“Time is running out”: 15,000 scientists demand action

15,000 scientists have signed onto a letter warning that the Earth faces environmental disaster unless action is taken to prevent it. Their warning was published 25 years after the Union of Concerned Scientists published a similar warning in 1992. The latest warning reports that in almost every respect, our environmental crisis has worsened since then, and that “time is running out”.

Population first problem

The scientists identify population growth as the “primary driver” of the key problems, noting:

“[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 note how the original warning in 1992 (when the Earth’s population was 2 billion less than it is today) “pleaded” for action on population growth.

They identify what they consider to be the major problems:

“Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production— particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption. Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.”

Scientists call for action

The scientists note good news in the fields of poverty reduction, reduction of fertility rates, controlling ozone-depleting substances, reduced deforestation in some areas and growth in the renewable energy sector. They are clear, however, that this is not enough.

“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”

Taking action

It is vital for people to understand the extent of the crisis facing the Earth, and the role population growth plays in it. Please share the graphics below on your social media, if you have it.

See here for more campaign actions.

Read more about the solutions to unsustainable population.

Should greens back immigration controls?

Jonathon Porritt

Two senior green campaigners have today released a paper calling on UK environmentalists and people on the political left to recognise the need for action on immigration. PM patron Jonathon Porritt and Colin Hines argue in The progressive case for taking control of EU immigration – & avoiding Brexit in the process that progressive politicians should adopt a policy of “no new mass immigration” and end reflexive support for the principle of free movement of people.

They maintain that doing so will increase social justice, help address environmental problems, weaken the influence of right wing populism and be of benefit to many countries which currently lose people through emigration to the UK and other developed countries.

Immigration and globalisation

The paper outlines the extent of population growth and the role of net migration in driving it in the UK and describes how public concern about immigration has been consistently high and was a major contributing factor to the Brexit decision.

Porritt and Hines affirm their own belief in the value of immigration, the obligation to respect the rights of existing immigrants and their profound opposition to racism and xenophobia. They argue that progressive politicians have, however, long had a confused approach to immigration and that ignoring or rejecting public concerns on the issue is counterproductive and unjustifiable.

In the view of the authors, population pressure has contributed to inequality and declining quality of public services in the UK – although they maintain that the root cause of these problems is government policies starving services and infrastructure of resources.

They also maintain that freedom of movement tends to favour the wealthy and the neoliberal globalisation agenda, by depressing some wages and enhancing the power and freedom of corporations and employers, rather than workers.

Immigration and economic development

The paper addresses the challenging issue of how migration tends to push up environmental harms, as people move to places with greater economic development and higher environmental footprints. (That dynamic applies to British emigrants too – two of the top three UK emigration destinations, the US and Australia, have higher per capita CO2 emissions than the UK.)

The authors recognise that despite potential environmental harms, people living in developing countries have a fundamental right to economic development. It states:

“First and foremost, we have to redouble the commitments that we make to improve people’s economic and social prospects in [potential emigrants’] own countries. And the crucial thing is to tackle the root cause of why people feel they have no choice but to leave friends and communities in the first place.with genuine and effective action to improve people’s economic situation in their own countries.” 

The population taboo

In a concluding note on population, the paper says:

“In a world where overall population growth projections are rising, and where global migration is also on the increase, it is a complete dereliction of environmentalists’ duty to protect the planet to continue to ignore population growth and not to campaign for its reduction. Without this decrease, all solutions to other aspects of ecological and social concern are made far more difficult to deal with. This refusal to engage becomes harder and harder to explain.”

Population Matters’ support

In a statement of support for the paper, PM director Robin Maynard said:

An early draft of this report was titled, ‘Getting real about immigration’ – being directed at the Green Party and the green movement generally that would have been a good title; even better with one small change, ‘Getting real about population’.

As Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt demonstrate, the green movement, which prides itself on being ‘progressive’, has been willfully blind to the issue of population, whether here in the UK or globally. It is particularly ironic, that by dismissing the concerns of a broad swathe of the British public about uncontrolled immigration and overall population growth, the greens find themselves in harness with neo-liberal free-marketeers and unscrupulous employers, who exploit fine principles about ‘free movement of people’ to force down wages and avoid investing in training. As NHS budgets are squeezed, desperate hospital trusts are forced to suck in already trained doctors and nurses from elsewhere – such as Romania, where the number of doctors has fallen by one-third over the past 5 years – making the UK the second largest importer (or should that be depleter?) of health workers in the world.

