have unintended births would have 72% less if only they had access to contraception. The problem with this methodology is that in most developed countries, most women do have access to family planning if they want it. So spending an additional $22 per woman (the estimated cost of providing contraception to a woman in the developing world each year) on contraceptive supplies will probably not actually reduce the percentage of unintended births by very much. In the United States especially, more money must be spent on teen pregnancy prevention and reproductive health education. Indeed, the most prevalent answers women give in the U.S. for becoming pregnant accidentally are that they didn't expect to have sex and they didn't think they could become pregnant. Spending more money on birth control pills would not help these women. Education and better preparation would.
  • It is not clear which population projection was used for the scenario in which unmet need is not met. The authors simply state that the projection came from the UN. The UN produces several projections based on different fertility and mortality assumptions and it would be helpful to know which one was used for this study. * Correction: the author directed me to a footnote that I overlooked, which stated that the medium UN population projection was used.
Having said all this, the discussion of the role of family planning in climate change mitigation is long overdue. Indeed, any serious effort to combat global climate change simply must include a commitment to universal access to family planning and contraceptives.

Is it even possible to have a more equitable distribution of emissions with a decent standard of living in a world of 12 billion people or more? It will already be hard enough in a world of 8 or 9 billion. Right now, in our world of 6.8 billion people, too many are not using enough carbon to sustain healthy, productive lifestyles. Yet, we are still raising the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere to dangerous levels.

The per capita emissions in wealthy countries have to be dramatically reduced. But, at the same time, in some developing countries, per capita emissions will have to increase if people are to meet their most basic needs. Reaching that balance that allows everyone a healthy quality of life while protecting the environment will be a challenge made even more difficult by a growing population.

Meeting the existing unmet need for family planning is an important and cost-effective way to help meet the climate crisis. But, it alone will not solve the problem. In fact, the author found that only 9.3 gigatons of carbon emissions would be averted over the next 40 years, which is just a little more than what we currently emit globally in one year. But it must be part of any thorough discussion on mitigation strategies and any rational discussion on climate justice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Texas Again Leads the Way?

By Brian Dixon

Texas once again shows the folly of allowing right wing ideology to substitute for good health policy. It has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country and the highest rate of repeat births to teenagers. It is also a state where it is very difficult for teenagers to get birth control.

According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, many doctors in the Dallas region refuse to prescribe contraceptives to teenagers without parental consent. Experts believe that Dallas policy requiring parental consent for birth control at ten school based health centers also applies to them – even though it doesn’t.

Not even young parents can get birth control confidentially – leading to the fact that Dallas leads the nation in repeat teenage pregnancy. Here is real evidence that parental consent rules are utterly counterproductive.

Sadly, a number of conservative organizations and lawmakers are pushing for federal legislation imposing this failed approach on the entire nation. When, and if, health reform comes to the full House and Senate, you can expect many amendments to limit access to reproductive health services for young people – and indeed for all Americans.

Those lawmakers need to hear from you that ideology can’t substitute for evidence when it comes to health policy and that young people need access to confidential family planning services.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Demographic Bomb is a Dud

By Marian Starkey, Communications Manager

This week, Amsterdam is playing host to the ultra-conservative World Congress of Families. An international gathering of family traditionalists, the WCF offers seminars that range from homeschooling to faith to MTV. Sessions like "The Social and Economic Effects of Declining Birth Rates" and "The Philosophical Roots of Demographic Winter" are also part of the program. There's even a seminar called "Threats to the Family from Addiction to Pornography."

Tonight, participants will attend the first international screening of Demographic Bomb: Worldwide Decline of Human Fertility Rates. The incendiary film is the sequel to Demographic Winter, a documentary released in 2008 that was alarmist enough as a stand-alone, in my opinion.

Here's the trailer for Demographic Bomb:

Here's the trailer for Demographic Winter:

Some of the footage overlaps with the trailer above, but there are a few unique opinions that make watching it worthwhile. I especially like the part where a 1970s "preoccupation" with the population bomb is blamed for informing women's rights, gay rights, and environmentalist movements. Yes, what a tragedy that women, homosexuals, and the other species that share our planet finally got a voice.

Demographic Bomb is supposed to scare viewers into believing that an impending economic collapse will be the result of our refusal to continue a century of rapid population growth. One talking head points out that never has a country with a shrinking population experienced economic growth. That can be explained by the fact that until this decade, the only time regional populations shrank was during an epidemic. The Black Plague in Europe had people a bit too preoccupied with burying relatives and trying to stay alive to be able to think about increasing their capital. Population decline due to increased affluence and lifestyle choices is brand new and we cannot predict how it will affect national economies in the near or long-term future.

The end of the trailer is the part that disturbed me the most, when a man mused that really, only "certain kinds of people are on their way to extinction." The ensuing spooky white text on black background laments that it's not politically correct to say so, despite the fact that academics are well-informed about this "problem." I guess the guy at the beginning who described a France with no "original" French people went out on an un-PC limb in making his comments. After all, a future France filled with North Africans is something that makes xenophobes shake in their boots.

Basically, what the World Congress of Families wants you to know is that it supports you and your family. That is, if you are heterosexual, have at least two children, are [preferably] white, Christian, and do not look at pornography.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tiny People, Big Footprints

By Brian Dixon

A new study by statisticians at Oregon State University points out that reducing family size may be as much as 20 times more important than anything else people might do to reduce their carbon footprint.

This is just the latest evidence of the clear connection between population growth and climate change. We can only hope that sometime soon policymakers will make the same connection as the scientists.

