On World Population Day 2018, Population Matters took to the streets of London with a truck-mounted mobile digital display of the “population clock” – global population growth live. People reacted with surprise, disbelief and shock. Watch the video, see the reactions – and see the numbers tick up and up.
The Population Clock
Population clock on tour
We took the van to many London locations, from Trafalgar Square to the London School of Economics to Parliament and Oxford Street, one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. We also took it to the London HQ of Friends of the Earth, to remind them of the importance of tackling population growth to protect the environment.
The van also joined Population Matters’ London Group as they held a leafleting session near the National Gallery in London, with the help of Anthropocene campaign mascot, Big Foot.
World Population Day gallery
On World Population Day, we joined population organisations from across the world in asking for governments to respond to the Second World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. This statement, now signed by more than 20,000 scientists, demands action to avert environmental catastrophe – including on population. Support the warning and take action here.
Last November, 15,000 scientists urged governments to act to avoid what they bluntly called “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss”. They identified population growth as a “primary driver” of our global environmental crisis. Today, World Population Day, Population Matters is joining population groups from around the world to call for action.
The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice warned that runaway consumption of limited resources by a rapidly growing population is crippling the Earth’s life-support systems and jeopardising our future. Among the Warning’s 13 recommended actions were reducing fertility rates through education and family planning, and rallying political leaders behind the goal of establishing a sustainable human population.
The scientists went further yet, addressing individual choices about family size directly:
“It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most)…”
Governments must act
No government has provided a meaningful response to the warning – which since its release has been endorsed by an additional 5,000 scientists.
In consequence, sustainable population groups from the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Sweden and France have issued a joint statement (online here) which we are sending to our respective governments and political leaders. The statement calls on governments to detail what action they are taking on all of the Scientists’ Warning’s action points, and to endorse the warning.
In the UK, Population Matters has sent the statement to the Prime Minister, First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the Leader of the Opposition.
Sign the Warning
The Warning to Humanity has now been published online . The Alliance of World Scientists is now calling for support from all individuals and organisations. Sign to support the Warning here.
Contact political representatives
Please contact your government directly, and other political representatives to urge them to apply pressure to governments for action.Find out more, here.
According to a national YouGov poll commissioned by Population Matters, 74% of UK adults believe the government should have a national strategy for addressing population, while 64% think the rate of population growth projected by the Office for National Statistics is too high.
Conducted following the announcement that the UK population has topped 66 million, the poll also found that 63% of people supported the government setting targets for population. 50% believe the the current UK population is too high. Population Matters has called for the establishment of a Sustainable Population Policy in the UK.
The poll was coducted after the release of the most recent population estimates for the United Kingdom in June, showing that its population has reached 66 million – 10 million more than in 1985. The Office for National Statistics’ most recent projection for future growth is that the UK’s population will be just under 73m in 2041.
Poll shows concern across groups
The poll found consistent concern about population, across age groups, political positions and social classes. Only 2% of questioned people in total believe our population to be too low. Asked about the negative impacts of population, 41% thought pressure on public services was the most important effect and 15% thought housing pressures. Nine per cent were most concerned about impact on the environment and on quality of life.
Sustainable Population Policy
Population Matters is calling on all political parties to support the implementation of a Sustainable Population Policy for the UK. Its recommendations include setting targets for population and making population and demography the responsibility of a Cabinet Minister.
Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:
“The message of this poll couldn’t be clearer: people want politicians to address the overall issue of population and its impacts. Across all the main political parties, including across the polarised positions on Brexit, those who want action or are concerned about our present and projected population numbers, outnumber those who are satisfied or think population is too low.
“Whilst plenty of polls have told us about people’s concerns about immigration, this is the first recent poll to look beyond that narrow framing and focus on the numbers, as provided by the best available analysis. As such, it tells policy-makers that the public have broader, legitimate concerns about population pressure that cannot be dismissed as based merely on ideology, party affiliation, polarised positions on Brexit, or simply ignorance.”
“People across the board are looking for intelligent, forward-planning and positive action on population from government – a strategy for the immediate and long-term to achieve a population in balance with the available resources and infrastructure of our country, and wider, shared global ecosystems. That’s what Population Matters is calling for, a Sustainable Population Policy underpinned by best available evidence and recognising wider planetary responsibilities and human rights.”
More details on the results of the poll can be found on our press release here.
As part of our mission and commitment to giving people the power to make that choice, Population Matters is proud to announce the launch of our new crowdfunding project, Empower to Plan. Through Empower to Plan, PM supporters can donate money directly to practical family planning projects, making a difference where it’s needed most.
