Pay attention to Population Issues

A friend recently asked why people don’t pay more attention to population issues. Between us we came up with several explanations.
Here is the combined list that we put together, with my comments. Do you know other reasons? Email me if you do!

1. The increase in population is so slow that it is difficult to notice. True! But that is why we have census figures, which show that our population is rising geometrically (like compound interest). Other figures show that we are using resources that should belong to our progeny.
2. We are accustomed to looking at near causes, not ultimate causes. It is easy to see that there are more extremes of weather, and to read about climate change, but how many people actually connect those facts with the underlying cause—more people emitting greenhouse gases?
3. Population issues have to do with family size selection, and that is ultimately a personal decision. True again! Fortunately, people are choosing to have smaller families. Unfortunately, there are many barriers in their way. We need more research on safe and effective contraception, and we need to make all methods available to all people with little or no expense.
(An aside. Some people accuse me of advocating “population control”. Other than using the term “birth control”, I have assiduously avoided the word “control”. Indeed, I believe that people should have as many children as they want—including none. My role is to help people achieve their family size goals.)
4. Religions tend to either promote large families or prohibit contraception—or both. Although I believe in freedom of religion (as does the Constitution of the United States), I also believe in the ability of people to use their God-given brains. Most religious prohibitions date back to the era when “…Be fruitful, and multiply” was more relevant.
5. Large size, whether it be vehicle or family size, is an important attribute. This seems to be a male thing. Get over it, guys!
6. Many otherwise reasonable people don’t realize that there are limits to growth. Or, perhaps, they just never thought about the possibility of limits. Our European forefathers came to a sparsely populated continent and enjoyed its bounty. Regrettably, the level of resource usage that we have enjoyed cannot go on forever.
7. The International Conference on Population and Development turned away from population and toward reproductive health (RH). The reasons were good. Concentrating on population, in India for example, had led to coercing people to be sterilized. RH would include family planning, but RH includes other important services such as prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
8. The influence of vocal anti-abortion activists. Many people who are against abortion associate population issues with abortion. Remember that the best way to slow population growth—and to prevent abortions—is with good access to modern contraception
9. The success of family planning and attention to declining birth rates. Indeed, most rich countries (and many poorer ones) have fertility rates that will eventually lead to stable population sizes—but there are still many other countries that have high growth rates.
10. Many people confuse the decreasing rate of growth with population shrinkage. Wrong! The world’s population is still growing by 80 million people a year, and the overshoot of our global Ecologic Footprint is 50%. That means that we are far from being sustainable.
11. The media don’t pay much attention to population issues. This is the reason for this column! For more than fifteen years the Herald has been the only newspaper in the country—perhaps in the world—to carry a regular column treating population issues.
12. People deny that the world will be very different in the future than what we have known. It is easy to just assume that the world will continue with the status quo, but oh, so wrong!

I have left a couple of reasons out of this article. Some people believe we need growth for our economy to thrive; last month’s article dealt with growth. More troublesome is how we can support the increasing numbers of old people with fewer young people coming along.
Happily, National Geographic has ignored the taboo against population. This prestigious magazine is running a series of articles in 2011. January’s cover reads: “Population 7 billion: How your world will change”.
Many of us will not be around long enough to see our world deteriorate much more. It is our kids and grandkids who will feel the effects the most.

By Richard

I am a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who has been fortunate to live and work in the wonderful community of Durango, Colorado for 40 years.

2 replies on “Pay attention to Population Issues”

A few more reasons in addition to the 12 reasons already listed:

When people don’t understand how overpopulation impacts everyone, particularly poor people, they begin to think that those who are concerned about population are racist or extremist, so they turn a deaf ear to people who talk about population.

Then there are those who feel that they have worked very hard to achieve their lifestyle and feel that their way of life is threatened when we talk about population, because we can’t talk about population without comparing footprints of Bangladesh people with footprints of Europeans or North Americans. Population and consumption are two sides of the same coin, so many in the richer countries shy away from population.

Others in richer countries, out of feelings of guilt over how much more they consume than people in poor countries, tend to work towards conserving, recycling, eating less meat, and living close to work. But when it comes to population, they don’t want to point fingers at poor people, not realizing the plight of poor people outgrowing their own land, and don’t realize that such large numbers of poor people can overwhelm the best of conservation efforts in developed countries.

What it basically boils down to:

If one understands the ecological principles of food web tropic levels, then one should understand that a consequence of our ever increasing population, relative to the essential biodiversity of higher life form conducive natural ecosystems, is that we’re causing the extinction of an alarming number of other life forms daily just to support our own biomass. We’re systematically shifting the biomass of the many life forms we’re not smart enough to care about, into the biomass of a lesser number of life forms we use to maintain our own biomass (e.g. cows, chickens, corn, beans, tomatoes, …). That is, we’re systematically diminishing the biodiversity of the natural biological communities, and in so doing are destabilizing nature’s infrastructure that is keeping us alive.

The key factors of healthy ecosystems (in the sense of being conducive to human existence) are sustainable long term productivity through extensive biodiversity to exploit all the ecological niches (in time, space, and kind), and relative stability through the overall balance of ecological processes in minimizing ecosystem state shifts. This more complete utilization of limiting resources at higher diversity increases resource retention through more thorough and efficient recycling increasing productivity, and the balance of inherently more intricate ecological processes promote stabilization.

For a better understanding of how we are jeopardizing the shorter term state of human existence on Earth, see the article Natural World Consciousness at

Will objective understanding or subjective beliefs prevail?

Lee C

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