It’s an especially critical connection to make as the world stumbles toward a global plan to bring emissions to a level that allows for climate stability. Really, is it even possible to achieve that if the global population grows to 12 billion by 2050? That’s not outside the realm of the possible.

It seems obvious that if we’re ever to get to a fair, just and humane level of global per capita emissions – one which isn’t dependent on keeping billions and billions of people in abject poverty and despair – stabilizing population is necessary.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Abortion Wedge

By Pam Wasserman, Vice President for Education

I tuned in today to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee grill Judge Sonia Sotomayor in her confirmation hearings to become only the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. As expected, questions about her views on abortion (from Republican Senators) and a woman's right to privacy (from Democratic Senators) comprised a significant portion of today's proceedings. Also as expected, she chose her words carefully so as not to divulge her personal views on choice issues, leaving lawmakers to wonder how she would rule in a future case challenging Roe v. Wade.

There's not a lot of ground to mine there, since Sotomayor hasn't ruled in many cases related to abortion. In the one case that does stand out, she provided a ruling that would make abortion opponents cheer -- upholding the Mexico City Policy. In her decision for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she cited legal precedent (Rust v. Sullivan), when she wrote "The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds."

Now 16 years past her confirmation hearings, Judge Ruth Ginsberg, the only woman on the current Supreme Court, has the freedom to give her views on reproductive choice. In last Sunday's New York Times interview (The Place of Women on the Court) she was asked what she would want to accomplish as a "future feminist legal agenda." Ginsberg replied that "reproductive choice has to be straightened out" and that "government has no business making that choice for a woman." She went on to explain that current laws discriminate against poor women since Medicaid does not fund abortions and, in a growing number of places around the country, abortions are only accessible to women who can afford to travel long distances. Back when Roe was decided, she had thought that concerns about population growth would encourage public funding for abortions. When the court upheld the Hyde Amendment forbidding the use of Medicaid for abortion in 1980, she "realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong."

The issue of public funding for abortion is back in the news this week. Yesterday, House Republicans gathered to denounce the inclusion of abortion services in health care reform. Rep. Chris Smith (D-NJ) charged that "Obamacare is the greatest threat ever to the lives and wellness of unborn children and their mothers since Roe v. Wade was rendered in 1973." Even a group of 19 Democratic Congressmen sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month warning that they wouldn't vote for a health care reform bill that allowed for coverage of abortion services in a government-sponsored plan.

While Roe is the law of the land, millions of American women don't have access to abortion services due to their economic status and/or lack of health insurance. Republican lawmakers know there is little chance of blocking Judge Sotomayor's confirmation to the bench for her alleged liberal views, but hope they might use abortion as a wedge issue to derail health care reform. In the backroom wrangling to find areas of compromise on health reform, I fear that vital reproductive health services will wind up on the cutting room floor.

More Fun from the Sotomayor Hearing

By Brian Dixon, Vice President for Media and Government Relations

Just minutes ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) seemed to criticize the Supreme Court’s decision in the famous Griswold vs. Connecticut case – the case that established the fundamental right of married couples in the United States to use contraceptives.

Wow. I knew that there were some extreme groups that have attacked that decision. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an elected official do so though. Maybe Hatch needs to be asked specifically whether he believes that Griswold should be overturned.

An Open Letter to Congressman Tim Ryan

By Stacie Murphy, Policy Associate

Dear Congressman Ryan—

I’m sure you were shocked when you got the news. I suppose you couldn’t have known it would turn out this way. After all, it must have seemed like such a perfect match: you’re against abortion, and so is the national office of the Democrats for Life. But now you’ve been deemed, by their measurements, to be insufficiently “pro-life” and kicked out of their little club.

Let me be the first to welcome you to the dark side. You now know what those of us already over here have always known: it’s not really about abortion. It never has been. It’s about adherence to an ideological agenda so extreme that it would give mainstream America nightmares if they only knew how the far right wants their lives to look. In their world, it’s not enough to dislike abortion (and by the way, even the staunchest pro-choicers I know don’t think it’s puppies and sunshine). It’s about believing that contraception is evil, that government has a place in people’s bedrooms, and that attempts to work with those who believe differently are betrayal.

If the Democrats for Life and other fringe groups were really interested in preventing abortion, they’d do exactly what you’ve done in your time in Congress: look for ways to help women prevent unwanted pregnancy. Instead, they’re tossing you out and ridiculing you for the crime of…GASP…promoting the use of contraception.

I know it’s a rude awakening. But once you’ve had a chance to recover from the shock, I hope you’ll remember that there’s a place for you here. We don’t agree on everything, but when it comes to helping women prevent unintended pregnancy, there’s plenty of room in our tent.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Aging Japanese Population Requires Young Ideas

By Marian Starkey, Communications Manager and Managing Editor

Funny how the demographic grass is always greener. Poor countries all around the world are struggling with high fertility rates that impede development, while rich countries that have been basking in economic success for decades are now wishing for a little of what Yemen, Afghanistan, Niger, and the likes have got going on.

An article today in the Washington Post describes the ongoing decline in popularity with
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso that led him to call for a general election next month. Apparently, one of the problems detractors have with his leadership is his ambivalence toward the country's "aging crisis."
Under Aso and his recent predecessors, the government has all but ignored an impending demographic calamity. Japan has fewer children and more elderly people than any developed nation in world history, but its government has done little to encourage childbirth or increase immigration -- despite a growing clamor from business groups that predict ruinous decline because of a lack of workers.
Let's inject a little reality check into that grievance now: Japan has a land area slightly smaller than California, at 377,835 sq km. Only 11.64% of that land is arable. Japan's population is 41% the size of the United States' but with less than 4% the space to live, work, and grow food. Even if Japan's fertility rate stays the same as it is today (1.27 children per woman) and population continues to decline, in 2050 the population of the island nation will be equal to what it was in 1965. Not exactly the Dark Ages.

