Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hey Slate: We Still Exist! Here's What We're About

On Friday, reporter Emily Bazelon wrote a post about a confusing quote made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg three years ago. Bazelon might have cleared up what Bader Ginsburg said, but it certainly didn't do anything to clear up Population Connection's position on population growth, women's rights and social justice! President John Seager straightens things out here:

By John Seager
President, Population Connection

It was nice to see Slate clear up some misunderstandings about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s views on abortion and feminism (Talking to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Oct. 19). Unfortunately, the explanation might have engendered some new misunderstandings – about my organization.

First of all, Zero Population Growth didn’t disappear with the VW buses and Birkenstocks. We still exist – both as a nonprofit organization and a movement. We’re now called Population Connection, and the movement is centered on expanding human rights – making sure every person who wants it has access to voluntary family planning, fighting for social justice and protecting the planet we all depend upon. We are a pro-choice organization not out of some drive to reduce “certain populations,” but because we support women’s rights. Period.

However, two things have changed since the heyday of interest in population growth. Number one: The world’s population has nearly doubled. Number two: Nobody wants to talk about it. Any suggestion that the planet has limits tends to brand one as some sort of eugenicist, as Jonah Goldberg so ably demonstrated.

Currently, our Earth’s population stands at more than 7 billion. Count noses in 1974, and there were 4 billion of us. The United Nations projects that by 2050, we could have anywhere from 8.1 billion (if contraception access is expanded) to 10.6 billion.

Perhaps that eye-popping number wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for several inconvenient truths. One is that growth in agriculture yields is not keeping pace with population growth – meaning a lot more hungry people in the future. Another is that clean water is already a scarce commodity in many areas experiencing rapid population growth.

The third is that women around the world still lack the basic ability to decide on the trajectory of their own lives. That’s wrong, and it needs to change.

Around 222 million women in the developing world want to delay or end childbearing but lack access to contraception. In the United States, nearly every other pregnancy is unplanned. Those unplanned pregnancies that result in births have lasting consequences far beyond overtaxed resources. Women drop out of school. Their health is compromised. Their potential earnings diminish. Their families struggle. Entire economies are affected when only half of us – the male half – are able to reach our full potential and achieve our dreams.

We can change that. And that’s what Population Connection – Zero Population Growth – fights for.

So yes, Bader Ginsburg is right. There was a group called Zero Population Growth in the 1970s. And we’re still around today. By simply ensuring that every woman who wants to avoid pregnancy can do so, we can help our population peak at a billion more than we have today. And that’s good news, not just for women, but for all of us who share this little planet.

It’s not controversial. It’s common sense.

John Seager is President of Population Connection, formerly known as Zero Population Growth. The organization’s website is

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bear Down -- On Birth Control Access?

I’ve heard people say football is our national religion, but this is ridiculous:

On Sunday, the owners of the Chicago Bears hosted a meeting at the team’s practice facility where religious leaders and politicians (bad combo) pounced all over the “Obamacare” requirement that contraception be covered by employer insurance plans.

Chicago birth control fans might be feeling deflated. (Chicago Man/Flickr)
According to the Chicago Tribune, speakers lamented the “eroding freedom to speak in the language of faith in the public square.” How denying women contraception they pay for in their insurance premiums equals “freedom of speech” is anyone’s guess.

And this:

“Some speakers cited evidence of religious persecution in abortion laws, gay marriage and efforts to characterize opponents of the contraception mandate as anti-women.”

So let me get this straight: If a woman makes the extraordinarily personal decision to end a pregnancy, everyone who disagrees with that decision is being religiously persecuted? How do my reproductive decisions affect your religious faith or freedom in the slightest?

Trick question: They don’t.

Apparently, the team’s senior director of special projects serenaded the crowd with a “religious liberty-themed rendition of ‘Bear Down, Chicago Bears,’” which sounds absolutely hideous and should qualify as “religious persecution” itself, if we’re going by the Bears event speakers’ standards.

So add the Chicago Bears to the list of employers who seem to think they should decide whether or not their employees get birth control. So far, the Bears’ owners are just complaining, not suing. Here are some employers who’ve taken the additional step of challenging the Affordable Care Act in court:
  • Craft supplies purveyor Hobby Lobby of Oklahoma City. The company’s founder, David Green says: “Hobby Lobby has always been a tool of the Lord’s work. But now our faith is being challenged by the federal government. We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”
  • Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc., of Highland Illinois. The firm’s owners, Cyril and Jane Korte, “acknowledge in their complaint that their company’s current group plan includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion. They discovered this in August and claim it ‘is an error that is contrary to what plaintiffs want based on their religious beliefs.’” Awkward!
  • Tyndale House Publishers of Carol Stream, Illinois. The book publisher apparently doesn’t publish any gynecological texts given that they refer to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provision as “the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate.” Emergency contraception – which is covered under “Obamacare,” works by preventing fertilization, not implantation.
I’ve long argued that one way to end the “religious persecution” of employers being required to offer health insurance that covers – you know, health care – is to divorce health care from employers entirely. Single-payer health care! Suppose the employers suing the government over “Obamacare” would go for that?

--  Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Special Day to Celebrate Girls

The United Nations has declared tomorrow – 10/11/12 for you number nerds out there – as the International Day of the Girl Child. Why a special day just for girls? Because girls are awesome. OK, that’s not the OFFICIAL reason, but it is the truth – just ask my five nieces.

