Population Matters

A Billion Acts of Green

A Billion Acts of Green

The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN) works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

A Billion Acts of Green®

From greening schools to hosting town hall discussions on clean energy investment and green jobs, Earth Day Network leads its network in thousands of Earth Day events and actions worldwide each year. To catalyze global environmental activism, Earth Day Network has chosen A Billion Acts of Green® as the theme for Earth Day 2011. At over 40 million actions to date, A Billion Acts of Green®–the largest environmental service campaign in the world–inspires and rewards simple individual acts and larger organizational initiatives that further the goal of measurably reducing carbon emissions and supporting sustainability. The goal is to register one billion actions in advance of the global Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.

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David Attenborough’s speech to the RSA

Available as audio on the RSA website here

PLANET AND POPULATION

Your Royal Highness, President, Ladies and Gentlemen.

May I first, sir, thank you for inviting me to give this, the last lecture in your Presidential series.  And may I also congratulate you, Sir, on your coming 90th birthday.    This year is a rich one, when to comes to anniversaries.  April 29th is the fiftieth birthday of an organisation without which our planet would be in much worse condition than it is today.

Fifty years ago, a group of far-sighted people in this country got together to warn the world of an impending disaster.  Among them were a distinguished scientist, Sir Julian Huxley; a bird-loving painter, Peter Scott;  an advertising executive, Guy Mountford;  and a powerful and astonishingly effective civil servant, Max Nicholson.  They were all, in addition to their individual professions, dedicated naturalists, fascinated by the natural world not just in this country but internationally.  And they noticed what few others had done – that all over the world, charismatic animals that were once numerous were beginning to disappear. The Arabian oryx , which once had been widespread all over the peninsula  had now been reduced to a few hundred.   In Spain, there were less than a hundred imperial eagles.   The Californian condor was down to about sixty.  In Hawaii, a goose that had lived in flocks on the lava fields around the great volcanoes were reduced to fifty.  The strange little rhinoceros that lived in the dwindling forests of Java – to about forty.  Wherever you looked there were examples of animals whose populations were falling rapidly.  This planet was in danger of losing a significant number of its inhabitants – both animals and plants.

Something had to be done.  And that group determined to do it.  They would need scientific advice to discover the causes of these impending disasters and to devise ways of slowing them and hopefully, stopping them.  They would have to raise the awareness of the threat to get the support of people everywhere;  and – like all such enterprises –  they would need money to take practical action.  They set about raising all three. Since the problem was an international one, they based themselves, not here, but in the heart of Europe in Switzerland. And they called the organisation they created the World Wildlife Fund

As well as the international committee, separate action groups would be needed in individual countries.  A few months after that inaugural meeting in Switzerland, this country established one  – and was the first country to do so.  And you, Sir, became its first president.  Then, after x years, you became President of the entire organisation which is known today as the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

The methods WWF used to save these endangered species were several.  Some, like the Hawaiian goose and the oryx, were taken into captivity in zoos, bred up into a significant population and then taken back to their original home and released.  Elsewhere, in Africa for example, great areas of unspoilt country were set aside as National Parks where the animals could be protected from poachers and encroaching human settlement.   In the Galapagos Islands and in the home of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, ways were found of ensuring that local people who also had claims on the land where such animals lived, were able to benefit financially from the creatures they were protecting by attracting visitors.  Eco-tourism was born. The movement as a whole went from strength to strength. Existing conservation bodies – of which there were a number in many parts of the world but which had been working largely in isolation – acquired new zest and international links  New ones, focussing on particular areas or particular species were founded. Twenty four countries established their own national appeals. The world awoke to conservation.  Millions – billions of dollars were raised.  And now fifty years on, conservationists who have worked so hard and with such foresight can justifiably congratulate themselves on having responded magnificently to the challenge.