The latest projections, released last month, by the Office of National Statistics estimate that the UK population will grow to just under 70 million over the next 10 years and by another 16 million over the next 100 years. Globally, the world population is projected to reach over 11 billion people by 2100 – with much of that increase occurring in countries already suffering from the impacts of climate change, conflict and economic stresses. It is indeed time for the green movement to ‘get real’ about the issue of population. Not least, in supporting PM’s call for the UK Government to develop a Sustainable Population Policy.’

Are we heading for 3 degrees hotter?

The United Nations has warned that unless a greater commitment is made to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Agreement “target” of a rise in global temperature of no more than 2 degrees will be missed. It identifies a realistic scenario in which temperatures may rise by 3 degrees – a scenario that spells catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people.

“Urgent need”

The UN’s 2017 Emissions gap report examines the extent to which action to meet climate change targets measures up to what is actually needed to achieve them. It reports that there is “an urgent need for accelerated short-term action and enhanced longer-term national ambition if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to remain achievable.”

The report finds that action by individual countries to meet their own existing targets is not yet sufficiently effective but is also clear that those targets are themselves inadequate, saying “the gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high”.

Progress – but not enough

Carbon dioxide emissions have remained broadly the same since 2014, although atmospheric concentrations of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, continue to rise. Growing investment in alternative forms of energy has helped to reduce its price and the report’s authors believe “practical and cost effective measures” are available to meet the Paris Agreement goals.

Erik Solkheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program, said:

“We still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future. This is unacceptable. If we invest in the right technologies, ensuring that the private sector is involved, we can still meet the promise we made to our children to protect their future. But we have to get on the case now.”

The consequences of 3 degrees

Limits to Growth
Shanghai

Scientists have warned that a temperature rise of 3 degrees will lead to a devastating rise in sea levels.  According to an article in The Guardian, Climate Central estimates that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that will eventually be flooded if temperatures rise that high.

Among many other low-lying coastal cities, Miami, Shanghai, Osaka and Alexandria would be swamped. In the UK, large parts of eastern England and in particular Lincolnshire could be consumed by the sea.

Population and climate change

Adding more human beings to the global population increases emissions, exacerbates climate change and reduces the positive impact of ay other measures taken. A study this year by researchers from the University of Lund and British Columbia found that the single most effective step any individual in the developed world can take to reduce their carbon footprint is to have one fewer child.

An earlier study identified improving women’s education and family planning as among the most effective, achievable policies available to address global warming – because of their positive impact on reducing family size and population growth.

Policy gap

So far, however, discussion of such policies and the need to stabilise population at sustainable levels has not been on the policy agenda for mitigating climate change.

A century of growth: latest UK population projections

UK population growth 1991-2041. Source: ONS

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today released its projections for population in the UK over the next 100 years. They show a slowdown in anticipated population growth in comparison to the previous projections (issued in 2015) – but nevertheless anticipate a population of nearly 73m by 2041. The rarely reported long term projection anticipates a population of 85 million in 2116 – 30 per cent more than the UK’s population today. It also expects the population to still be growing in a century’s time.

Revised projections

In today’s National population projections: 2016-based, the ONS ascribes the lower projections to a number of factors, including reduced net immigration, lower than anticipated fertility and more modest increases in longevity than previously anticipated. Over the next 10 years, it expects 54 per cent of population growth in the UK to be caused by net migration and 46 per cent to be the result of “natural increase”, ie a greater number of births than deaths.

ONS estimates that in the ten years up to 2026:

7.7 million people will be born

6.1 million people will die

5.2 million people will immigrate long-term to the UK

3.2 million people will emigrate long-term from the UK

Population growth in the next 25 years will be lower than in the last 25 years: 7.3m until 2041, compared to 8.2m between 1991 and 2016.

Long term uncertainty

In addition to its “principal” projection, ONS produces “variant” projections, reflecting the effects of changes in the various factors underlying population, such as fertility rates and proportion of younger people (ie of childbearing age) in the overall population. For 2041, the highest projection among these is 77m people, the lowest is 67.3m. ONS has yet to publish the variant projections for 100 years but in 2014, the highest figure was 114m and the lowest 61m.

No end to growth

A key finding of the report, consistent with projections over the last 10 years, is that it foresees no peak in population growth. Before 2003, official projections expected the population of the UK to stop growing but since 2004, projections up to one-hundred years in advance have shown no peak.

In addition, expected population at the end of the projection period has consistently increased. In 1981, projected peak was 4.1m above the then-population of 56 million (an increase of 7.3% over 60 years). In today’s projections (which are based on 2016 population figures), there is no peak projected and the projected popoulation in 2116 is, as noted above, 30 per cent more than current population.