Japan has the oldest life expectancy (82.7) of any country in the world and one of the youngest retirement ages (mandatory at 60 for many companies and as young as 63 for government pension payouts). The government is slowly raising retirement age, as it should. Sixty years old might have been elderly fifty years ago, but it hardly brings to mind a
person debilitated by age today. Not only can people over 60 continue to work--many want to. In a poll conducted in 2001, 74% of respondents reported that they wished to continue working after the age of 60. Another poll, conducted in 2005 with a larger sample group, found that 78.2% of baby boomers want to continue working beyond 60.

Despite its high tech persona and membership in the G8 along with the Western economic superpowers, Japan maintains a relatively old fashioned society when it comes to family. In fact, only 70% of women continue working after they marry and start having children. Many demographers and economists have suggested that companies should make it easier for women to return to work once their children are school-aged. The fact that policymakers would rather raise birth rates (keeping women busy at home) than increase women's and older people's participation in the workforce speaks to me of an unsavory "discrimination crisis."

Trading one predicament for another doesn't seem prudent. An ever-expanding population on a series of islands the size of California, in a world with sea level rise and decreased agricultural productivity seems like a far more grave crisis than aging, and one that Japan's leaders should avoid at all costs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Population growth at the heart of traffic worsening

By Marian Starkey, Communications Manager

The Texas Transportation Institute released the results of their annual traffic study today with sad news for residents of Metro Washington, DC. Although traffic has eased in almost every other city in the country, it has worsened in the nation’s capital. Los Angeles continues to top the list for worst traffic in the country.

A Washington Post article details the various resources wasted each year by DC area residents while sitting in traffic: time (133 hours), cost ($2.8 billion), and gas (90 million gallons). The article also outlines current and proposed projects intended to alleviate commuters’ frustration: widening highways, placing new office buildings near older communities to the east of the city, adding another line on the Metro system, and increasing tolls.

But not once in the two-page article did the author mention population growth. He didn’t allude to the fact that Arlington and Alexandria grow by 3% and 2.9% respectively each year or that the entire metro area grew by 700,000 people between 1990 and 2000. I’m not saying that we should halt growth in the one city where every American should feel welcome, but I am suggesting that all facets of the story are important and should be discussed.

Once again (and this is really getting tiresome), population is the big elephant in the room.

Dangerous Buffoons

I’m pleased to note that these are tough times for the far-right. Right now, Americans seem to prefer to be governed by more sensible folks.

And we’ve recently seen a spate of scandals and such among right wing politicos. It should be noted that no portion of the political spectrum is immune to such failings. But a number of recent peccadilloes have involved those who enthusiastically embrace hypocrisy - among other embraceable things.

It’s easy to lampoon these folks and then just consign their entire movement to an obscure corner of history’s dustbin. As much as I wish this were possible, it isn’t.

Whatever manifold shortcomings our opponents may have, they do not lack for enthusiasm, alas. Nor do they lack adherents.

So, we’d do well to pay close attention to what they say and what they do.

Case in point. Take a look at a recent commentary by one Fred Hutchison published on the RenewAmerica website. RenewAmerica was founded by one of Americans leading cranks, Alan Keyes.

Here’s Mr. Hutchison’s insight du jour:

“The hatred of babies and children surely must be an important contributing cause of the birth dearth in Europe.”

OK, it seems laughable. We know that small families are better equipped to provide quality health and education for the next generation. That seems more like love than hate. But Mr. Hutchison and his ilk never let the facts get in the way of their ideology.

So, we can shrug off these sorts of rants, right? Well, not so fast. Take a look at RenewAmerica's web links which, they say, are “provided to encourage cooperation among like-minded Americans.” Links include talk radio lunatic Michael Savage and those slightly (slightly, being the key word) less opprobrious broadcast bloviators, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In fairness, I should point out that links to several fairly mainstream groups can be found as well. But they are surrounded by a circus of loony folks such as the charmingly named “Klan Parenthood.” I kid you not.

We can and, rest assured, will poke fun at these people - just as we did with Derek the Abstinence Clown.

But we do so to illustrate their folly, not because we don’t take these folks seriously. We do. They’re not going away. They are working hard to regain the upper hand. Let’s make sure we don’t forget the oh-so-recent past when they and their allies held real power. If we ignore or dismiss these antics, we’ll pay a terrible price.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Longtime Member Looks at Population

Longtime Population Connection member Dr. Richard Grossman recently penned a thoughtful piece in the Durango (CO) Herald entitled, “Looking at the Population Explosion in Two Different Ways".

His reasoned take on the reality of a global population explosion is worth reading. He comments favorably on a recent article coauthored by (ZPG, now-Population Connection, cofounder) Paul and Anne Ehrlich. Dr. Grossman also deftly points out the shortcomings of an article written by David Goldman that seeks to place blame for the much of current economic mess on smaller families.

It’s great to see this kind of commentary in local papers around the nation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The False Malthusians

By John Seager, President and CEO

The recent report, World's 65 and older population to triple by 2050, is sure to rouse the “birth dearthers.” Malthusians of a sort, they’ll make their usual ominous predictions about a future without young people. They are wrong on so many counts that it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, 65 isn’t what it used to be. Many older people are vigorous, productive members of society these days.

