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Speak Out on Population

Speak Out on Population

© Richard Grossman MD, 2009

“I do not understand why there is very little discussion, or even acknowledgement, that unless the human population on this planet can be limited to a sustainable number, there will be wars and death over food and water.”

I agree with Rick, a fellow Bayfield resident, who wrote the above sentence several months ago in response to one of my articles. Rick started:

“I read your article in the Herald this past weekend and was encouraged to find some recognition that human population growth is the root cause of this planet’s problems. I find it nauseating to read countless articles written by supposed experts proposing band-aid fixes to the increasing numbers of problems we humans face, when in fact, that will only delay the inevitable”.

I feel rewarded to know that there are others who feel the same way as I do. Thank you, Rick, and all of the others who have written or spoken to me in response to Population Matters! articles. I even appreciate hearing from people who do not agree with me. I count as a friend a man I haven’t met, but we communicate respectfully about abortion—a subject about which we have radically different ideas.

I am amazed that people do not make the connection between environmental issues and the human effect on Earth. After all, it is our profligate consumption and our ever-increasing numbers that are causing pollution, loss of species and global climate change—amongst other crises. Fortunately there are people, like Rick, who do “get it”; they understand the relationship, and are willing to do something about it.

Concern about human population became popular after Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb was published in 1968. Shortly afterwards, Zero Population Growth (which espoused reaching a steady state of population) was founded. Interest came to a halt in 1994 when the International Conference on Population and Development shifted the focus from population to “reproductive health.” The assumption was that providing reproductive health care would allow people to have as few children as they wanted.

The other part of that assumption is that economies were improving, and that fertility would decline as peoples’ wellbeing improved. Unfortunately, economic development implies increased consumption, so development is not an unmitigated blessing. Education (especially of girls) is all-around good, since education doesn’t need to increase consumption—but definitely is associated with smaller family size.

There were several reasons that people at ICPD turned away from population and toward RH. This huge conference of the United Nations needed to reach a consensus of the 179 nations attending (including the Holy See or Vatican) and RH was an easier concept for some countries to tolerate than population stabilization. A major reason that limiting population growth went out of favor is the abuses that were perpetrated in its name. In some countries people were coerced to use contraception or to have sterilization operations. China’s one child family policy is famous for being coercive, and there is evidence that some women were even forced to have abortions. We now recognize that the most successful family planning programs are totally voluntary.

So ICPD was a turning point away from concern about population. But how successful has the focus on RH been? In the fifteen years since ICPD the world’s population has increased by more than one billion people and atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 358 to 386 parts per million. Furthermore, we are now using the resources of about 1.3 planet earths, whereas in 1994 we only used about 10% more than was sustainable. We have not done well! I feel that attention has been distracted from the real issue.

How could this be? Why do people not pay more attention to population? I recommend a short video by a Harvard professor of psychology. Although it focuses on the related issue of global climate change, much of what it says also pertains to population:

An additional reason that population is even more taboo than climate may be more important. Population involves the issues of sexuality and contraception that many people—and religions—feel strongly about.

John Feeney, a Colorado journalist, has created the Global Speak Out on Population at The goal of GSOP is to bring the issue of human population back into the public’s consciousness. I suggest that you check out the website, and then sign the pledge of support.

Rick, you are correct; human population growth is the root cause of many of this planet’s problems. Thank you for recognizing this!

Published in the Durango Herald 2-09

The article above may be copied or published but must remain intact, with attribution to the author. I also request that the words “First published in the Durango Herald” accompany any publication. For more information, please write the author at:

Family Planning Media Reproductive Health

Utilize the Media for Reproductive Health

“To be effective, we need to tell our story in many songs and films.”

David M. Johns, in“Our Real Challenge: Managing Ourselves Instead of Nature”The media are valuable to keep people informed about the problems caused by our growing population. In addition, they can broadcast information about ways to slow our expansion. Even more important is their success in motivating people to change their beliefs and lifestyle.My wife and I recently visited Washington, DC for the Population Institute’s annual Global Media Awards. This column won the “Best Columnist” prize for the article I had written from India about the influence of poverty on population growth.There were thirteen other awardees attending, including people from Canada, Malawi and Cameroon. Except for me, all were professional journalists.The Population Institute ( has been working domestically and internationally for 38 years to promote interest in the effects of our mounting numbers. It has used education and political lobbying in attempts to slow our growth.One of its techniques has been to encourage coverage of population issues in the media. It runs its own news service to feed information about population to the media. Its annual Awards are given in different categories, including “Best Cartoonist” and “Best Electronic Forum.” The Durango Herald earned an early award. In 1971 the Herald was named “Best Daily in the US.” It is probably the only daily paper that runs a regular column on human population.In the past the Awards have been an excuse to travel. I explored Egypt and Thailand with the PI. Now, with new consciousness about global warming (and limited budgets) the ceremony was held on the PI’s home turf. They are located on Capitol Hill, easy walking distance to the heart of our national government.An advantage of attending the Awards was the opportunity to network. We traded ideas, and I picked up several themes for future columns.One of my goals has been to find a wider readership for this column. From the start Morley Ballantine was kind enough to allow me to keep the copyright to these articles for this purpose—thank you, Morley! I hope that new contacts will help me find new outlets for my writing.The editor of E-Magazine won an award for his story on the “birth dearth”. Some people are upset that many rich countries don’t have enough young people to perform menial labor. In fact, worldwide there is no lack of births, but the vast numbers of babies are born in poorer countries. Jim Motavalli pointed this out in his prize winning article. Jim has suggested that the online version of E-Magazine might be an appropriate medium for this column.My favorite winning entry was “Youth Alert!” from Africa. Victor Gama came all the way from Malawi to accept the award; it was his first time outside of his small, landlocked country. HIV is a serious problem there, as in most of sub-Saharan Africa. About one in seven young people carries the virus. Furthermore, the average Malawian woman bears more than six children.“Youth Alert!” works to keep people in their teens and early twenties safe. The program focuses on fighting pressure to have sex. The “Real Man” doesn’t succumb to peer pressure to have sex too early. Nor does the “Real Woman” yield to pressure from a “sugar daddy”, an older man who offers money or presents in exchange for sex.Delaying sexual debut is the goal for this program, which is described more fully at: The ultimate goal is similar to the failed abstinence-only programs here in the USA. Indeed, the Malawian program is partly funded by our government through USAID. Victor’s approach is playful, however. He held a nationwide competition to find amateur singing groups with songs that had the correct messages. The six winners (three female groups and three male) made professional music videos that will be screened on Malawian TV.Bill Ryerson, founder of the Population Media Center (, won an award for their use of radio and TV soap operas for social change. Empowerment of women, education about contraception and prevention of HIV transmission are the primary goals of their programs in a dozen countries.There are many ways to tell the story of population and reproductive health. Music videos and soap operas can reach wide audiences in developing countries. Fortunately, newspapers and magazines still have devoted readers back home. Thank you for reading this column. May your holidays be wonderful and filled with joy!© Richard Grossman MD, 2007[The article above may be copied or published but must remain intact, with attribution to the author. I also request that the words “First published in the Durango Herald” accompany any publication. For more information, please write the author at:]