Government response to population: “improvisations, bodges and knee-jerk reactions”

In a statement to the media, Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:

Robin Maynard and Big Foot
Credit: Roxene Anderson Photography

“The small reduction in expected population growth since the 2014-based projections is welcome but the population of the UK is unsustainable now: today’s figures show that our environment, our infrastructure and our public services will face mounting and unbearable pressure for at least another century. The absolute numbers are frightening enough but the underlying trend is even more alarming. The ONS expects our population to keep growing for at least a hundred years – in what is already one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. It’s worth repeating: if the ONS is right, a child born today will know nothing but an ever-increasingly crowded country until the day they die.

“When you look at the huge range of variant projections for population growth in both short and long terms, it’s clear that multiple factors contributing to population growth offer the government multiple levers to affect it. Despite this, in the face of an extra 20 million people or more by the next century, there is apparently no dedicated planning or policy response from central government. We must not accept that endless population growth is inevitable and that policy on demography should be an endless series of increasingly torturous improvisations, bodges and knee-jerk reactions. It is time to start talking openly and honestly about population. The stark message from these figures is that a proper, joined-up, strategic policy for sustainable population in the UK is needed now. In fact, it was needed a generation ago.”

Sustainable population policy

Population Matters has proposed a Sustainable Population Policy for the UK, which takes a strategic approach to bringing population to sustainable levels. Learn more about the policy here.

NHS fails to adapt to population growth

The new Chief Inspector of Hospitals in England has concluded that the NHS has not adapted to cope with the growth in population and is therefore “not fit for the 21st Century”.

Lacking investment and failing to modernise

According to Professor Ted Baker, who began his appointed role last month, the UK’s National Health Service has failed to modernise because of historic lack of investment. In an interview with The Telegraph, Prof Baker stated: “The model of care we have got is still the model we had in the 1960s and 70s.”

As a former hospital medical director, Prof Baker also noted that: “The one thing I regret is that 15 or 20 years ago, when we could see the change in the population, the NHS did not change it’s model of care.”

His comments resonate with other recent reviews of service provision in the NHS. Just last month, a study by health charities the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust noted:

“Arguably, NHS hospitals have never been under greater strain than they are today. Population growth, combined with an increasing proportion of older people more likely to need health care, is driving greater demand for NHS hospital treatment – from A&E attendances and emergency admissions to referrals, outpatient services, diagnostic tests and elective admissions.”

Both Prof Baker and the NHS hospital bed numbers report identify multiple factors as contributing to the challenges faced by the NHS, including reduced funding relative to demand and other government policies.

Steady population increase

In the last three decades, the population has risen by nearly 16%, while the number of pensioners has risen by more than one third. Increasing numbers of people are living longer, adding to the pressures put on the NHS.

Source: Office for National Statistics


Prof Baker commented “Capacity is being squeezed all the time. That is a real concern going forward because there comes a point at which the capacity isn’t there”.

From challenge to opportunity

At Population Matters, we recognise the concerns over an ageing population, especially when it comes to services and healthcare. Yet we believe that any solution which involves boosting the numbers of young people simply postpones the problem and makes it even more difficult to address in the future.

It is important that we also recognise the opportunities of an ageing population and find new ways to ensure older people can continue to contribute and participate in economic and social life to the full extent they choose.

For more information about ageing populations, visit here.

International Safe Abortion Day

September 28th is International Safe Abortion Day; a day to mark advances in sexual and reproductive health and rights and to advocate for access to safe abortions worldwide. In the wake of the resurgence of the Global Gag Rule, this year’s International Safe Abortion Day is perhaps more important than ever before. 


Prevalence of unsafe abortions globally

According to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute, 25 million unsafe abortions (45% of all abortions globally) occurred each year between 2010 and 2014. The majority of these unsafe abortions, or 97%, occurred in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Source: Guttmacher Institute, 2017

Abortions that were considered ‘less safe’ included those where a woman was taking pills alone or was using a method of abortion no longer considered best practice. By comparison, abortions categorised as ‘least safe’ involved dangerous backstreet measures such as swallowing toxic substances or else inserting wires in an attempt to induce a miscarriage.

“I Resist, We Persist”

More than 200 million women worldwide have an unmet need for modern contraception, particularly in developing countries. Yet international and non-governmental organisations working to meet these needs, as well as to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights, are facing dire setbacks.

In response to US President Trump’s decision to reinstate and expand the Global Gag Rule, governments and organisations from around the world have banded together to create the She Decides initiative. On International Safe Abortion Day, She Decides has publicly stated that it is “unapologetic about pushing for a world where everyone can access abortion safely.”