Yet now, in spite of a great number of individual successes, the problem remains.  True, thanks to the vigour and wisdom of conservationists, no major charismatic species has yet disappeared.  Many are still trembling on the brink, but are still hanging on.  But overall, today there are more problems not less, more species at risk of disappearance than ever before.  Why?

Fifty years ago, when the WWF was founded there were about three billion people on earth. Now there are almost seven billion.  Over twice as many – and every one of them needing space.  Space for their homes, space to grow their food (or to get others to grow it for them), space to build schools and roads and airfields.   A little of that space might be taken from land occupied by other people but most of it could only come from the land which, for millions of years, animals and plants have to themselves.

The impact of these extra millions of people has spread even beyond the space they physically occupy.  Their industries have changed the chemical constituency of the atmosphere. The oceans that cover most of the surface of the planet have been polluted and increasingly acidified.    We now realise that the disasters that continue increasingly to afflict the natural world have one element that connects them all  – the unprecedented increase in the number of human beings on the planet.

There have been prophets who have warned us of this impending disaster, of course.  One of the first was Thomas Malthus.  His surname – Malthus – leads some to think that he was some continental European savant, a German perhaps.  But he was not.  He was an Englishman, born in Guildford in Surrey in the middle of the eighteenth century.  His most important book, An Essay on the Principle of Population was published over two hundred years ago in 1798.  In it, he argued that the human population would increase inexorably until it was halted by what he termed ‘misery and vice’.  Today, for some reason, that prophecy seems to be largely ignored – or at any rate, disregarded.   It is true that he did not foresee the so-called Green Revolution which greatly increased the amount of food that could be produced in any given area of arable land.  But that great advance only delayed things.  And there may be other advances in our food producing skills that we ourselves still cannot foresee.    But the fundamental truth that Malthus proclaimed remains the truth.   There cannot be more people on this earth than can be fed.

Many people would like to deny this.  They would like to believe in that oxymoron  ‘sustainable growth.’  Kenneth Boulding, President Kennedy’s environmental advisor forty five years ago said something about this.  ‘Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet,’ he said,’ is either mad – or an economist.’

The population of the world is now growing by nearly 80 million a year.  One and a half million a week.  A quarter of a million a day.  Ten thousand an hour.

In this country it is projected to grow by ten million in the next twenty two years.  That is equivalent to ten more Birminghams.  Not only that, but every one of us in this country consumes far more of the earth’s resources than an average African.

All these people, in this country and worldwide, rich or poor, need and deserve food, water, energy and space.  Will they be able to get it?  I don’t know.  I hope so.  But the Government’s Chief Scientist and the last President of the Royal Society have both referred to the approaching ‘perfect storm’ of population growth, climate change and peak oil production, leading inexorably to more and more insecurity in the supply of food, water and energy.

Consider food.  Very few of us here, I suspect have ever experienced real hunger.  For animals, of course, it is a regular feature of their lives.  The stoical desperation of the cheetah cubs whose mother failed in her last few attempts to kill prey for them and who consequently face starvation is very touching.  But that happens to human beings too.  All of us who have travelled in poor countries have met people for whom hunger is a daily background ache in their lives.  There are about a billion such people today – that is four times as many as the entire human population of this planet a mere two thousand years ago at the time of Christ.

You may have seen the Government’s “Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming’.  It shows how hard it is to feed the seven billion of us who are alive today.  It lists the many obstacles that are already making this harder to achieve – soil erosion, salinisation, the depletion of aquifers, over grazing, the spread of plant diseases as a result of globalisation, the absurd growing of food crops to turn into biofuels to feed motor cars instead of people – and so on.  So it underlines how desperately difficult it is going to be to feed a population that is projected to stabilise in the range of eight to ten billion people by the year 2050.    It recommends the widest possible range of measures across all disciplines to tackle this. And it makes a number of eminently sensible recommendations, including a second ‘green revolution’.