Second, it’s not the ratio of old to young that is key. It’s the ratio of workers to dependents. Most people earn wages during the “middle” 40 years of their life and rely on other sources of support - be it family, the government or their own accrued savings - during the time between birth and the early 20s and from age 65 or so. And that ratio isn't changing all that much as family size declines.

Third, the overall economic strength of a society depends largely on having a well-educated, healthy workforce. Smaller families make this task much easier. So, as family size declines in healthy nations, they can become more productive, ensuring the possibly of a better life for young and old alike.

Finally, we may need more life care communities, but we might need fewer nursery schools, more gerontologists, but fewer pediatricians. It will take a bit of adjustment, but what’s the alternative? An ever more crowded future? No, thanks.

Population Connection website

Monday, June 29, 2009

Environmental Refugees Spur Global Migration

By Pam Wasserman, Vice President for Education

A recent article in The Economist, "A New (Under) Class of Travellers" shines a light on one of the most dire consequences of global climate change -- the rise in the number of "environmental refugees." Tens of millions of desperate people are already fleeing their homelands in Africa as they become uninhabitable from chronic drought. Climate scientists expect these numbers to grow as sea levels rise, displacing the vast populations that live along fragile river deltas in Asia. And, of course, population growth will only worsen the situation.

While we should do everything we can as a global community to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we won't be able to reverse the climactic trends that will continue to displace the most vulnerable populations from their homes in the near term. As once-fertile lands dry up or flood, the carrying capacity of the planet may very well shrink, making an expected population of 9-10 million by 2050 completely unsustainable. Reducing fertility rates could, over time, relieve the pressures of global migration and boost the capabilities of all nations to meet the basic needs of their people.

Population Education website

Educating Kids about Population

By Pam Wasserman, Vice President for Education

As part of Population Connection's mission, we work with teachers nationwide to incorporate population education into their classroom instruction. In 2008, we held 524 workshops for over 11,000 teachers and future teachers in 36 states and 2 Canadian provinces. At these workshops, educators learn about the impacts of human population pressures and the best ways to address these issues with different age groups. Each workshop features a variety of hands-on activities. Based on past evaluation surveys, we estimate that educators trained in our 2008 workshops will allow us to reach an additional 800,000 students each year.

Our staff of trainers is small, but we have a wonderful corps of volunteer trainers around the country who present these workshops in their local areas. This group includes university educators, K-12 teachers and nonformal educators who feel passionate about Population Connection curricula and want to share it with others. Last year, their in-kind contribution of time was over $240,000!

We greatly expanded our outreach in California last year after conducting a "train-the-trainers" Institute for 30 new workshop facilitators in San Francisco, and hope to replicate this in other areas of the country as funding allows.

One of our great achievements of the year was completing a new edition of our high school curriculum, Earth Matters: Studies for Our Global Future on CD-ROM. Read more about it at populationeducation.org.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Needless Pain in an Overcrowded World

By John Seager

The New York Times story, Death in Birth - Fragile Tanzanian Orphans Get Help After Mothers Die, about a handful of Africa’s 50 million orphans provides one ray of hope in a vast chasm of despair.

So much needless pain and suffering could be avoided if the poorest women in the world had access to family planning and other basic health care. It’s great that so much attention is now being paid to the need for action on climate change. But the failure to focus with equal intensity on the impacts of overpopulation has immediate, irreversible consequences. So far in 2009, the White House and Congress have taken vital steps in the right direction when it comes to family planning. But so much more needs to be done and done quickly.

Population Connection website

"A Family Planning Page-Turner"

By Stacie Murphy

In the most recent issue of The Reporter, our communications manager, Marian Starkey, reviewed Michelle Goldberg’s new book The Means of Reproduction. Today, the Wilson Center held a release event for the book, and Ms. Goldberg was there to share her thoughts and answer questions about the work that one presenter called “a family planning page-turner.”

While the entire discussion was interesting, there was one moment that really stood out for me. Ms. Goldberg noted that the idea of family planning as politically “controversial” is a relatively recent phenomenon, pointing out that at one time both Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman were board members of Planned Parenthood. Hard to imagine that today, but it’s true. There was a time when population growth was broadly understood as an issue of importance to the mainstream, not just to the left.

Happily, she believes we may be experiencing a resurgence of interest in population. Goldberg mentioned a recent spate of stories about resource scarcity and population and environment issues, and also pointed former CIA director Michael Hayden’s reference to population growth as a security concern as evidence of a new trend.

The full video of the event will be available here in about a week. I’d recommend watching.

Population Connection website

Monday, June 22, 2009

Population growth and time perspective

By Marian Starkey

Philip Zimbardo's recent TED Talk reinforced from a psychological perspective a theory those of us concerned with population growth have long believed.

People who can anticipate the long-term problems that population growth will cause (and have already caused) have a future-oriented time perspective. People who are past-oriented or present-oriented focus more intently on the short-term economic challenges that will accompany a stabilizing or decreasing population.

Zimbardo uses the example of teens pledging to abstain from premarital sex (60% of whom lose their virginity within the year) to demonstrate different people's ability to delay gratification. Those who give in to premarital sexual urges are less able to overcome their present-oriented minds in order to live out the future-oriented vision they have for themselves as virgin brides/grooms.

He shares that time perspective theory is now being applied to a variety of global issues, including promoting sustainability and conservation. Perhaps population activists like us should incorporate his theory into our advocacy work in order to reach those with other than future-oriented time perspectives.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Health Care Reform Off to a Slow Start

By Brian Dixon

After months of talk, Health Care Reform is finally getting its first official congressional debate. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) has begun what promises to be weeks of work toward crafting legislation. If you want to watch, you can find it here.