The official reason – in UN terms – is to recognize that “empowerment of and investment in girls (and)  the meaningful participation of girls in decisions that affect them, are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights.”

After all, the world’s girls still have a long way to go before they’re truly equal to their brothers:

So that’s the bad stuff. The good news is that when we change the lives of girls, we can change the lives of whole families, villages and nations. 

Girls have the power to change the world! On the International Day of the Girl, take a minute to tell the girls you know just that.

--Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

Thursday, October 4, 2012

EcoSummit Expert Talks Family Planning

The Columbus EcoSummit brought together experts from all over the world to talk about ecology, sustainability and how we can work together to protect the place we all live. You know, our planet.

But one crucial topic has been mostly absent: Population growth, and how on Earth we’re going to feed everyone. That changed on Thursday morning as Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, took the stage.

Lester Brown
“We are in transition from an age of food surplus to one of food scarcity,” Brown said, but “some people are affected much more than others.”

People who live high on the food chain (including Americans) feel the effects of high grain prices less. If grain prices go up, we might pay $2.10 for a loaf of bread instead of $2. But that change is a huge hit to people who rely on grain for most of their diets and spend a larger percentage of their incomes on food.

In Nigeria, 27 percent of families are planning “foodless days” every week, Brown said. In Peru, it’s 14 percent.

“Food is the new oil, and land is the new gold,” he said.

Demand-side pressures on food production include population growth – 219,000 more people at the world’s dinner table every night – the use of grain for fuel, and increasing meat consumption, Brown said. The average Indian eats 400 pounds of grain per year. The average American eats the equivalent of 1600 pounds of grain per year – much of it in the form of feed to raise animal products we consume.

Just growing more food isn’t an option, either. Half of humans are living in places with water shortages, Brown said. Saudi Arabia used to grow all the grain it needed for its own population. But the nation has pumped its aquifers dry and will end grain production by 2016. Here in the United States, Texas and California are experiencing water shortages.

On top of that, research shows that photosynthesis – the process plants use to turn solar energy into chemical energy – stops entirely when the temperature gets high enough (global warming, anyone?) Increased soil erosion is leading to a new era of dust bowls and dust storms. And we may have hit an agricultural “glass ceiling,” Brown said. Wheat yields in France, Germany and the United Kingdom have plateaued, and farmers are using all currently available technologies to increase harvests.

Brown joked that he has the reputation of a doom monger. Former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon once said of Brown’s books that “Once you put it down, you can’t pick it up again.”

But there’s no need to curl up in a ball under your desk and whimper. Brown also offers solutions – if we’re willing to pursue them. Here is Brown’s prescription for feeding everyone:
  • Raise water productivity. Irrigation uses 80% of available water. We need to rethink agriculture in an era of water scarcity and figure out ways to make every gallon go as far as possible. 
  • Stabilize population and eradicate poverty. Filling the “family planning gap” for the 222 million women in developing nations who don’t have access to family planning would help the world shift to smaller families, which in turn reduces poverty, which in turn leads to smaller families.
  • Cut carbon emissions – and fast. Brown wants something on the level of a “wartime mobilization” to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2020. Our food security depends on shuttering coal-fired power plants and moving toward wind energy and electric cars – which could charge at night while demand is the lowest. 
The real threats to our nation aren’t other nations, Brown said. The real threats are climate change, population growth, rising food prices, political instability and failing states. And family planning will help humanity meet the challenge.

We wholeheartedly agree!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Making the Population Connection at Columbus EcoSummit

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

Population Connection is getting our message this week at the EcoSummit in Columbus, Ohio. There's an amazing number of experts here from more than 70 countries discussing ecology, sustainability and how we can protect the planet in a world of more than 7 billion people.

Rebecca Harrington is Population Connection's national field coordinator.
Our own national field coordinator, Rebecca Harrington, is on hand to talk with EcoSummit participants about Population Connection's mission: Advocating for universal access to voluntary family planning programs. She took time between handing out information (and stickers! And T-shirts! And reusable shopping bags!) to answer a few questions:

Q: What are you doing this week at EcoSummit?
A: We are sharing Population Connection's materials with researchers and students from around the globe and raising awareness about population issues. We're also trying to get them engaged with grassroots work we're doing in Columbus and other cities.

Q: What grassroots work are you doing in Columbus?
A: Population Connection works to engage local activists and students in the suburbs of Columbus, Minneapolis and Seattle on the importance of voluntary family planning through advocacy training sessions, film screenings and discussion groups on campus. We also recruit students and adults to come to D.C. for Population Connection's Capitol Hill Days.

Q: How are the crowds reacting to Population Connection's mission of voluntary access to family planning?
A: Positively. The crowd here seems on board with our mission and the work we're doing. They definitely have an understanding of population issues beyond the basics, which is encouraging.

Q: When you're not at conferences, what else do you do in your job with Population Connection?
A: I'm out in the field -- traveling around the country hosting community events such as documentary film screenings, panel discussions with family planning providers, classroom presentations and advocacy trainings, among other things.

Q: Why are you interested in population?
A: I care very deeply about the health and wellbeing of women everywhere. I believe access to family planning is a fundamental right and need. Decisions on how to plan your family are incredibly personal and should not be legislated or directed by lawmakers. When women are able to control the reproductive aspect of their lives, they're more likely to pursue education, be economically self-sufficient, and ultimately attain their goals.