Women around the world want the power to choose how many children to have – and when. Evidence shows that where women are empowered, there’s a natural fall in birth rate. Yet many women – both in developed countries and in the Global South – lack the contraception, knowledge and freedom to take control of their fertility.
Worldwide, an estimated 200 million women who don’t want to become pregnant lack those basic needs. Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies can limit their life choices and keep their families – and even their communities – trapped in a cycle of poverty. Meeting women’s unmet need for family planning and empowerment not only gives them the chance to improve their own lives, but naturally brings down birth rates – helping tackle the wider issue of unsustainable population growth.
At Population Matters, our role is to advocate and campaign for the changes that will bring population to sustainable levels – an urgent task, given how few political leaders and influencers even recognise the need for action. We know that that action is simple and ethical, and that it helps people in many other ways. We want to help it happen, and show just how effective it is.
Empower to Plan offers Population Matters supporters the opportunity to donate directly to carefully selected grassroots organisations, delivering empowerment and change where it’s needed. 100% of the money goes to them, with Population Matters bearing the administration costs. Each is taking practical action, aligned with our mission and values, and with a proven track record of impact. They are making a positive, immediate difference to people’s lives, and showing how easy it is to relieve the pressure of population on communities and our planet itself.
We are working with three organisations initially.
WINGS Guatemalaprovides quality reproductive health education and services to underserved, primarily rural, Guatemalan youth, women and men. WINGS aims to raise £2,400 through Empower to Plan – enough money to pay for the contraceptives distributed by five of their local Volunteer Health Promoters over the course of a year.
You Before Twois a UK-based sex education project with a mission to help adolescent girls at high risk of teenage pregnancy to make informed, positive decisions about their fertility and their futures. Following very succesful work on a smaller scale, the project aims to use money from its £3,000 Empower to Plan target to scale up, taking its life-changing programme to a large number of girls regionally.
CHASE Africa works across East Africa to deliver family planning and healthcare to marginalised communities, via a network of local NGO partners. The charity takes a rights-based approach that always prioritises the needs of the people it serves. CHASE’s £3,000 target will help cover the cost of three mobile day-clinics in Kenya, enabling up to 600 people to access modern contraception.
Supporting Empower to Plan and Population Matters
Read more about E2P, here. You can also follow the links above to learn more about the individual projects and donate directly on their pages.
On Saturday, Population Matters’s 2018 conference, Climate change and Us: more feet, more heat? took place in London. Despite appalling weather in the run up to the event, hundreds of people turned up for a fascinating and engaging afternoon of discussions. Our international panel covered a wide range of topics, including the effects of climate change, its impacts on food supply, the challenges of empowering women and the future paths of population and emissions.
Ice, sustainability and food
After a brief welcome by Population Matters director Robin Maynard, the conference first heard from PM patron, Adrian Hayes, and PM Advisory Council member, Prof Peter Wadhams.
In Adrian’s arresting keynote address, he gave a telling account of his experience as an adventurer in Greenland and the Antarctic, where melting ice was not an abstraction but a daily challenge and danger. Drawing a clear link between population growth and climate change, Adrian proposed a more comprehensive and holistic definition of sustainability than is often used, describing it as “the most over-used and misunderstood word in the English language today”.
Peter’s presentation amplified and substantiated Adrian’s accounts of his polar travels. As one of the world’s leading polar scientists with more than 47 years’ experience of visiting and measuring ice at the poles, he provided a lucid and sobering explanation of the impact of global warming on the poles, and the way in which the disappearance of polar ice is itself hastening global warming, and contributing to extreme weather events such as the March blizzards preventing some people attending the conference.
Peter’s talk also highlighted the link between global temperature variations and food shortages and price rises, illustrating how the production of many staple grains will be reduced by climate change. With food demand set to soar as a result of rising global population, his talk provided a clear idication of how climate change will affect hundreds of milions of people’s lives very directly.
Womens’ empowerment and global justice
Peter was followed by Farah Kabir, the director of Action Aid Bangladesh, an NGO working across 40 countries to end poverty and empower people in the global south, especially women and girls. Farah’s presentation – Population and climate change: a South perspective – also addressed the challenges of population growth and food supply but she concentrated on the structural and economic factors also at play. She warned of the dangers of focussing solely on population and family size when people in the poorest countries are responsible for a fraction of the emissions of those in developed countries.
