Population: get serious about numbers.

PositionLetter to the editor

Worldwatch has gone stale on population issues. It billed its September/October issue as being devoted to population, but it flopped: "totally bland, no message of urgency, no call to action, no directions to activist organizations, and virtually no discussion of the interplay of global population with climate, energy, food, and water." Those words are part of an e-mail that I immediately fired off to Worldwatch after reading its "population" articles. What follows is only a portion of what was in my mind when I sent that harsh e-mail.


If the guts of the recent issue were not about "the interplay of global population with climate, energy, food, and water," what were they about? The short answer lies in the title given to the introduction, "Women: Population's Once and Future Key." This focus on women and not upon numbers originated at the United Nations' 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. The high ideal of "talk about women, not about numbers" is the major explanation of the refrain we hear so often, that "population has fallen off the radar screen."

The overarching issue of the twenty-first century is the health of the Earth. We must argue clearly and vocally that the health of the Earth must take precedence over all else, and that includes the health of women. If the Earth's health fails, then all humanity will suffer terribly, including millions upon millions of women.

That the Earth's health is failing is the message contained in many, many studies, articles, books, and TV programs that spew forth every month, each one arguing that we are now on an unsustainable course, we must change, and time is short. If so, what should we do? Green this and green that is one approach, and a worthy one. Another is to attack the population monster, but how? I argue that we must reverse the focus-on-women policy that was adopted at Cairo. We must emphasize numbers and stir the public on the need for urgency in addressing overpopulation.

To accomplish the monumental persuasion task, whom do we approach and with what arguments? We must approach the people in government who hold the purse strings. Perhaps I am unduly predjudiced, but I do believe that presentations making the connections between population and the world's great degradations and strife will be far more effective than presentations focused on the needs of women. Only after success in persuading about the magnitude of the problem will the question arise, "What do we do about it?" It is then that the discussions will move to the fact that while effective programs vary enormously from culture to...

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