But surprisingly there are some things that the report does not say.  It doesn’t state the obvious fact that it would be much easier to feed eight billion people than ten.  Nor does it suggest that the measures to achieve such a number – such as family planning and the education and empowerment of women – should be a central part of any programme of active food security.  It doesn’t refer to the prescient statement forty years ago by Norman Borlaug, the Nobel  Laureate and father of the first Green Revolution, that all he had done was to give us a ‘breathing space’ in which to stabilise our numbers.  It anticipates that food prices may rise with oil prices and so on and makes it clear that this will affect poorest people worst and discusses various way to help them.  But it doesn’t mention what every mother subsisting on the equivalent of a dollar a day already knows – that her children would be better fed if there were four of them around the table instead of ten.  These are strange omissions.

And how can we ignore the chilling statistics on arable land?  In 1960 there was half an hectare of good cropland per person in the world – enough to sustain a reasonable European diet.  Today, there is only 0.2 of a hectare each.  In China, it is only 0.1 of a hectare, because of their dramatic problems of soil degradation.

Another impressive Government report on biodiversity published this year ‘Making Space for Nature in a Changing World’ is rather similar.  It discusses all the rising pressure on wildlife in the United Kingdom , but it doesn’t mention our growing population as being one of them – which is particularly odd when you consider that England is already the most densely populated country in Europe.

Most bizarre of all was a recent report by a Royal Commission on the environmental impact of demographic change in this country which denied that population size was a problem at all – as though twenty million extra people more or less would have no real impact.  Of course it is not our only or even our main environmental problem; but it is absurd to deny that, as a multiplier of all the others, it is a problem.

I suspect that you could read a score of reports by bodies concerned with global problems – and see that population is clearly one of the drivers that underlies all of them- and yet find no reference to this obvious fact in any of them.

Climate change tops the environmental agenda at present.  We all know that every additional person will need to use some carbon energy, if only firewood for cooking and will therefore create more carbon dioxide. – though of course a rich person will produce vastly more than a poor one.  Similarly, we can all see that every extra person is – or will be – an extra victim of climate change – though the poor will undoubtedly suffer more than the rich.  Yet not a word of it appeared in the voluminous documents emerging from the Copenhagen and Cancun Climate Summits.

Why this strange silence?  I meet no one who privately disagrees that population growth is a problem.  No one – except flat-earthers – can deny that the planet is finite.  We can all see it in that beautiful picture of our earth taken from the Apollo mission.  So why does hardly anyone say so publicly?  There seems to be some bizarre taboo around the subject.  “It’s not quite nice, not PC, possibly even racist to mention it.“  And this taboo doesn’t just inhibit politicians and civil servants who attend the big conferences.  It even affects the people who claim to care most passionately about a sustainable and prosperous future for our children, the environmental and developmental Non Government Organisations.   Yet their silence implies that their admirable goals can be achieved regardless of how many people there are in the world or the UK, even though they all know that it can’t.

I simply don’t understand it.  It is all getting too serious for such fastidious niceties.  It remains an obvious and brutal fact that on a finite planet human population will quite definitely stop at some point.  And that can only happen in one of two ways.  It can happen sooner, by fewer human births – in a word by contraception.  This is the humane way, the powerful option which allows all of us to deal with the problem, if we collectively choose to do so.  The alternative is an increased death rate – the way which all other creatures must suffer, through famine or disease or predation. That translated into human terms means famine or disease or war – over oil or water or food or minerals or grazing rights or just living space.  There is, alas, no third alternative of indefinite growth.

The sooner we stabilise our numbers, the sooner we stop running up the  ‘down’ escalator.  Stop population increase – stop the escalator – and we have some chance of reaching the top – that is to say a decent life for all.

To do that requires several things.  First and foremost it needs a much wider understanding of the problem and that will not happen while the absurd taboo on discussing it retains such a powerful grip on the minds of so many worthy and intelligent people.  Then it needs a change in our culture so that while everyone retains the right to have as many children as they like, they understand that having large families means compounding the problems their children and everyone else’s children will face in the future.

