Take this Survey

            Most surveys that come online seem to just be gimmicks to get me interested in a cause, then ask me for money. This survey won’t ask for money—just for your opinion on human population, consumption and endangered species.

            The Center for Biological Diversity has more people working on issues of human population than any other environmental organization in the USA. They are also working on sustainability, a closely related goal. It is estimated that a human population of 2 or 3 billion could be sustained by our planet’s resources. Of course, with a current population of 7 3/4 billion people we are far into overshoot.

The main thrust of the Center is to protect Earth’s biological diversity. They have their work cut out for them. According to a recent report from the UN, an estimated million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction in the coming decades!

The Center uses the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled plants and animals in the USA. Their chief strategy is to protect the habitat that these species need. There is also a large group working on climate law; remember that the climate crisis is caused by overpopulation (and overconsumption). Climate change is anthropogenic, and is one of the major factors causing loss of species.

Fortunately, the Center has recognized the connection between extinction of species and human population. I keep wondering why all environmental organizations don’t see this relationship. Are they afraid that they will lose supporters? Or do religious groups pressure the environmentalists to not wander into the field of contraception and abortion?

Seven years ago, the Center for Biological Diversity surveyed people to determine their attitudes on population. Currently they are performing a similar survey now to see if attitudes have changed, and they would like your input. Some of the current questions are the same as in 2013; it will be interesting to see if the answers are different.

Here is an example of a question from the first survey that was not repeated in the 2nd:

“Have you personally seen human population growth harming the environment, or not?”

Almost half of 657 respondents (who were all registered voters) said that they had seen this effect on the environment, and the same percentage responded that they had not.

            Here is a question from the old survey that is repeated in the current one:

“If widespread wildlife extinctions were unavoidable without slowing human population growth, do you think our society has a moral responsibility to address the problem, or not?”

In 2013 sixty percent of people responded “yes” to this question, 31% said “no” and 8% were “not sure”. It will be interesting to see if there is a shift in people’s answers to this question.

            Here’s some information for social science geeks: The 2013 survey was done by landline telephone and contacted a random sample of registered voters. The current methodology is different. It is online, and will have two samples. One is randomly selected and the other is a convenience sample—people like you and me who were not randomly selected. The Center plans to report out the findings of these two samples separately.

If you live in the USA and would like to take the survey, here is the url: 

I also recommend checking out the Center’s population programs. First go to, then click on “Programs” at the top. As you scroll down the “Population and Sustainability” page you will see several links, including to their Endangered Species Condoms. There’s a place to sign up for Pop X, the monthly newsletter “…that examines the connection between unsustainable human population, overconsumption and the extinction of plants and animals around the world.”

My purpose for writing these essays on population hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years. I want to stay positive, since limiting one’s fertility is already a goal of millions of women both here and worldwide. Another goal is to present people with actions they can take to slow population growth. Most of all, I want to keep human population in people’s minds as an issue with a solution. The Center’s survey will help me and them learn what people are thinking about population. I will be able to target my essays more accurately. The Center doesn’t want to be the sole environmental organization working in the field of population. The survey will help them understand better how to get more members of the environmental community to consider population when addressing the extinction crisis.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2020


Look Out for the Sahel

Field in Niger, Africa

To Deal with Environmental Problems

“Our common goal is the improvement of the quality of life for all, both now and for succeeding generations…. To deal with the social, economic and environmental problems, we must achieve zero population growth within the lifetime of our children.” 

Joint statement signed by 58 of the World’s Scientific Academies                                (1994, before ICPD)

Last month I wrote about the International Conference on Population and Development that took place in Cairo, Egypt, 25 years ago. That experience inspired me to increase my activism on population and to start writing these essays.

            The primary thrust of ICPD was to turn the global focus away from population and to bend it toward reproductive health. This change was in reaction to the dark side of some past population programs: coercive tactics to get people to accept family planning—especially sterilization. Although the goal was to be more humanitarian, it may backfire.

            After reading my November column on ICPD, a doctor whom I respect highly chided me. Dr. Malcolm Potts wrote “Richard, I was also at the ICPD, which I thought at the time – and continue to think – was a step backwards.”


             I appreciate the many comments I receive on my population essays. They help to inform and inspire me as well as keep me honest. Although I gave a positive slant to ICPD last month, I have to agree with Dr. Potts—that conference seemed to ignore that the world was already overpopulated 25 years ago.

            Another friend who was also there wrote: “I gave a paper on population issues and the unsustainability of current levels of population growth. …the attendance was light and nobody really cared.” Although the rate of growth has decreased in the intervening quarter century, we have gained over 2 billion more people. The climate crisis is evidence that our planet is even more overpopulated

             No place reflects the failure of ICPD more than sub-Saharan Africa, and especially the Sahel. It is a band across the center of Africa that has barely enough precipitation to support life. The land is overgrazed already and people are degrading the environment even more. Despite this, some of the world’s highest population growth rates are in the Sahel. The average woman in Niger (one of the Sahelian countries) will bear 7 children during her lifetime!

            Combine the area’s aridity and fast population growth with climate change and you have a recipe for a potential disaster. Add military conflicts and hundreds of thousands of refugees and things look even worse. Already many countries in the Sahel depend heavily on foreign aid for food, but that is not sustainable.

            Developments in the Sahel reminds me of what happened in a country a bit to the south. People in Rwanda had killed each other shortly before ICPD. Although ethnic and political causes are usually cited as the reasons of this genocide, another theory makes sense to me. James Gasana’s “Remember Rwanda” in World Watch magazine paints a different picture. As a former Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Gasana felt hunger due to overuse of resources fueled that violence.

            I am alarmed by an article published November 2019 in the journal Nature, “Avert catastrophe now in Africa’s Sahel”. Already there are thousands of people escaping Africa to Europe. We may see another genocide if crowding and conditions worsen in the Sahel.

4 suggestions to Prevent Catastrophe:

Invest in girls’ education and reconsider marriage laws. We all know that educating girls and women is one of the best ways to slow population growth—plus education is good in itself. What is less well known is that the norm in many places is for girls to be subjected to an arranged marriage when they are teens or younger.

Expand access to family planning. I spent time in Northern Ghana where large families are common. A program to increase access to family planning did little to slow growth. Why? Apparently the people there are loath to discard traditions and benefit from small family size. Organizations such as the Population Media Center could help change old practices.

Increase agricultural production. No till farming, mulching and techniques of water harvesting can increase production markedly.

Act now. The best chance to slow emigration from the Sahel and prevent disaster needs international aid to act quickly. However, the Sahel would be less likely to explode if ICPD had focused more on population 25 years ago.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2019