“All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.”
Sir David Attenborough, Population Matters patron
We all seek and deserve a decent quality of life on a healthy planet. We have only one Earth. We should not have to compete with one another for what it has to offer. Balancing our numbers with what the Earth can sustain benefits us all.
Protecting our world
In the 21st century, human activity demands more of the Earth than it can provide, and threatens the health of the natural environment on which we all depend. No person who is born brings what they need with them. The more of us there are, the more we consume the planet’s natural resources, build in its wild places and pump carbon into its atmosphere.
10,000 years ago our planet had to sustain just a few million people. Today, it must sustain seven-and-a-half billion and by 2050, 10 billion is most likely.
We are facing environmental crisis unless we change our ways. Populations of wild animals have plummeted, global temperatures are rising, our seas are polluted and our forests disappearing.
In the rich world, we consume at astronomical and unsustainable levels. Today, a child born in the US will produce 160 times more carbon than one born in Niger. We are already using the resources of more than one-and-a-half planets.
For the Earth to provide for us all, we must reduce our impact as a species – and those of us who are wealthy now must reduce it drastically as soon as we can. There are many ways in which we can and must do that but the single most effective and immediate way of reducing our consumption and our impact is to reduce the number of consumers by having smaller families. Fewer people being born eases the pressure on our planet, reducing our emissions and pollution, conserving our resources and bringing us back into balance with the natural world.
Justice for all
No one should live in poverty but today, hundreds of millions go hungry, lack water and sanitation and struggle to provide basics for their families – while a few of us consume far more than our share.
A more just system depends on better distribution of what we have. But right now, families, communities and whole nations can be trapped in a cycle of deprivation by the need to sustain large numbers of children. Reducing the number of children being born offers a path out of poverty.
In the poorest countries, high birth rates make mothers and children more likely to die, place a strain on health and education programmes and prevent women from entering the workforce and achieving economic independence. Water sources and land can be depleted and degraded by the demands of supplying the local population and there are too few jobs to go round.
Empowering people to determine the size of their families helps to break the cycle of deprivation and powerlessness. Time and again since modern contraception has been available, the economic development of nations follows a reduction in birth rates, while increasing wealth brings them down still further.
As poor countries and their people move out of poverty, though, they will have a greater impact on the land they occupy, and will consume more resources and produce more emissions and waste, just as the rich world does today. We know the planet cannot bear that strain so we must all reduce our impact.
Achieving the vision
Ending population growth and, in many countries, reversing it is a vital part of ensuring global justice and a healthy environment that can sustain us all. We already have the power to achieve those goals – by reducing the size of our families.
In many societies, population growth has already slowed or stopped. As nations become more prosperous, birth rates slow and where people have access to contraception, they embrace the opportunity to use it.
About 200 million women across the world do not yet have access to modern contraception but we can and must help them to have that choice. We also know that the education and empowerment of women and girls brings birth rates down.
Where we already have the choice to determine the size of our families, we must exercise that choice freely and mindfully, and have smaller families. If the children and grandchildren of the people alive today are to inherit a world worth living in, that change must begin without delay.
Find out more about population, sustainability and the solutions on our Key Facts page.