It needs action by Governments.  In my view all countries should develop a population policy – some 70 countries already have them in one form or another – and give it priority.  The essential common factor is to make family planning and other reproductive health services freely available to every one and empower and encourage them to use it – though of course without any kind of coercion.

According to the Global Footprint Network there are already over a hundred countries whose combination of numbers and affluence have already pushed them past the sustainable level.  They include almost all developed countries. The UK is one of the worst.  There the aim should be to the aim to reduce over time both the consumption of natural resources per person and the number of people while, needless to say, using the best technology to help maintain living standards.  It is tragic that the only current population policies in developed countries are, perversely, attempting to increase their birth-rate in order to look after the growing number of old people.    The notion of ever more old people needing ever more young people, who will in turn grow old and need ever more young people and so on ad infinitum, is an obvious ecological Ponzi scheme.

I am not an economist, nor a sociologist nor a politician. I am a naturalist.  But being one means that I do know something of the factors that keep populations of different species of animals within bounds.   I am aware that every pair of blue tits nesting in my garden is able to lay over twenty eggs a year but as a result of predation or lack of food, only one or two will, at best, survive.  I have seen how lions ravage the hundreds of wildebeeste fawns that are born each year on the plains of Africa.  I have seen how increasing populations of elephants can devastate their environment until, one year when the rains fail on the already over-grazed land, they die in hundreds.

But we are human beings.  We have ways of escaping such brutalities.  We have medicines that prevent our children from dying of disease. We have developed ways of growing increasing amounts of food.  That has been a huge and continuing advance that started several thousand years ago, a consequence of our intelligence, our increasing skills and our ability to look ahead.  But none of these great achievements will be of any avail if we do not control our numbers.

And we can do so.  Wherever women have the vote, wherever they are literate, and have the medical facilities to control the number of children they bear, the birth rate falls.  All those civilised conditions exist in the southern Indian state of Kerala.  The total fertility rate there in 2007 was 1.7 births per woman.  In India as a whole it is 2.8 per woman.  In Thailand in 2010, it was 1.8  per woman, similar to that in Kerala.  But compare that with the Catholic Philippines where it is 3.3.

Here and there, at last, there are signs of a recognition of the problem.  The Save the Children Fund mentioned it in their last report.  The Royal Society has assembled a working party of scientists across a wide range of disciplines who are examining the problem.

But what can each of us do – you and I?  Well, there is just one thing that I would ask.  Break the taboo, in private and in public – as best you can, as you judge right.  Until it is broken there is no hope of the action we need.  Wherever and whenever we speak of the environment  – add a few words to ensure that the population element is not ignored.  If you are a member of a relevant NGO, invite them to acknowledge it.  If you belong to a Church – and especially if you are a Catholic because its doctrine on contraception is a major factor in this problem – suggest they consider the ethical issues involved.  I see the Anglican bishops in Australia have dared to do so. If you have contacts in Government, ask why the growth of our population, which affects every Department, is yet no one’s responsibility.  Big empty Australia has appointed a Sustainable Population Minister so why can’t small crowded Britain?

Make a list of all the environmental and social problems that today afflict us and our poor battered planet. –  not just the extinction of species and animals and plants, that fifty years ago was the first signs of impending global disaster, but  traffic congestion,  oil prices,  pressure on the health service , the growth of mega-cities, migration patterns, immigration policies, unemployment, the loss of arable land,  desertification, famine, increasingly violent weather, the acidification of the oceans, the collapse of fish stocks, rising sea temperatures, the loss of rain forest.  The list goes on and on.  But they all share an underlying cause. Every one of these global problems, environmental as well as social  becomes more difficult – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.