Farah noted that poverty, lack of education, culture and patriarchy – control of women’s bodies – are some of the key reasons for population growth and that models of development that fail to address inequality and favour industrialisation and consumption are bad for both people in the Global South and for the global environment.
The population picture
The final presentation before moving onto the panel discussion was by Robin, tying together the population and climate change picture. Robin repeated and amplified Farah’s point about the hugely disproportionate impact of people in the developed world, noting the conclusions of a 2017 study that suggested having one fewer child is by far the most effective individual measure to reduce emissions for a person in the developed world.
Robin also noted that there is little evidence in contraction of consumption in the developed world (or globally) and that “contraction and convergence” (ie less overall consumption and emissions matched with greater equality between nations across the world) will require lower numbers of people across the board.
His presentation examined how even countries with low average per capita emissions such as India can still be major contributors to climate change if their population is high. With population set to grow most dramatically in the developing world, Robin emphasised the vital role that family planning and women’s education can play, highlighting 2017’s Project Drawdown analysis of policy responses to climate change, which concluded that family planning and girls’ education were among the top ten practical solutions available today.
Following the break, the speakers were joined for the panel discussion by Judy Ling Wong, President of the Black Environment Network and Ambassador of the Women’s Environmental Network. (Former Guardian environment editor John Vidal who had also been expected to join the panel was defeated by climate change itself, with his train from Wales cancelled because of snow!).
Expertly chaired by Sara Parkin and guided by written questions from the audience, the panel’s wide-ranging discussions covered many aspects of the issue, with a great deal of emphasis put on the value of genuinely empowering women. Panellists also addressed the failings in the political response to climate change in the UK and elsewhere – and what message should be sent to the British Royal family regarding family size – to which Sara Parkin firmly answered “stop at two!”.
Robin Maynard wound up the conference, affirming the sense of positivity and constructive engagement that had emerged from it. He briefly touched upon next steps, including the work Population Mattes intends to take up working with international partners.
Both speakers and audience members seemed to judge the event a success and we are delighted that so many people – many of whom were new to the issue – joined us in spite of the weather.
We need your support to extend the reach of our campaigning, advocacy and education activities. Please consider becoming a member* or making a one-off donation towards our work – and join thousands of people across the world who are already taking positive action to change policies and influence behaviour.
2017 saw, of course, a further expansion of the population of human beings on our planet – since 2015, from 7.2bn to 7.56bn. That disappointing but entirely expected news was counterbalanced by signs of progress in the campaign to highlight and generate action on the population threat. Population Matters contributed to drive that debate and we are optimistic that understanding will grow in 2018.
Global gag rule
The year started with disturbing news – the re-imposition and expansion by President Trump of the ‘global gag rule’. Withdrawing US aid funds from organisations offering abortion or information about it is deeply damaging to vital family planning and other health services in the world’s poorest countries – frequently those with very high population growth. While the impact will really take place when he next funding cycle begins, organisations are already reporting a direct impact on their services, and the well-being of the people they serve.
Population Matters has supported the campaign to address the impact of the cuts. Some hope was provided by the London Family Planning summit in July when other governments and big donors pledged more money, including in support of the SheDecides initiative.
Sustainable Population Policy
In June, to coincide with the snap UK election, in June we launched our Sustainable Population Policy, a framework for bringing UK population to sustainable levels. Neither the current or any recent UK governments have had any population or demography policy, despite our continued and high levels of population growth. Population Matters’ policy sets out principles that must be considered in creating a population strategy, including setting realistic targets, taking account of the international impacts of domestic policy decisions and respecting the rights of all UK citizens and residents.
Welcome to the Anthropocene
Big Foot at the Natural History Museum
In July, the Natural History Museum in London received a visit from Big Foot, our new campaign mascot – a life-sized human sculpture made of a mesh of steel babies and standing upon a squashed planet Earth. Big Foot is our symbol for the Anthropocene, the period in the lifespan of our planet in which human beings have become the major force shaping the Earth. From altering our climate to leaving radioactive traces in our rocks and bringing about the Sixth Mass Extinction, human beings – as a result of our massive population growth – are now the main drivers of what used to be called “natural history”.
Our campaign has called upon organisations which educate the public about the natural world to ensure that people know about the Anthropocene and the impact of our activities. We delivered an 1,800 signature petition to Sir Michael Dixon, director of the NHM, calling on him to ensure that the museum does its part. He has replied that:
Understanding man’s relationship with and impact on the natural world is central to our public programme and our scientific research. Of course, we do seek expert input to our work and, where appropriate, Population Matters is certainly an organisation we would wish to consult and potentially work with.
