Population Matters

David Attenborough speaks online on population – 10th March 2011

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Population Matters welcomes Chris Packham as new patron

Chris Packham has accepted the invitation of Population Matters to become its latest patron. In accepting, Chris said, “In my work with wildlife, the impact of ever growing numbers of people, both in the UK and around the world, is all too clear. These affect nature through intensive agriculture, chemical pollution, disturbance, loss of habitat, pressure on water, over-hunting and over-fishing, and of course climate change.

With the world population now approaching seven billion, and wild species becoming extinct at hundreds of times the normal rate, we really have to recognise the connection and think hard about our sheer numbers, as well as our consumption and technology, if we want a sustainable future for all of us, people and wildlife alike.

For me, it’s not just wildlife that’s running short. The record food prices we have seen this year are a wake up call people should not ignore; and ever more people make it ever harder to deal with climate change. We have to recognise that our lovely little planet has limits.

That’s why I am very pleased to join Population Matters’ distinguished patrons in their support for the campaign to encourage individuals to limit their family size, and persuade governments to give everyone access to family planning and help them to use it. This is one UN Millennium Development Goal which is as important for wildlife as it is for people”.

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OPT changes name to Population Matters

The Optimum Population Trust today announces that it is changing its working and campaign name to Population Matters.*

OPT’s message has always been that, while population growth isn’t the only cause of biodiversity loss, climate change and resource scarcity, it is an important contributor to them. OPT believes the new name conveys this argument well and underpins its growth as an environmental and sustainability charity and campaign group.

The aim of the organisation remains the same: increasing awareness of the environmental impact of population growth through campaigning, education and research.

The new name was chosen following an extensive review of alternatives and research amongst members, patrons and the public, all of whom preferred it.

OPT Chair Roger Martin comments “The Optimum Population Trust has been steadily increasing its activities and profile as a result of rising public concern over population numbers in the UK and globally. The consequences of the doubling in world population over the last fifty years are becoming evident to all. We believe that now is the right time to change our name to one that will convey our message more directly.”


*The organisation’s legal name will remain the Optimum Population Trust.

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Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution ends “not with a bang but a whimper”

The Optimum Population Trust today expressed its disappointment with the Royal Commission’s final report, Demographic Change and the Environment. The Commission, whose abolition has been announced by the government, spent two years on the study, which is the first officially sanctioned review of the impact of population numbers since the report of the Population Panel in 1973.

The Commission noted the significant and largely adverse impact on housing, resources and the environment of ageing, changing household size and rising affluence. However, it failed to acknowledge the additional impact of the further ten million people which the Office of National Statistics projects will live in the UK by 2033. Moreover, the Commission limited its proposals to improved resource use efficiency and a more even distribution of population. It said little about how reduced per capita consumption might be achieved and declined to make recommendations on addressing population growth through further migration controls or measures to encourage a lower birth rate, despite the many examples of such policies being successful in other countries.

“This report ignores or brushes aside all the points we made about the need to stabilize our numbers, since total impacts rise with each extra person” said Optimum Population Trust chair Roger Martin. “These points include: the Global Footprint Network’s calculations that the UK has already overshot our ecological carrying capacity; the growing concerns about food and energy security as prices and our dependence on imports rise; the increase in carbon emissions when we have committed to reduce them by 80%; and the global impact of every additional Briton, with a carbon footprint of 22 more Malawians. When the Chief Scientist foresees a ‘perfect storm’ of population growth, climate change and peak oil bringing increased food, water and energy insecurity, the precautionary principle requires us to stabilise our numbers, and so make us more resilient to the dangers ahead.

“The measures proposed by the Commission can help mitigate our environmental impacts, but it is absurd to pretend that that 10 million more people will not require significantly more food, water and energy, and produce more waste and pollution. As long as our numbers keep growing, we are simply running to stand still. There are no long-term solutions without stable numbers of people: as Kofi Annan said, “Population stabilization should be a priority for sustainable development”.

“The Commission recommends a focus on reducing per capita consumption and improving technology. But the whole point of the famous Ehrlich ‘IPAT’ function (environmental Impact = Population x Affluence (resource-consumption) x Technology (resource-efficiency)) is that we have to take action on all three. Our 2009 YouGov poll showed that most people would like a smaller population than we have now. If changing population trends is challenging and slow-acting, that is a reason for starting now, not dismissing it as ‘too difficult’.

Roger Martin concluded “In our view, this abject failure to address population numbers in one of the world’s most densely populated countries and one where population is continuing to rise rapidly is an abdication of responsibility. The Commission, by playing safe and seeking to avoid potentially sensitive subjects, has ‘laboured mightily and brought forth a mouse’. It has ended its forty year life ingloriously, ‘not with a bang but a whimper’.”


The submissions made by the Optimum Population Trust to the Commission is available from the Commission’s website www.rcep.org.uk

The results of the YouGov poll are available on www.optimumpopulation.org/submissions/YouGov11Jul09.xls

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Population and food security

We must take action to stabilise our numbers for long-term food security


The Optimum Population Trust welcomes recent studies which argue that feeding the growing world population, both now and in the future, is a major challenge for humanity and one which should be addressed through significant and co-ordinated efforts.  However, we regret that these reports did not address the question of influencing the growing demand for food arising from the growth in population numbers.

We believe that investing in improved reproductive health and encouraging a lower global birth rate are the best ways of achieving long term food security and must be an important contributor to those efforts.  Moreover, given the uncertainties involved in long term projections, we believe that it would be prudent for us to use every approach available which can contribute to future sustainability.