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Population Matters Update Mar 2011

North Africa

Internal conflict is engulfing the Middle East. The cause is partly the lack of freedom but also poor living standards, rising food prices and a lack of opportunity for the young. It isn’t a coincidence that many countries in the region face population pressures. For example, the population of Egypt has risen fourfold since the war and the Nile Valley is one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

Guess the Day of 7 billion

We expect the UN Population Division to release its biennial projections for world population at some point before the next update. Some day this year, the world population will hit 7 billion. No one knows exactly when, but the UN will almost certainly announce an official day when it estimates the world will reach that milestone. It’s nothing to celebrate, of course, but to lighten the mood, we’ll offer a prize of a year’s free membership or a selection of Population Matters merchandise to the person who comes closest to guessing the day. The two runners up will also receive prizes of Population Matters merchandise. Rules: The day we’re seeking is the UN official day, on that day, which might not be the date currently stated. Entries must be received before the final date is announced. Employees of the UN are ineligible. You can enter the competition here.

Aid for Family Planning ‘Derisory’

In an excellent lecture on ‘Stabilising the Global Population: Where next for the MDGs (UN Millennium Development Goals) for Nutrition and Health?’, Professor Anthony Costello of UCL (University College London) gave a scathing critique of the utter failure of the development agencies to take the population growth problem as seriously as it deserves.

Best one-liner: “Current aid for family planning is a derisory $400 million per year – equivalent to 10% of the Goldman Sachs bonus pot in the year in which they made a forty per cent loss!”

He agreed with us that part of the problem is the consideration of the ‘population’ problem as an issue exclusively of ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ and thus a subset of health, of little concern to other ministries. Another is the ever-increasing share of the reproductive health budget taken by HIV/AIDS treatment.  He rightly praised DfID, under Andrew Mitchell, for giving much higher priority to reproductive health within the UK aid programme.

According to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, the European Parliament has increased its aid for maternal and reproductive health, although by less than other areas of the aid budget – and Europe still lags the US in aid given to maternal & reproductive health. In the US, the changing political composition of the US Senate following the mid term elections continues to concern population activists.

Visiting Sweden

Population Matters chair, Roger Martin, spent a fruitful day in Stockholm, at the invitation of the Secretary-General of the European Cultural Parliament, discussing a possible initiative on ‘Population and Planet’. He also met the relevant people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urge that they develop a more forward Scandinavian stand on the numbers problem, building on interest already shown by Danish and Norwegian Ministers to whom he’d spoken; and had a long and fascinating talk with the ‘grand old man’ of population affairs in Sweden, former Secretary-General of the IPPF and OECD Head of Aid Carl Wahren, who played a leading role in getting population onto the global agenda in the ‘60s and ‘70s with widespread international support, only to see the ‘mad taboo’ reasserted in the international arena in the ‘80s and ‘90s by Pope John-Paul, in league with conservative Imams and Ronald Reagan and. Plus ca change…

UK population

Provisional ONS (Office of National Statistics) data for conceptions in England and Wales during 2009 show a mixed picture. Conceptions rose by 1%, reversing a decline in 2008, and continuing the rising trend since 2001. Taking 2008 with 2009, more babies are being born in the UK than ever before.  The UK has the third highest birth rate of any advanced country at 12.8 per 1000, after the Irish Republic and New Zealand (comparative US data not available from ONS).

On a more positive note, teenage pregnancies fell to the lowest level for 30 years. Teenage pregnancy is associated with poor life outcomes for both mother and child, and investing in reducing teenage pregnancy saves public money.  Government abandonment of the formal teenage pregnancy strategy has raised doubts about whether this improvement will continue. The picture is highly variable across the country and members might want to keep an eye on the performance and resourcing of family planning and education in their area.

Another ONS release stated that the level of net migration into the UK rose by 36% last year. While the numbers of people who entered the UK on a long-term basis in the year to June 2010 fell slightly to 572,000, there was a sharp fall in those who emigrated to 346,000.

Separate figures, published for the first time by the ONS, suggest 2009’s economic slowdown had a dramatic impact on the number of people coming to England and Wales to work for periods of less than 12 months. An estimated 97,000 overseas residents visited the UK for short-term work-related purposes in the year to mid-2009, down from 162,000 the previous year – a reduction of 40%. There was also a 33% drop in short-term work-related migration from Poland to England and Wales in 2009.