Source: She Decides, 2017

Take Action

Population Matters supports universal access to safe, effective contraception, and looks forward to the day when there are no unwanted pregnancies and abortion is no longer required. In 2017, it remains an essential component of voluntary family planning and we support the right of women to access safe abortions. Population Matters is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing She Decides. We have also joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the Gag rule.

Please join the campaign to defend family planning:

  1. Support the She Decides initiative.
  2. Sign the international petition.
  3. Ask your elected representative to push their governments to provide additional aid for family planning.  (If you are a UK citizen, you can use WriteToThem to identify and contact them.)

Progress but not a cure: bill to repeal Global Gag Rule

US Senate is to review a funding bill that if passed would mitigate the effects President Trump’s Gag Rule has on women’s sexual and reproductive health worldwide.

Senator Shaheen

Senator Jeanne Shaheen has amended the Foreign Operations Funding Bill so that it would restore funding cut by President Trump and permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule – a U.S. government policy that blocks U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organisations that provide abortion counselling or referrals, advocate to decriminalise abortion, or expand abortion services.

“My amendment will preserve and restore funding levels for international organizations that help to prevent over fifty million unintended pregnancies around the world, and reduce the number of maternal deaths we see from those accessing unsafe abortions when the lack of family planning leaves them without options,” explains Senator Shaheen.

Importantly, the language of the bill replaces that which was originally taken from – and codifies – the Global Gag Rule with that from the progressive Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act – a policy Senators Jeanne Shaheen snd Susan Collins introduced a day after the Global Gag Rule was reinstated, with support from Democrat and Republican senators.

The amended legislation means the Senate now has the opportunity to counter the Global Gag Rule and remedy the devastating effects the policy has on women globally. Population Matters welcomes the amendments to the bill and supports the continued efforts to counter the effects of the Global Gag Rule.

Taking Action

Population Matters opposes the decision by the Trump administration to ban all US overseas aid to organisations which provide abortion or information about it. This decision hits hardest communities and countries where family planning saves lives and helps lift people out of poverty.

Population Matters is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing the She Decides initiative. We have also joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule. You can help by joining our campaign today. 

Nobel laureates: population growth a major threat

A survey of 50 Nobel laureates has found that many recognise population growth to be among the greatest threats to humanity today.

A survey carried out by Times Higher Education, in association with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, drew responses from almost a quarter of living Nobel Prize winners for chemistry, physics, physiology, medicine and economics. Nobel Laureates were asked to respond to the questions: “What is the biggest threat to humankind, in your view? And is there anything science can do to mitigate it?”

Threats facing humanity

One in three respondents cited population growth and environmental degradation, making this the highest-ranking threat in comparison to all other responses.

Source: Times Higher Education, 2017

“Climate change [and providing] sufficient food and fresh water for the growing global population… are serious problems facing humankind,” responded one Laureate. “Science is needed to address these problems and also to educate the public to create the political will to solve these problems.”

Other respondents who cited environmental issues also mentioned concerns over feeding and supplying water, as well as opposition to genetically-modified products given their potential to boost agricultural output.

Threats also mentioned which ranked lower compared to population growth included nuclear war, infectious disease breakouts, ignorant leaders (including Donald Trump), as well as artificial intelligence.

Taking action

According to John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, “There is a consensus that heading off these dangers requires political will and action, the prioritisation of education on a global scale, and above all avoiding the risk of inaction through complacency.”

At Population Matters we advocate for taking effective action on climate change, starting with smaller families. We also recognise the inherent benefits of global education and empowerment of women, both in bringing down family sizes as well as contributing to overall human rights and well-being.

To learn more about our vision and values, please visit here.

For more information on what we can do to turn the tide of population growth and environmental degradation, be sure to visit our newly launched Solutions page.

Global initiatives support smaller families

Accelerated population growth poses major challenges worldwide, especially for countries with high growth and few resources to cope. In response to these pressures, initiatives across the globe are underway to provide people with the knowledge and tools they need to help turn the tide of overpopulation.

Here we look at some recent initiatives that are making headlines:


“Itnein Kifaya” (“Two is Enough”) program to curb population growth, Egypt

Egypt is currently facing massive population pressures, and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said “Terrorism and population growth are the two biggest threats in Egypt’s history.”

At Egypt’s fourth National Youth Conference last month, the Minister of Social Solidarity announced the launch of a program that would be intended to reduce these pressures and curb population growth in the country. “Itnein Kifaya” (“Two is Enough”) will target 1.3 million mothers under the age of 35 who have had one or two children already.

The aim is to raise Egyptian women’s awareness of the need to bring population growth under control as well as resources available to them. The program will also include distribution of birth control methods to the targeted mothers, encouraging them to have no more than two children.