We have contacted other organisations, such as Kew Gardens, London Zoo and the Eden Project. The director of Kew Gardens wrote
I agree entirely that this is an extremely important issue and that building public understanding of the issue and mitigating actions is critical.
The campaign has contributed to a debate in the media, including an article in The Times and a number of local media articles accompanying Big Foot’s travels around the country. Wherever we take him, he stimulates interest and discussion – with most people quickly recognising what he represents.
The year also saw the launch of our popular Small families, small planetvideo, in which young people respond spontaneously to learning about the impact of population on the planet. The video has now been seen more than 10,000 times.
Waking up to poulation impacts
The year has seen increasing recognition of the effects of population growth in the media. A hard-hitting opinion piece by our patron Chris Packham in January was followed by a number of articles in key publications, including a prominently featured letter in The Guardianby PM director Robin Maynard and PM patron Jonathon Porritt.
Population and family size also featured in reporting of a number of science stories in the year. This year, a study was published identifying that having one fewer child was the most effective step an individual in the developed world can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In November,a stark warning was issued by 15,000 scientists about the gravity of the environmental threats we are facing. They were unambiguous about the role of population growth in the crisis, stating:
“[b]y failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”
They went on:
“It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most)…”
Progress on population
While the UN projections issued this year foresee our population reaching 11bn by the end of the century, they also show that if, on average, there was just half-a-child less in each family than it anticipates, our population in 2100 could be lower than it is today.
For that to happen, a concerted effort must be made to bring modern contraception to the 200 million women in need of it, to educate and empower women and girls so that they are free and able to plan their family size and to challenge opposition to contraception and social conventions that favour large families.
Allied with action to address our unsustainable consumption, these measures provide real hope for the (smaller) generations to come.
Support Population Matters
Population Matters is one of a handful of organisations across the world focussing on the environmental threats caused by unsustainable population. Please join us and support our work and campaigns in 2018. Thank you.
Population Matters has today launched a new video and campaign focusing on the positive impact of smaller family size. Presenting young people with the facts about population growth and its impact on our planet, it elicits some reactions of amazement and horror, and sees participants thinking again about the impacts of their own choices.
Small families, small planet uses animations to reveal the truth about our numbers, our consumption and the importance of bringing down family size in both the developing and the developed world. The film records the authentic reactions of randomly selected young people as the information is projected on a screen in front of them.
Video surprises and enlightens
Its focus is on the key statistic that while the UN projects a population of 11.2 billion by the end of the century, just one fewer child in every second family than it expects would see the global population lower than it is today by then. This striking statistic shows that far from being an impossible problem, the power to achieve sustainable population levels is in our hands. As one participant says at the end of the video: “everyone is powerful; everyone can make a difference.”
Having smaller families
How big a family to have is a very personal choice and our new web pages about smaller families look at the decision from global and personal perspectives. Featuring testimonies about their experiences from people who have small families or are child-free, we hope they will help people with one of the most important decisions they can make.
PM held a stall at the conference – featuring our Anthropocene campaign ambassador, Big Foot – to bring the message that any discussion of food production must also look at demand for food arising from population growth.
The Anthropocene in action
Attendees at the conference heard in depth about the human impact on the environment, much of the content reinforcing the messages of PM’s Welcome to the Anthropocene campaign. Issues such as the decimation of bees, climate change and the Sixth Mass Extinction were discussed and audiences were left in no doubt about the role of intensive livestock production – especially the production of animal feed – in driving these problems.
There are 23 billion domesticated birds alive at any one time on the planet (WWF)
Up to 40% of all crops grown globally are for animal feed (CIWF)
The livestock industry contributes 14% of greenhouse gas emissions (FAO)
Vulnerable natural habitats such as the Amazon Cerrado and Yangtze River basin are already used to grow feed for livestock (WWF)
A consistent message reinforced throughout the event was the need to move towards more plant-based diets, a measure that Population Matters has advocated as a way for individuals to reduce their impact.
Human populations drive food demand and extinction
A number of presentations and speakers touched on the impact of human population growth- both as a direct threat to the environment and a driver of demand for food. Some addresed the issue directly – one said “we’re overpopulated and we all know it” – and a speaker from WWF recognised the importance of family planning and women’s education and empowerment as tools to help prevent extinction through reducing population pressure.
Overall, however, the issue was very under-represented. Nevertheless, when PM director Robin Maynard raised it during a question and answer session, his remarks received a round of applause and almost all delegates who visited the Population Matters stall expressed support for our position.
