Population Matters

Meet Big Foot

Meet Big Foot


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”.

Big Foot

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.

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

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.

Taking action

Robin Maynard and Big Foot outside the Natural History Museum
Big Foot photos: @roxeneandersonphotography

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’.

Please join our campaign, and sign our petition to the Natural History Museum.

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Election 2017 – time for a National Sustainable Population Policy

Tree in fieldPopulation 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.

Learn more about the National Population Policy.

Other election priorities

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.
  • Ensuring family planning services in England are fully funded, to provide an effective service to all in need and reduce the levels of unwanted pregnancy. Currently, one-in-six pregnancies in the UK are unwanted.
  • Provision of high quality, universal Sex and Relationships Education to all secondary school pupils. The UK currently has the highest level of teenage births in Western Europe.

Find out more about our General Election Campaign and how to take action.

Should every country have a population policy?

BabyDealing 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.

See our key facts about global population.

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Spreading the word on population

Logo for BBC TV programme The Big QuestionsPopulation Matters has recently had considerable success in bringing the population concern message to new audiences in the media. Meanwhile, our growing social media following helps us reach hundreds of thousands of people online.

On Sunday, Population Matters board member Karin Kuhlemann made a strong case for population stabilisation when she took part in a discussion on the BBC television programme, The Big Questions. The item arose from the recent conference on biological extinction held at the Vatican and brought together advocates for population concern, representatives from the Catholic community and sceptics about the population case.

The Big Questions can be viewed here. The population discussion begins at 40 minutes. The programme will be available online until 2 April and can be viewed in the UK only.

In a vigorous debate, Karin eloquently outlined the multiple threats arising from population growth, including food insecurity and environmental damage. Journalist John Gibbons also spoke persuasively on the programme about the threats posed by population growth to climate and wildlife. Karin emphasised that the risk of enormous population growth is genuine but that we have the tools and ability to prevent that through choice.

Note: the beginning of the programme contains an interesting discussion on he provision of sex education in the UK, a subject on which we have long campaigned.

Reaching new audiences

The programme followed widespread coverage in major UK media outlets for Population Matters’ comments in response to statistics showing the UK’s population is likely to reach 70m by 2026 and that the proportion of elderly people will continue to grow. Our statements were featured in The MirrorThe Sun and The Mail, among other media outlets.

In addition to the traditional media, we use our highly successful Facebook and Twitter pages to reach new audiences.

Twitter logo

Facebook logoWith nearly 300,000 “likes”, our Facebook page has grown hugely in recent years. It is an excellent source of information and up-to-the-minute news on developments in population and the environment.

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Meet our new chief executive

In December, Robin Maynard started work at Population Matters as our Interim CEO. In this interview he explains why he is here and what he hopes to achieve.

What’s your background?

Having read English at university, I worked briefly in advertising where my burgeoning environmental concerns soon ran up against the requirements of the day job (sell more stuff!).

After short stints as a tree-surgeon, then teaching in Egypt – where the school ran two shifts to accommodate pupil numbers – I returned to England, volunteering for Friends of the Earth, whilst looking for teaching posts. Shortly afterwards, Chernobyl blew up and that dark cloud led to a job with FoE tracking radioactive fall-out across the UK. A 30-year career followed as an environmental campaigner working with FOE, the Soil Association and other conservation bodies – as well as periods presenting BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today and working for The Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick. Latterly, I’ve been freelancing with various farming and wildlife organisations.

How did you get involved in the population concern movement?

Population was regularly raised as a concern by Friends of the Earth’s Local Groups – but the prevailing HQ mantra was to focus on ‘consumption alone’. This didn’t satisfy a number of us, including key figures such as Jonathon Porritt, then director of FoE, and Val Stevens, chair of the Board. But ours was not the majority view. Over 2012-13, Jonathon and I worked on behalf of Population Matters to try to persuade FoE and other mainstream environment/conservation NGOs to accept the finding of the Royal Society’s People and Planet report that both consumption rates and population numbers needed to be taken into account.  We had fun tweaking the NGOs’ tails, approaching their activists and members directly (who were more inclined to accept the argument than their head offices), but limited success in shifting stances – although we did force them all to review their positions.