It is hoped that a coordinated approach involving the Ministry of Health and Population along with support from NGOs and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will help the project succeed. The focus will also be on regions registering with the highest birth rates in order to ensure the greatest impact can be made.

According to the Minister of Health and Population, the strategy will also need to take education and literacy into consideration in some regions, as well as economic and educational empowerment of women.

Initiative to promote smaller families in Rajasthan, India

In Rajasthan, the largest state in India, a unique initiative is underway to promote smaller families. The State government’s Health Department is working to organise “Saas-Bahu Sammelans”—meaning meetings of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law—in over 16,200 villages across 14 districts. The aim for this initiative is to promote the norm of small families, with emphasis on the development of local communities.

During the meetings, experts will provide information about family planning methods, helping to generate awareness among participants. Intrauterine contraceptive devices (often called coils) and other equipment will also be supplied free of charge to community health centres in each of the 14 districts.

The rationale behind bringing mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law together is because of their central roles within their families, while the 14 districts that have been targeted have also reported high fertility rates in the past. By opening up the conversation around family planning as well as providing contraceptive resources necessary, this initiative will aim to see fertility rates fall and may be replicable in other parts of the country.

CCP program to increase modern contraceptive use and desire for fewer children, Nigeria

An initiative in Nigeria with aims to increase modern contraceptive use and desire for fewer children has recently been found to be a success. A study evaluating the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI), led by Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP), indicated an associated 10% increase in both contraception use and desires for smaller families.

The NURHI six-city program ran between 2010 to 2014, where baseline figures rated prior use of contraceptive methods as ranging between 5% to 30% depending on the district. Once the program began, its message became: ‘Know, Talk, Go. Know the facts. Talk to your partner. Go for services.’

A major focus for the program was on improving contraceptive access at health clinics. This included creating a mobile app to help clinics order new contraception supplies before running out – a chronic problem in Nigeria and many developing countries.

The second focus was to create a coordinated campaign to generate demand for family planning services. This was done through using communication tools to help people understand the benefits of family planning and to empower them to make healthy decisions. CCP also targeted health providers and religious leaders to ensure that informed and open conversations about the merits of family planning could be had within communities. Countering the fears and misconceptions around family planning proved to be crucial, as did providing training to health providers with the most up-to-date evidence around the value of birth spacing and smaller families.

Statistically, Nigeria has some of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world. It is also projected to overtake the United States of America as the world’s third most populous country by 2050.

The success of this program, especially in a nation where low use of family planning has long seemed like an intractable problem, shows great promise. The facts demonstrate that even in a context like urban Nigeria whereby population pressures are amongst the highest in the globe, targeted programs can lead to important changes in contraceptive use and fertility desires in a short period of time.

Learn more about solving the population crisis on our Solutions pages.

To find out more about global initiatives that support smaller families, be sure to follow our twitter page @PopnMatters and stay tuned for future articles on our website.

Royal Family urged to promote smaller families

A US-based sustainable family planning organisation has called upon the Royal Family to lead by example and limit their family size. This comes at a time when research shows that the most effective action we as individuals can take to reduce our contributions to climate change is to have smaller families.


Having Kids, a San Francisco based organisation, recently made headlines after releasing an open letter urging the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to consider carefully before adding to their family. The letter was written in response to a widely-reported comment made by Kate where she playfully suggested having more babies after receiving a gift fit for a newborn.

Everyone makes an impact

The key message of the letter is that extra children place a burden on the Earth and put future generations at risk. Anthropogenic climate change poses real concerns for all of humanity, including future generations, and children born in the rich world make very high contributions to emissions and other forms of environmental degradation.

According to scientists, Earth’s ‘Sixth Mass Extinction‘ is already underway, caused in large measure by human impact.

The letter states that ‘the example the British Royal Family sets is extremely influential’, and that studies show public figures can serve as effective role models when it comes to family planning. An additional consideration is that the impact the wealthiest families have on the environment far exceeds that of children being born in poorer or developing parts of the world. For instance, statistics show that an individual Briton produces 70 more times CO2 than a person from Niger.

Understanding consequences

While the response to the open letter has been mixed, with some members of the public saying that the organisation has no right to “interfere” with the Royal couple’s decisions, others have been swayed by the rationale for why families should have fewer children.

@roxeneandersonphotography

At Population Matters, we endorse all the points very reasonably made by Having Kids. We believe that smaller families are key to slowing population growth, ensuring sustainable development and improving lives and well-being across the globe. We also believe that far from being “interference”, constructively and politely informing people about the consequences of having additional children helps them to make informed decisions.


To find out more about the benefits of smaller families and other alternatives to slowing population growth, be sure to visit sure to visit our Solutions page.