Find out more
Our Welcome to the Anthropocene campaign details the impact of human beings on the natural world, and calls on natural history organisations such as museums to do more to inform the public.
In a week in which scientists warned that other species are facing “biological annihilation”, Population Matters is urging organisations which educate the public about natural history to stop pulling their punches and tell people what’s really going on. Earlier today, we launched our new ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ campaign outside London’s world-famous Natural History Museum, with the help of Big Foot, a spectacular and provocative “exhibit”.
Life-size Big Foot is made of hundreds of steel mesh “babies” and is standing on, or rather in, a squashed planet Earth with the remains of living things on his over-sized foot. A strong message which we think is needed to help people wake up to the danger the living world faces and the urgent need to do something about it.
Last month, our director Robin and PM patrons Chris Packham and Professor Aubrey Manning wrote to the Natural History Museum’s director, Sir Michael Dixon, asking him to ensure that the museum provides its millions of visitors with vital information about the state of our planet. In their letter they asked him to ensure the museum “takes the lead in presenting the facts about the impacts of our species upon the Earth, its biodiversity and ecosystems”, saying it is entirely in line with the museum’s stated mission:
“to challenge the way people think about the natural world – its past, present and future. We aim to stimulate public debate about humanity’s future and equip our audiences at every level with an understanding of science.”
Welcome to the Anthropocene
The impact of human beings been on the Earth in the last 200 years has been so deep that scientists are now calling for our period in the planet’s history to be called the ‘Anthropocene’ – the age of humans. Tragically, our impact has almost always been for the worse. Species of animals and plants are disappearing so fast that scientists and conservationists call it the ‘sixth mass extinction’.
The fine balance of chemicals in our air and seas has been disrupted with dangerous consequences – our carbon emissions are driving global warming and ocean acidification, while excesses of nitrogen and phospohorous from industry and agriculture are turning parts of the sea into dead zones.
Our enormous population growth – we are now adding a billion people every 12 to 15 years – and consumption are driving these changes. Population growth is not inevitable and we can end and reverse it, to the benefit of everyone, and everything, on our planet.
Find out more about the Anthropocene, the reasons for it and how we can help put things right on our Welcome to the Anthropocene campaign page.
In the coming weeks and months, we shall be contacting museums, zoos, conservation groups and other organisations across the world to urge them to tell the public the truth about the natural world in the ‘age of humans’.
Population Matters is calling for the next government to adopt a national Sustainable Population Policy. With population growth affecting almost every aspect of national life, it is an issue that can no longer be sidelined or partially addressed on a piecemeal basis. If you are a UK citizen, please contact your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to ask them to support the call.
The UK’s population is growing at a rate that has not been seen for more than 40 years. That growth affects people’s quality of life, their economic opportunities and the health of the environment they live in (learn more). It makes it more challenging to house everyone, to provide infrastructure and public services and for the UK to meet its international obligations in regard to climate change.
This comprehensive challenge demands an integrated and effective solution. The UK needs a National Population Policy which is managed and driven at the highest levels of government.
The policy should:
Accurately determine future population growth in the UK and what factors and policies will affect it
Assess the impact of population on other policy fields (such as climate change targets and public services) and integrate population policy into those areas
Set targets for ending population growth and stabilising population at a sustainable level
Develop an integrated policy framework to meet these targets, including through reducing the birth rate and reducing net migration
Ensure the UK takes positive, effective action through aid and intergovernmental activity to support stabilising the global population
In addition to these basic requirements, the policy must recognise the impact of decisions made in the UK on other countries and ensure it meets all its obligations for refugees and asylum seekers. Achieving a stable and sustainable population in the UK can and must be done ethically and fairly, and while respecting the human rights of all who live in the UK and beyond.
In addition to adopting a National Population Policy, there are other steps the next government should take to address population challenges at home and abroad.
Protection of the existing 0.7% GDP principle in determining levels of overseas aid, and the devotion of increased levels of aid for education and family planning in developing countries with high fertility rates. 200m women worldwide have an unmet need for contraception, while length of education has a direct correlation with reduction in family size in developing countries.
Dealing with our growing global population requires a global approach. Countries must work together through institutions like the UN to establish coordinated policies which put action and resources where they are most needed and which recognise the impact of national policies beyond a country’s own borders.
However, governments have the greatest power to make changes in their own countries and should adopt policies to stabilise their own populations at sustainable levels. Each country has different challenges, population dynamics and requirements and all will require to develop their own integrated policies. The basic principles outlined in our proposal will be relevant almost everywhere.