HELP is only one of five congressional committees that will have some say over the final product, and if it’s an example of how the process is going to play out in each of them, it could be a while before anything comes up on the floor of either house.

Republicans have filed some 300 amendments in the HELP committee. Among them are nearly a dozen that will have some impact on access to reproductive health care. These efforts include several by Tom Coburn. His proposals include one to establish an office on Unborn Children’s Health, another to allow health care providers to refuse to provide any service to which they have a “moral objection,” and yet another to use federal funds to help recruit and train staff for crisis pregnancy centers (“clinics” which exist to intimidate women into carrying pregnancies to term.)
Other amendments include several to restrict services at School Based Health Clinics. All of these will undermine reproductive health care.

But there are a host of other amendments which are clearly designed for the sole purpose of slowing down the process. Some are kind of funny, like this Coburn amendment to prohibit the use of health care funds from being used to build football stadiums. Others propose changing the names of sections of the bill to “Slush Fund for Special Interests” or “Federal Takeover of Local Communities.” They’re not serious. They’re not designed to further the discussion or to contribute to a better bill. They’re written to try to stall.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More money for family planning in 2010?

By Stacie Murphy

Yesterday, a House subcommittee approved the Fiscal Year 2010 State/Foreign Operations Appropriation bill that includes a substantial increase in funding for international family planning.

The subcommittee, under the leadership of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), allocated $648 million for family planning and reproductive health care, including $60 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This amount is significantly higher than President Obama’s budget request of $593 million with $50 million for UNFPA.

Overall funding for international family planning declined by nearly 40% between 1995 and 2008. President Obama indicated his intent to reverse this trend by designating more than half of his proposed global health budget increase for family planning.

Yesterday’s move by the House subcommittee goes even further, signaling that they understand that, even in a difficult economic climate, real investment in international family planning will pay dividends: it will increase maternal and child survival, ease pressure on the environment, and encourage social stability in the developing world.

The bill will be considered by the full Appropriations Committee next week. We will keep you updated as the bill makes its way through the House and Senate.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Even the parks aren't safe

By Marian Starkey

Kutai National Park on the island of Borneo is trading its many species of mammals for one much more menacing species--humans. Already, half of the park has been degraded by illegal logging and development. There are at least 27,000 people living inside the park. All of them need houses, fuel wood, and jobs. The resources that the park boasts (coal, timber, and oil) provide those jobs, as evidenced by the factories that have set up shop on the park's perimeter.

It's hard to blame people in a country that grows by 2.7 million people every year for encroaching on protected areas. Population density in Indonesia is 122 people per square kilometer (compared with 33 people per square kilometer in the United States). When protected lands are some of the only fertile and forested lands remaining in a country or region, they are vulnerable to settlement by ambitious and/or desperate internal migrants. I wrote an article about this dilemma in the Peten province of Guatemala in the February 2009 issue of The Reporter.

Until we achieve zero population growth and everyone lives on already-settled land, national parks will continue to be threatened. As so many examples around the world have shown, humans will (often illegally) encroach on protected land, fight with other species over territory, and unsustainably extract natural resources in order to survive. Population stabilization is imperative for the survival of wildlife and the entire biosphere.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Have You Seen This Ad?

By Brian Dixon

Have you seen this ad?

In DC, it’s everywhere. On the Metro trains. In the newspapers that cover Capitol Hill. In magazines. Clearly this is one company that sees population growth as good for its bottom line. More genetically modified crops means more money to Monsanto. In their view, that’s the only way we’ll be able to feed 9 billion people.

Of course, we have no idea if there will be 9 billion people in 2050, or 11 billion. Because the projection that the population will grow to 9 billion is based on the assumption that more people will use contraceptives and birth rates will continue to fall. That’s hardly a given. There’s already a serious shortfall in contraceptive supplies in the poorest countries. At least 200 million women would like to limit their childbearing, but have no access to birth control and experts predict that demand for contraceptives will increase by 40 percent in just the next fifteen years.

Unless there is significant new investment in family planning in the developing world, it’s unlikely that population will stabilize at 9 billion. Indeed, between 2006 and 2008, experts had to revise their population projections for several countries, including Kenya and Pakistan--upward.

Monsanto has one thing right. Feeding an additional 2 billion people will be difficult.

Feeding an additional 4 billion might be impossible.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Overpopulation Rules the Day in Pakistan

By John Seager

In today’s troubled global economy, an annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 2% would seem pretty good, considering. That’s the latest projecting for Pakistan. But there’s a problem. Pakistan annual population growth rate exceeds 2%. As its economy struggles to moves forward, the nation as a whole is falling further behind. What with pervasive poverty, internal strife, and annual inflation soaring by more than 20%, we’re all too likely to see many more worrisome headlines about Pakistan in the months to come.

Few of these stories will highlight the role played by rampant population growth. And it’s a rare economist who points out that smaller family make it easier to insure quality health care and education. In turn, this can lead to higher per capita GDP in a less-crowded world. Sounds like a winning strategy all around.

Abortion Cartoons

By Stacie Murphy

I’m piggybacking on someone else’s blog today instead of writing my own, but I just had to take the opportunity to point out the extremely insightful commentary going on at Sociological Images in response to this post.

The initial poster points out that in editorial cartoons about abortion (as in so much of the abortion debate generally) there is a tendency to obscure the fact that there is an actual woman involved in the process. The women, when they are depicted at all, are shown as faceless, voiceless, often disembodied beings, while all the thoughts and emotions about abortion are attributed to the fetus.

Comment contributors have pointed out a number of other memes highlighted by the cartoons, among them the myths that pro-choicers want to force abortion on unwilling women, and that abortion late in pregnancy is common.