The government wants to reduce net migration levels, the difference between the two figures, to tens of thousands by 2015. To help do this, the coalition plans to cap immigration from outside the European Union. Research by pollsters Ipsos Mori suggests 75% of Britons believe immigration is currently a problem. Some 57% support the cap, while 15% oppose it.

Royal Commission ‘Funks the Big Issue’

After two years labouring on its last major report ‘The Environmental Impact of UK Demographic Change to 2050’, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution produced a sad little mouse. While the last official body to consider the issue, the Population Panel in 1973(!), had stated unequivocally that “Britain would do better in future with a stationary rather than a growing population”, the Commission couldn’t bring itself to repeat it – though it shone through all their analysis of specific sectors like water and waste. The Chairman, Sir John Lawton, had long since forcefully told two of our Patrons his view that “It’s not population, it’s consumption” – seemingly unable to grasp that it could be both, multiplied by each other. His view was built into the design of the report from the outset, seeking views on every demographic variable (distribution, ageing, household size etc) except the most important one – population size! Despite our suspicions being aroused, we submitted plentiful evidence – all of it ignored in the final report, which uncannily reflected the Chair’s known views. It takes almost heroic denial to believe that the 20 million-odd difference between the highest and lowest limits of the ONS projections for 2050 will have “no significant impact”. This is one abolished quango which won’t be missed.

Press releases

Population Matters issued press releases (see website) in response to reports by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, INRA/ CIRAD (Agrimonde) and Foresight (Global Food and Farming Futures). All three reports addressed the challenge of feeding and otherwise meeting the needs of an ever growing global population, while avoiding any discussion of whether and how that growth might be reduced.

Attenborough lecture

Our patron, Sir David Attenborough, is giving the Royal Society of Arts President’s lecture on March 10th on the subject People and Planet. The event is sold out, but you can watch it live at 6pm at www.thersa.org/events/our-events/rsa-presidents-lecture-2011

UK Aware exhibition

Population Matters will have a stall at the UK Aware sustainable living exhibition in London Olympia on March 25th and 26th. You can get a discount on the advance price by buying tickets using the promotional code populationmatters at www.ukaware.com

Climate Week

UK Aware comes at the end of Climate Week, March 21st to 27th, which is a week of events on the issue of climate change. You might wish to find out what is happening in your area and ask them whether population is being covered. www.climateweek.com

Edinburgh Event

Population Matters patrons Aubrey Manning and Sara Parkin are participating in a debate at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. The debate is on April 11th at 8pm and is entitled ‘Too Many People! Confronting the Population Dilemma’.  Tickets are available from the event website here.

Population Symposium in May

University College London and the Leverhulme Trust are holding a two day symposium on population in London on May 26th and 26th. To find out about registration or to keep an eye open for their free public events, go to www.populationfootprints.org

New patron

Population Matters has a new patron, Chris Packham. Television presenter Chris Packham is a wildlife expert, photographer and author with a passionate concern for conservation and the environment. He has travelled the world in pursuit of all the things that slime, sting and scratch but remain close to his heart. www.chrispackham.co.uk

A New Overseas Partner
Our new Brazilian partner organisation, Sustainable Population Brazil, whose founder approached us for advice last autumn, has launched a blog
www.populacaosustentavel.wordpress.com If you know of anyone who might be interested, do mention it.