The Optimum Population Trust welcomes the two recent major reports on future food security by INRA/ CIRAD (Agrimonde)* and Foresight (Global Food and Farming Futures)**.

We support efforts to increase effective food supplies by reducing waste and increasing yields, as long as these are done in sustainable ways.  We also accept the recommendations that the affluent should be encouraged to adopt a moderate and healthy diet and that those on low incomes should have their requirement for sufficient nutrition satisfied.

Nevertheless, we continue to advocate the role of reproductive health in enhancing food security for these reasons, many of which the reports acknowledge:

  1. The UN median projection of 9 billion people by 2050 is based on a working assumption that family planning services will be provided in many of the countries where they are currently absent, leading to a fall in the birth rate.  The UN provides projections that the world population in 2050 may be as low as 8 billion or as high as 10.5 billion, the latter resulting in demand well above the base case of 9 billion.
  2. There are significant natural obstacles to increased production.  The resources of fuel, water and fertile land, all critical to agricultural production, are effectively limited, are declining in much of the world through overuse and are increasingly required for industrial and residential needs.  These factors may mean that even current agricultural practices and yields are unsustainable.
  3. Non-agricultural food resources, particularly fish stocks, are also being depleted through overuse.
  4. Climate change may well limit the ability of agriculture to maintain its productivity, through rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, natural disasters and rising sea levels.
  5. Actions required to limit carbon emissions in order to combat climate change may negatively impact agricultural productivity.
  6. It is increasingly recognised that there is a significant economic and environmental value in sustaining ecosystems and biodiversity and we must protect unexploited habitat from further destruction from agricultural or other uses.
  7. There are significant political obstacles to the solutions proposed in these reports, including consumer resistance to limitations on, and changes to, their diet, the global desire to adopt a diet with a greater proportion of, much less efficient, meat and dairy products, and competition over the rights to exploit limited resources.

Given these uncertainties, we believe it is prudent to employ all the means available to bring food demand and supply into long term balance.  This would be the case even if family planning had limited effectiveness.  In fact, family planning is a proven and low cost contributor to slowing the rapid growth in the demand for resources of all kinds, including food.  It is highly acceptable to end users and has important beneficial side-effects, including women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation, sustainable economic development and reduced pressure on the environment.

OPT chief executive Simon Ross commented, “Just as is the case with the issues of climate change and biodiversity collapse, the growth in human numbers is central to the emerging global crises over food, water and energy security.  Policymakers and policy advisers must recognise that, if we are to protect future food security, we have to act now to both provide the 200 million women who currently lack access to modern contraception with the means to manage their own fertility, and encourage those who already have access to family planning to consider that a smaller family is a sustainable family.”


*The presentation of the INRA/ CIRAD Agrimonde study may be accessed here: www.international.inra.fr/press/what_challenges_must_we_face_to_feed_the_world_in_20

**The Foresight report may be accessed here: www.bis.gov.uk/foresight/our-work/projects/current-projects/global-food-and-farming-futures

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Engineering is not enough

Engineering is not enough: We must address resource demand as well as supply

The Optimum Population Trust welcomes the recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers “Population: One Planet, Too Many people?”

We endorse the Institute’s view that “Population increase is likely to be the defining challenge of the 21st Century, a global issue that will affect us all whether or not the countries in which we reside become more crowded or not.” We share the Institute’s concern about the need to ensure that resources can meet demand; in particular, food, water, urbanisation and energy; and that “failure to act will place billions of people around the world at risk of hunger, thirst and conflict as capacity tries to keep up with demand”. And we fully support approaches that will develop and spread the sustainable uses of technology.

We have four main criticisms of the report and of how it is being interpreted.

1. The report fails to address the crisis of ecosystem collapse. Extinctions, driven by population growth and economic development, are running at one thousand times the natural rate and governments have consistently failed to set stretching targets or even to achieve those they have agreed for slowing this loss in biodiversity.

2. The report acknowledges climate change could be a highly significant adverse factor, though one that is difficult to quantify. It also acknowledges the impact of growing per capita consumption levels as countries develop. Finally, it acknowledges that social and political barriers are as, or more important than, technical ones. We believe that these three factors mean that purely technological solutions are unlikely to be sufficient to solve the problems we face.

3. The clearly enormous cost of the investment required for the comprehensive and widespread development, adoption and implementation of the solutions proposed is not examined.

4. Above all, the report fails to address solutions on the demand side of the equation. It notes that UN global population projections range between, for 2050, 8 and 10.5 billion and, for 2100, 5.1 and 14.2 billion. The differences between these alternate projections have enormous consequences for meeting projected demand, and are largely driven by differences in birth rates i.e. in the ability of individuals to access family planning services and their willingness to use them. The importance of reproductive health in facilitating development and sustainability is now increasingly recognised, with the UN and US and UK governments all recently announcing increased funding for such programmes.

Simon Ross, OPT chief executive commented “As the global population grows, environmental and resource issues are multiplying. We should respond to them with a joined up approach, including sustainable technical solutions, promoting sustainable lifestyles, poverty mitigation and social and gender justice, and improved reproductive health.” He added “Improving reproductive health, promoting contraception and encouraging a lower birth rate is a low cost, practical and highly reliable approach to addressing the emerging global imbalance between resource supply and demand. It should be one of our top priorities.”


The IME report may be sourced here http://www.imeche.org/Libraries/2011_Press_Releases/Population_report.sflb.ashx

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