It’s worth pointing out that two of the cartoons shown are pro-choice in perspective. It seems that forgetting who is really at the center of the debate isn’t limited to only one side.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

False Alarm

By Marian Starkey

The Korea Herald and The Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan) both have editorials today about the perils of low birthrates. According to the Korea Herald, South Korea had the lowest fertility rate in the world last year at 1.19 children per woman. The editors warn that shrinking economic growth and a burdensome elderly population are inevitable.

Contrary to the claims of the Korea Herald, population decline doesn't have to be "scary" for the economy.

In fact, there is a very strong argument that countries like the Republic of Korea have been able to develop quickly because of the fact that family size shrunk from 6.33 children per woman in 1955-1960 to 1.6 in 1985-1990. Couples with fewer children are able to afford higher education for the kid(s) they do have and are able to save more, contributing to individual and nation-wide economic growth.

Couples who claim to be abstaining from having children because of the cost are probably not being entirely truthful in their survey responses. Poor couples the world over have children (often very many children) and find ways to make ends meet. Shocking as it may seem, some people find other activities more rewarding than child rearing and may be using the financial burden as an excuse for not having a baby in the face of social pressure.

Raising the sales tax in Japan to pay for child rearing subsidies (as the editors of Yomiuri suggest) and increasing the "cradle-to-university" subsidies that the South Korean government already provide will not raise birthrates for the right reasons. And they will certainly not solve any impending economic problems due to demographics. Why dump more money into baby incentives when that money could be used to accommodate the aging population that already exists?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Domestic Terror on the Rise

By Stacie Murphy

My heart sank yesterday when I heard the news about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas ob-gyn who was one of the country’s few remaining providers of late-term abortion services. I was sick, and I was stunned. But I wasn’t really surprised.

Only a few weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security released a report highlighting an increased risk of domestic terror attacks from right-wing groups. The report specifically mentioned fanatical choice opponents as potential perpetrators. After an outcry from the right, political pressure forced DHS to retract the report and issue an apology. It turns out the agency’s fears were well founded. The alleged shooter appears to have longtime ties to both separatist militia movements and to Operation Rescue, the radical anti-choice group famous for publishing the personal information of abortion providers on its website.

Dr. Tiller was no stranger to these kinds of attacks. He was shot and wounded in 1993, and his clinic had been a target of bombings, vandalism, and other threats for over two decades. In the last month, Dr. Tiller had asked law enforcement for additional security, citing increasing harassment and threats. His constant vigilance and careful security measures were not enough, however. Yesterday morning, a man entered the lobby of the church where Tiller was serving as an usher and shot him dead.

There can be no debate: the murder of George Tiller was a terrorist attack. The aim was not merely to stop Dr. Tiller, but to send a message to other doctors and choice advocates: believe as we do, or die.

Along with every other choice advocate in the country, I am grieving today. I mourn for a man who braved violence, intimidation and threats to stand up for the rights of women in the most vulnerable time in their lives. I sorrow for the wife, four children, and ten grandchildren Dr. Tiller leaves behind. And I am heartbroken to be reminded yet again, and in such a tragic way, that our fight for reproductive autonomy is not over.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Someone Gets It

By John Seager

The Central Chronicle, an English language newspaper in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, hit the population nail on the head with today’s editorial, "Humans biggest threat to environment."

India is slated to pass China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030, according to the latest UN figures.

Feeding a Hungry World

By John Seager

As a growing global population seeks more food, Argentina, long known for its fertile soil and exports of beef and wheat, is struggling just to meet domestic demands. A one-two punch of drought and poor policy choices threatens vital supplies, as outlined in The Economist.

Other reports indicate that Argentina may plant its smallest wheat crop in 100 years (Private Equity Report). In the past, Argentina ranked among the world’s largest wheat exporters.

300 Million Suffer More to Come

By John Seager

The Global Humanitarian Forum, chaired by former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Laureate Kofi Annan, just released The Anatomy of a Crisis. The report concludes that more than 300 million people are already seriously impacted by climate change, and the annual economic cost is $125 billion per year.

By 2030, “worldwide deaths will reach almost 500,000 per year.” The total number of people affected will double, and costs will rise even more rapidly. The most devastating impacts will be felt in the poorest places on earth where there will be a need for vast increases in aid.

I would only add that these are, for the most part, the same places which have the most rapid population growth.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


By Marian Starkey

Yesterday, yet another sign of the Obama Administration’s commitment to international diplomacy was presented to an audience of over 500 in Washington, DC at the
TED@State event. Once the seats were filled, people crowded along the staircases and into the back of the auditorium, standing for nearly three hours to hear the experts’ takes on how to proceed effectively with international development.

TED Talks (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) has partnered with the Global Partnership Initiative, based at the State Department to form the TED@State series. Since 1984, TED has invited experts on a range of subjects to deliver “the talks of their lives” to audiences around the world in 18 minutes or less. In April of this year, the partnership with State was forged so that new ideas could find their way to professionals and politicians in Washington.

Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley introduced the event on behalf of Secretary Clinton, who had a last-minute invitation to travel with President Obama to Egypt.

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, spoke about how social media is changing our world and how governments must keep up to avoid embarrassment or worse.

Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Discipline, argued that cities are "green" and full of opportunities lacking in smaller villages. He described the living conditions of squatters, who sometimes live right smack up against the gated communities of the rich. From above, slums might look disorganized and void of services, but actually, there are countless informal businesses and access to cash economies that just doesn’t exist in the rural developing world. The people who move to urban slums are working as hard as they can to climb out of poverty and the infrastructure that they enjoy there, while appalling to the Western eye, is actually far superior to that available in the countryside.