Global Population Speak Out/ Million for a Billion

The Global Population Speak Out, organised by the US-based Population Institute, which urges people around the world to speak out on population each February received over a thousand pledges this year, a record. www.populationspeakout.org/   The Institute’s latest initiative is Million for a Billion, calling for a million people to call on world leaders to increase funding for contraception and reproductive health care by $1 billion to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal target of achieving universal access to reproductive health services by 2015. You can support the initiative at www.millionforabillion.com

Worldwatch report

Population Matters patron, Jonathon Porritt, recommends the recent Worldwatch report, Population, Climate Change and Women’s Lives which concludes that “The growth of population is a major factor behind climate change today”. For a summary and how to buy, see www.worldwatch.org

Thanks to Donors

We’d like to thank all those who are making donations, whether those donations are regular or occasional. These are our lifeblood and are enabling us to grow and develop.   For more information on making donations and legacies, see the website or contact supporters@populationmatters.org

Internship with Population Matters

If you fancy an internship with Population Matters this summer, send in your details to enquiries@populationmatters.org

Free window stickers

If you’d like a free Population Matters window sticker for your car or house, send your name and address to supporters@populationmatters.org

Worcester Group

Jonathon Porritt will be speaking at a meeting organised by the group in Cheltenham on 21st June. If you think you might be able to help, or would simply like more details, contact supporters@populationmatters.org

Feedback

If you have any comments or suggestions for this update, send them to supporters@populationmatters.org

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Guess the day of 7 billion!

Some day this year, the world population will hit 7 billion. No one knows exactly when, but the UN will almost certainly announce an official day when it estimates the world will reach that milestone.

It’s nothing to celebrate, of course, but to lighten the mood, we’ll offer a prize of a year’s free membership or a selection of Population Matters merchandise to the person who comes closest to guessing the day. The two runners up will also receive prizes of Population Matters merchandise.

Rules: The day we’re seeking is the UN official day, on that day, which might not be the date currently stated. Entries must be received before the final date is announced. Employees of the UN are ineligible. Your entry should be sent to: www.surveymonkey.com/s/K2PP8P3

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International Women’s Day 2011 – reproductive rights fundamental to women

Population Matters, the UK’s leading body campaigning for sustainable populations, welcomes the UK Government’s Department for International Development confirmation that maternal health and family planning are key elements of its future aid programme.  For International Women’s Day 2011, we reiterate that effective access to affordable family planning must remain a core part of the campaign for gender equality.

The UN Millennium Development Goal of universal access to family planning by 2015 is the goal where least progress has been made. One hundred years after the first International Women’s Day, 215 million women still lack access to modern family planning while one in three women give birth without a trained attendant.

  • Family planning is a health issue.  Although maternal health has improved in recent years, birth-related issues remain a major cause of death for women of child-bearing age in many developing countries.
  • Family planning is a gender empowerment issue.  Women’s ability to control their own fertility is fundamental to their ability to develop independent economic roles and manage their own lives.
  • Family planning is a development issue.  Countries which have to support a high birth rate find it harder to direct their financial and human resources to development.
  • Family planning is a biodiversity issue.  Countries with fast-growing populations are seeing their natural habitats and ecosystems destroyed through inevitable and relentless exploitation.
  • Family planning is a resource and climate change issue.  As the world industrialises, our ever-growing numbers are an important contributor to human impact on available resources such as food, water, energy and even climate.

As we approach 2015, we need to see access to family planning, not just as an issue of health or even simply as an issue for women, but as one that is fundamental to all our futures.

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England & Wales: conceptions up overall; teen pregnancies down

Provisional ONS data for conceptions in England and Wales during 2009 show a mixed picture. Conceptions overall rose by 1%, reversing a decline in 2008 and continuing the rising trend since 2001. Taking 2008 with 2009, more babies are being born in the UK than ever before. This has clear implications for sustainability, the environment and quality of life. The UK has the third highest birth rate of any advanced country, after the Irish Republic and New Zealand (comparative US data not available).

Teenage pregnancies fell to the lowest level for 30 years. Teenage pregnancy is associated with poor life outcomes for both mother and child. Investing in reducing teenage pregnancy saves public money.

However, government abandonment of the formal teenage pregnancy strategy has raised doubts about whether this improvement will continue. The picture is highly variable across the country, suggesting that sharing knowledge of best approaches might bring benefits.

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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.”

NOTES

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

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