What did you think about PM’s work before came on board?

I have always admired PM for putting its head above the population parapet. Too often, anyone who talks about population is falsely labelled as ‘racist’, ‘neo-colonialist’, ‘anti-human’ (even when those speaking out come from developing countries!). None of those crude stereotypes apply accurately to PM. I believe our agenda is wholly pro-human – but pro-human within the constraints of a finite planet; where living in balance with other beings and respecting natural ecosystems are not only essential for our survival, but also our well-being.

What do you think the priorities are in campaigning on population?

Being only just in post, I don’t presume to have as in-depth an understanding as others closer to the issues for far longer. But my sense, just as when I was at FOE, the Soil Association or the Wildlife Trusts, is that if the facts alone were sufficient, none of us would need to be doing this work. Robust evidence is essential, but the ways and means of its communication are as important. The reluctance by otherwise reasonable people not to touch the population issue is psychological, emotional and tangled in confused value systems. My early stint in advertising may prove to be of more worth than it seemed at the time!

What do you hope to achieve at PM?

Although taken on as an interim director for 6-months in the first instance, rather than view that as merely caretaker cover, I want to provide a fresh and unflinching perspective for the organisation and provide a positive challenge as to how we can best deploy our modest resources to achieve most positive change.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Like many campaigners, too much of my time is spent tapping at a keyboard, crafting cunning phrases for press releases or talks and shaping strategy papers… Getting out into the natural world, the inspiration for my work, is essential for my mental as well as physical well-being – as I believe it for everyone.  Attempting to grow some produce on my allotment also gives me great satisfaction along with equal bouts of slug-led humility!

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MPs vote against universal sex education in UK schools

An attempt by MPs to make Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory in all UK schools has failed after being voted down in a parliamentary committee. 

In addition to information on the biology of sex, SRE provides information and guidance in areas such as consent, relationships, abuse, and LGBT issues. Under current legislation, however, it is mandatory only in schools managed by local authorities.

Despite hints from Education Secretary Justine Greening that she was willing to reform existing law, Conservative MPs on a committee considering an amendment voted against any change. According to junior education minister Edward Timpson the proposal was incomplete and its potential repercussions meant it needed further consideration.

The parliamentary decision not to make SRE compulsory goes against the view of teachers, parents and pupils.

70% of 11-15 year-olds in England believe all children should have school lessons on sex and relationships and 75% think that making SRE compulsory would make them safer according to Barnardos.

Currently, only state schools offer compulsory Sex Education lessons from age 11. Parents can chose to withdraw their child from parts of it. Sex Education classes focus on the biological aspects of sex. As a result of the vote, independent, fee-paying schools and schools which are state-funded but not managed by local authorities (such as academies) are still free not to teach SRE. Many do choose to do so but standards are not monitored.

MP Stella Creasy, who introduced the amendment, remarked that millions of children are not getting the information they need.

The UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. In 2015, 9.9 out of 1,000 abortions were under 18s. Research has established that high-quality SRE helps to prevent teenage pregnancy.

Population Matters is a member of the Sex Education Forum, a coalition of organisations which have been pressing for compulsory, universal SRE in UK schools. In September, the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee called for mandatory SRE in its report on widespread sexual harassment of female students in schools.

Support our campaign to make Sex and Relationships Education mandatory in schools.

Mandatory sex education

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PM research shows traffic congestion costs to soar

New analysis released by Population Matters estimates England will face total annual costs of £23.8 billion by 2030 as a result of road and rail congestion caused by surging population. This would mark a 58.7 per cent increase over the £15bn figure for 2015, costing the economy an extra £8.8 billion annually.

The original research commissioned by Population Matters, and featured in an exclusive report in The Times newspaper today, uses statistical data and analytical reports from the UK’s Department for Transport and the latest population projections by the Office of National Statistics to calculate the effect on road and rail traffic. It shows that England’s projected population growth of 10 per cent by 2030 will have a far bigger impact on road and rail congestion than the percentage increase alone suggests.

Among the conclusions of the research are that by 2030:

  • the cost of traffic congestion per household could increase by 40 per cent, translating to a total of £2,100 per year
  • average lateness as a result of rail traffic could increase nationally by 48.2 per cent, and by 103.4 per cent in London
  • road users could waste more than 12 hours per year more – a total of 136 hours – than in 2015 on average, because of traffic congestion
  • number of cars on England’s roads could increase by 20 per cent to 31 million.

The Times‘ environment editor Ben Webster published an exclusive report based on our research, entitled Population boom ‘could bring nation to standstill’

To accompany its report, The Times also published an article by Population Matters patron Chris Packham reacting to the figures and highlighting how human population growth is affecting the natural world in the UK and across the world. In the piece, Chris writes:

“Our natural world is in competition with the unnatural world we create — and it is losing badly. This destructive competition will continue as long as human numbers are growing.

“In the UK we already have the choice of how many children we have. If we want them to enjoy the natural world — to have a thriving, supportive natural world they will need to survive — we have to recognise that the more of them we have, the more difficult it will be for them to do that. We all need breathing room: animals, plants, human beings. We shouldn’t have to compete for it, and we don’t have to.”

(Note: The Times operates behind a paywall and the articles will only be fully visible to subscribers. You can read Chris Packham’s article on our website here.)


Further information about the research and its findings can be found here.

Because rail and road statistics for the entire United Kingdom are compiled separately across devolved administrations, the research focuses on population growth in England but its principle conclusion – that population growth can have far greater effects on congestion than  numbers suggest – applies across the UK. To produce the most effective projections using available data and statistical techniques, the road traffic analysis reflects urban and national “strategic” roads only: the effects of minor road congestion will add additional time and cost. The calculations are based on a number of calculations and assumptions and the results provided are not predictions.

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Award for Population Matters ‘Zombie’ film

Our Zombie Overpopulation video has won a gold prize at the EVCOM Clarion Awards, which recognise ‘good purpose’ communications by charities, companies and public sector organisations. Released just over a year ago, the video, which takes a sideways look at the impacts of population growth, has been viewed almost 9,000 times on YouTube. 

Zombie video earthThe video was created to appeal to young people and features zombies blundering around destroying their environment in a comic, mock-documentary style. It is narrated by Anthony Head, star of the cult TV programme Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and mixes live action, remarkable special effects and hard information about human population growth.

Zombie Overpopulation concludes with a simple message: “Don’t be a zombie. Use your brain. we all have a choice about how many babies to have and how much we consume.”

Our congratulations to Media Trust who helped us to produce the film and collected the award.

You can view the film below or on YouTube. Please share it with your friends and family this Halloween. This film is frightening in more ways than one.

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WWF: we are facing the next global mass extinction

The 2016 Living Planet report published by WWF today pulls no punches in describing the devastation to our natural world caused by human activity. The report calculates that by 2020 populations of wild vertebrate animals will have declined by nearly 70 per cent since 1970.

In 1970, the global human population was half what it is now.

By 2020 populations of wild vertebrate animals will have declined by nearly 70 per cent since 1970.2020 is the target date set by the United Nations for halting biodiversity loss — something the report’s authors believe is highly unlikely to be achieved. Instead, they conclude that the average two per cent drop in animal numbers each year is unlikely to slow.

One of their most shocking conclusions is that the current rate of extinctions is 100 times what would be considered normal without the impact of human activity.

Dr Mike Barrett. head of science and policy at WWF, said: “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife.”

The report highlights particular problems faced by freshwater species in lakes and rivers, with a shocking decline in numbers of 81 per cent. It attributes the decline to “the way water is used and taken out of fresh water systems, and also the fragmentation of freshwater systems through dam building.”

Human pressure on water resources is expected to worsen considerably due to population growth, with, according to the UN, two billion people likely to face absolute water scarcity by 2025.

Dr Barrett continued: “It’s pretty clear under ‘business as usual’ we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t really any excuse to let this carry on. We know what the causes are and we know the scale of the impact that humans are having on nature and on wildlife populations — it really is now down to us to act.”

The relentless expansion of human populations and economic activities is pushing more and more wildlife species to the brink.Commenting on the report, Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation, was more explicit in identifying the cause: “The relentless expansion of human populations and economic activities in every corner of the globe, including now the most remote parts of Africa, is clearly pushing more and more wildlife species to the brink.”

The report itself, however, treats population growth largely as an inevitability which must be taken into account, rather than as a problem which can be solved. Its close and systematic look at the underlying drivers of the crisis — including consumption, food production and distribution, global economic dynamics and much more — is extremely valuable, but its failure to recognise the importance of managing population growth is a deep and disappointing failure.

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Why we must support the world’s 10-year-old girls

Population Matters attended the launch of the 2016 annual report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in London on Thursday 20 October. Entitled ‘10’, the report focuses on the situation of 10-year-old girls across the world, identifying the age as one from which a path of opportunity, creativity and productivity can follow or one where ‘family, community and institutions may block her safe and healthy transition through adolescence into adulthood.’

There are now 60 million 10-year-old girls, 89 per cent of whom live in less developed regions of the worldThere are now 60 million 10-year-old girls, 89 per cent of whom live in less developed regions of the world.

According to the report, more than half of all 10-year-olds live in countries with high levels of gender inequality and girls remain less likely than boys to be enrolled in school. Countries with the highest proportions of 10-year-olds are also likely to have higher levels of child labour.

UNFPA stresses the importance of recognising the distinctive needs of girls, for whom discrimination, sexual exploitation and the possibility of motherhood while they are themselves still children exacerbate many of the other problems they may face.

UNFPA calls for policies to support girls as they approach this crucial stage in their lives, including proper legal recognition, access to proper health care and education — which plays a direct role in empowering girls to marry and bear children later in life than they would otherwise do.

The report also makes a clear case for the provision of appropriate sex and relationships education (SRE). At the London launch event, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive Director of UNFPA, spoke of the challenges of persuading some governments to accept the need for SRE, but also of how such opposition could be overcome. He noted that the very words ‘sex education’ can appear threatening in some cultures and simply labelling SRE as ‘life skills education’ can help shift attitudes.

The UNFPA report states: 'Investing in girls makes good financial sense. Conversely, failing to invest in them is nothing less than planned poverty.'UNFPA’s mission is to deliver ‘a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.’ Its report repeatedly maintains that maximising opportunities for girls approaching puberty is not just good for them but benefits society as a whole. Education and the freedom to join the paid workforce turn them from dependents into producers, contributing to the economy and the wellbeing of their communities.

It bluntly states: ‘Investing in girls makes good financial sense. Conversely, failing to invest in them is nothing less than planned poverty.’

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Global biodiversity and population

Biodiversity is the sum of all plants, animals and microorganisms as well as their phenotypic and genotypic variation, along with the ecosystems of which they are a part. Biodiversity is the fundamental regulator of climate, energy, food, nutrients and water.

As the human footprint on the earth has expanded, the earth’s biodiversity has continuously declined.

The Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (2005) states: “Changes in biodiversity due to human activity have been more rapid in the last 50 years than at any time in human history.”

The Kemp's ridley sea turtle: just one example of a species that is critically endangered due to human activity
The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle: just one example of a species that is now critically endangered due to hunting, habitat loss, pollution and entanglement in shrimping nets

It highlights that there is a 40 per cent decline in average species abundance, a 50 per cent decline in inland water species, and a 30 per cent decline in the population of marine and terrestrial species.

In this briefing, we report on, and discuss, the recent changes in the global biodiversity associated with the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem, the importance of genetic biodiversity, and the role of human population growth on these biodiversity systems.

The rapid reduction of tropical forests has threatened hundreds of plant and animal species with extinction.

The loss in aquatic biodiversity has resulted in a 40 per cent decline in the population of amphibians and a 20 per cent decline in freshwater fish. Housing and commercial construction along river banks has eroded the soil, polluted the water and fragmented the aquatic habitat.

Due to such anthropogenic alterations in the environment, there is a loss, not only of species but also of their genetic component that is crucial for diversity and has important uses for mankind.

Population Matters asserts that the relentless increase in the human population is primarily responsible for this decline in biodiversity, through the increased need for food and space, and higher per-capita consumption.

We conclude that, if human population continues to grow at the same rate, the depletion of biodiversity will continue unabated.

Population Matters believes that action to promote a reduction in, and reversal of, human population growth is necessary for us to maintain biodiversity in order to secure a sustainable future.

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