Sometimes counterintuitive to our supporters, Population Connection has long stuck up for cities in terms of their ecological footprint. New York City, where most people do not own cars and instead walk or take mass transit, is a champion of energy efficiency. Apartments are small, walls (and therefore heating and cooling) are shared, and less land is converted to development because buildings are built up instead of out.

Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, also spoke about poverty and how easy it is for families on the verge of escaping poverty to fall back into it because of an event like a health emergency. He continued Brand’s discussion of the eco-friendliness of cities and even called them “population sinks” because they ease demands placed on rural land by subsistence farmers.

While I see the value of populations congregating cities where they can share economies and infrastructure, I took issue with his comment, “Cities diffuse the population bomb.” While moving away from family farms and letting the land lie fallow may restore nutrients to the soil, it does not reduce the total number of people in the country that need to be fed. Someone still has to grow the food for the world’s population, regardless of whether the majority of its inhabitants are rural or urban dwellers. One important point Collier does make though, is that typically urban residents have lower fertility than rural residents and that this demographic trend helps slow population growth. Smaller families probably arise due to a variety of factors, from increased educational and employment opportunities to new ideas about family and society to simple contraceptive access.

Collier also spoke in detail about the problematic youth bulges of failed states and the need to find work for young men who will otherwise fall into crime, terrorism, or despair. Perhaps outside the bounds of his expertise, it nevertheless would have been helpful if he had mentioned population stabilization as a means by which to speed the rise from poverty of urban slum dwellers and slow the growth of the troubling youth bulges in failed states.

Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and leader of the Acumen Fund, spoke about her insightful approach to philanthropy. Acumen addresses poverty from the bottom-up and brings in private investors who can serve a more grassroots population than donor governments, multilateral agencies, or foundations, which typically must focus on the bigger picture.

Finally, Hans Rosling, creator of the Gapminder tool recently purchased by Google, presented different demographic data in his colorful, easy to interpret graphs. He praised the United States government (he’s Swedish) for funding the Demographic and Health Surveys, which are the primary tools we have for tracking social and health indicators over the past 25 years. Rosling gave a longer talk last week at the Woodrow Wilson Center, which was highly entertaining and informative.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Then and Now

By John Seager

If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor will become its first Hispanic member. We’ve seen quite a few “firsts” in recent years, the latest being President Barack Obama. Perhaps one day we’ll run out of firsts.

Almost a century ago, another Democratic President nominated the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis. Like Sotomayor at Princeton, Brandeis was a brilliant student, setting a grade average record at Harvard that stood for eight decades. Like Sotomayor, the Brandeis nomination provoked speculation about the impact on a key voting block. A commentator of the time wrote in The Nation that, “Old-fashioned politicians read in the nomination a bait for the Hebrew vote at the coming election...” And the Brandeis nomination ran into strong opposition from conservative Republicans.

Perhaps the dumbest comment (so far, anyway) about Sotomayor came from Mark Krikorian at National Review Online. Krikorian whined that “there ought to be limits.” He was referring to the pronunciation of Judge Sotomayor’s name (the emphasis is on the last syllable as is common with Hispanic names). This notion of syllabic supremacy may come as a surprise to Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, whose name also emphasizes the final syllable. Like Sotomayor, he hails from New York City. Like Brandeis he is Jewish. Yes, indeed, this can be a darned confusing nation for those who like everyone to line up in one tidy little row.

Brandeis’s name may come up during the confirmation process. In 1890 he coauthored with Samuel D. Warren one of the most enduring law review articles of all time entitled “The Right to Privacy.” It is often viewed as the leading antecedent of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. The 1890 article concluded thusly:

The common law has always recognized a man's house as his castle, impregnable, often, even to his own officers engaged in the execution of its command. Shall the courts thus close the front entrance to constituted authority, and open wide the back door to idle or prurient curiosity?

The article begins, interestingly, with assertions about the “right to life,” referring to privacy. Today, that phrase has been appropriated by those who have no real regard for a woman’s right to control her own body. If one’s body is not private, what is?

The battles over privacy and women’s rights are neither new, nor likely to vanish any time soon, if history is any judge.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama's Budget

By John Seager

Earlier today, the White House released the details of President Obama’s 2010 budget proposal, and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

The new budget includes $591 million for international family planning, an increase of $46 million over the current funding level. Of that total, $50 million will be provided to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

In addition, the budget contains two provisions aimed at increasing access to family planning services for low income women: a $10 million increase to Title X, and a policy change that will extend contraceptive coverage under Medicaid while making the program more efficient and cost effective.

These numbers aren’t as high as we would have liked, but given the current economic climate, any increase is significant. It also indicates that family planning is a real priority for this administration: the overall global health budget will see an increase of $93 million, and half of that is going to family planning programs! That certainly indicates President Obama’s deep commitment to the cause, and can only bode well for the future.

There’s more immediate good news, as well. The new budget eliminates all funding for abstinence-only programs, which had been lavishly funded under the Bush Administration. President Obama instead calls for a new investment in evidence-based programs for teen pregnancy prevention. I’m thrilled to see that sanity and science are back in fashion after a decade of wasteful and ideologically-driven nonsense aimed at our young people.

We’re going to need your help as this budget makes its way through Congress in the coming weeks. You can bet that foes of family planning will be looking for ways to undo our progress. We’re committed to stopping them, and I hope we can count on your support.



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama's First 100 Days

By Brian Dixon

Today marks the 100th day of the Obama presidency and you’ve probably been reading and hearing about it all day.

At some point in history the hundred-day mark became a sort of guidepost to a presidency. My favorite analysis of Obama’s first hundred days was headlined “Give Him an Incomplete.” Duh, I thought. Of course it’s incomplete. He’ll be president for at least four years he’s been president for less than four months.

On issues of population and family planning, he has already made important marks and provides a sense of promise of real and lasting improvements for people around the world. Following the election, but prior to the Inauguration, Population Connection joined with a host of organizations concerned with family planning and reproductive health and rights to ask the incoming president to take quick action on a number of critical issues.

He hasn’t done everything we asked yet. But of some 15 actions we urged him to take within the first hundred days, he’s done nearly half. They are:

  • Rescinded the Global Gag Rule within the first week;

  • Restored funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the world’s largest multilateral agency working to provide family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world;

  • Signed legislation increasing funding for international family planning by $84 million;

  • Called for the expansion of family planning services under Medicaid;

  • Allowed for the provision of affordable birth control at college health centers and other safety net providers;

  • Reversed the 11th hour Bush regulation allowing health care providers to refuse to provide birth control to women; and,

  • Appointed highly qualified people to critical jobs overseeing reproductive health policies domestically and internationally.

In addition, the Obama Administration made it clear during a United Nations meeting on population and development that the United States was, once again, looking to be a helpful partner in the effort to ensure universal access to family planning.

There is much to applaud in this record, but there remains much left to be done. Lifting the Global Gag Rule and supporting UNFPA were important steps, but good policies mean little without adequate funding. When the White House releases its detailed budget sometime in the next few weeks, we will be looking to see that it calls for real investment in family planning.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review: Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

By Stacie Murphy

A few days ago, I finished reading Katherine Joyce’s new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. I intended to write about the book immediately, but I found that I really wasn’t able. I needed some time to process after what was a definite “through the looking glass” experience.

The Quiverfull movement, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, espouses an extremely conservative view of the family, with emphasis on female submission, masculine headship, and “militant” fertility. The term “Quiverfull” comes from a Bible verse that describes children as arrows in the army of God. Adherents, generally evangelical Christians, avoid all forms of birth control, including the “natural family planning” methods approved by the Catholic Church. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who have 18 children and their own reality TV show, are probably the best-known Quiverfull proponents.

Joyce interviewed people from across the country about the specifics of their lives and beliefs, and “bizarre” and “chilling” are the most benign adjectives I can come up with to describe what she found. The extreme submission of devout Quiverfull women is deeply unsettling (and not a little reminiscent of stories about women’s lives under the Taliban). Some Quiverfull women are forbidden to drive cars. Others make lists of their household chores and submit them to their husbands so that the husbands can decide which tasks should have the highest priority. Quiverfull wives are warned that it is their duty to be sexually available to their husbands at all times, and that if a husband “sins” as a result of a wife’s refusal, it is her fault and she will be held accountable by God.

Leaders urge wives to repent of their “feministic” thinking and behavior and dedicate themselves to “reverencing” their husbands. Any longing for equality of power or authority should be confessed as a sin and renounced in favor of even greater submission. The wife should always remember that her husband has the “burden” of control. If she disagrees with one of his decisions, she should respectfully ask him to reconsider. If he does not, she should consider the husband’s opinion to be the same as the will of God.

The requirement of submission also extends to children, of course. Corporal punishment is not only encouraged, it is very nearly a requirement. For many, it begins in infancy. Children, especially girls, should be “covered” by their fathers and “protected” from any contact with the secular world. Girls’ education should always be home-based and heavily focused toward those skills they will need when they themselves become wives and mothers. One adherent spoke approvingly of a family whose nine year old daughter had learned to care for her younger siblings, but had not yet learned to read.

Not surprisingly, Quiverfullers aren’t happy with the current state of the world. According to those interviewed, dangerous “feministic” ideas like women working outside the home, having access to divorce, and, yes, birth control, are responsible for all sorts of social ills. Some complained about the damaging effect of things like pay equity laws on the Biblical family. Others see a more fundamental problem: according to at least one Quiverfull proponent, God has cursed America because it granted women the right to vote, thus subverting the divinely-ordered right of men to speak for their families. But not to worry, the faithful have a plan: out-breed the heathens and then send the armies of God against them (metaphorically speaking, of course).

After falling down this rabbit-hole and climbing back out the other side (and hauling my jaw up off the floor), I spent some time wondering just how much danger the sustainable population movement actually faces from this philosophy. We don’t talk about armies, metaphorical or otherwise, and we certainly can’t plan on out-breeding the competition. We don’t make absolute pronouncements about how all people ought to live.

Quite the opposite, in fact: whenever the Duggars or other mega-families are in the news, our office always gets calls from reporters wanting to know what we in the “population control” field think about them. We always reply that we advocate freedom of choice for everyone and are not in the business of telling people how many children to have, and we point out that enormous families are newsworthy precisely because they are so rare.

Does this mean we’re doomed to lose? Are the Quiverfull really going to inherit the Earth? After reflecting for a few days, I’ve calmed back down enough to say no.

These people are creepy, and given the abuse many Quiverfull women and children are suffering, I certainly wouldn’t call them harmless. But the bottom line is that they are a nutty fringe group. The movement may, as Joyce claims, be growing, but as the membership increases, so do the ranks of the disgruntled ex-members, who have an established and growing internet presence. And society as a whole shows no interest in embracing the Quiverfull mindset. Men don’t want robots for wives. Women like things like voting and going to college and earning paychecks and deciding how many children they want. We’re not going to give those things up that easily.

But I admit: I’m going to keep a closer eye on the Duggars from now on.

Amazon link to Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement