From the start of this Sustain What project, I pledged regularly to highlight your questions, calls to action or constructive commentary on the tough challenges societies face building a cooler relationship between people, the planet and each other. This follows a practice I developed in nine years of Dot Earth blogging at The New York Times - a practice that greatly enriched my reporting and built a solution-focused collaborative community.
Please post your thoughts in the comment thread and do send me your calls to action or ideas for future posts via the feedback link above.
I and a small group of fellow environmental advocates are distressed by the lack of, or imbalanced media coverage of overpopulation, (yes I use that un-PC but hopefully clear and useful word) and consumption and would like to do something about it.Population’s effect on emissions and the climate crisis has been well documented by agencies from Unicef to the I.P.C.C., as you are aware.
Indeed, you state....: "I've teamed up with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala to make the case for boosting girls' rights and education access as a climate strategy.” [Here's the related post.] Yet, population is largely left out of the climate conversation. One very recent example: the Guardian omitted it entirely from its COP26 piece, "The climate crisis explained in 10 charts."We have other examples of this omission and of a bias that frames declining population levels as negative only, with a bent toward protecting GDP growth. Here's just one example of the latter. [I've posted the Economist piece she links to below with a brief comment.]We agree that the solutions to unchecked population growth lie with girl's and women's education and rights and are aware that the situation in the U.S. varies wildly from that in developing countries. But, aside from that, as environmentalists, we are thinking of convening a panel at an institution like Columbia University’s new Climate School that takes up the imbalanced media coverage of the issue.
My colleagues in this include actress/environmentalist Alexandra Paul, who received a United Nations Environment Programme honor for her contribution to overpopulation issues, and Paul Scott, a lifelong environmentalist and winner of a California state Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. All three of us are co-founders and former board members of Plug In America, a leading independent voice of advocacy for EVs and the people who drive them.
I'm taking up Dubin-Scott's offer and will organize a Columbia Climate School Sustain What video webcast exploring media coverage of the population issue in climate context. This is exactly what I envisioned in putting out the offer to host "friendly takeovers" of my webcast. Click the link beneath the phrase to learn more.
I don't tend to use the word overpopulation myself - except in considering local challenges. I tend to agree with the demographer Joel Cohen that there's enormous societal and ecological plasticity on this planet, such that the answer to the question he posed in the title of his classic book - "How Many People Can the Earth Support?" - is that it depends.
But I absolutely agree with Dubin-Scott that population trends and the forces shaping them matter enormously - particularly the conditions women face that can either foster family and community wellbeing or destroy it.
I saw this up close in 1989 in the depths of the Amazon rain forest, where I interviewed a woman in a rubber-tapping household for my book "The Burning Season" and she told me about her 17 children, 10 of whom were still alive (with no particular emotion). Around the world, in contrast, I've seen the flourishing that occurs when girls make it through school and can shape their own fates and families.
In one of my collaborative posts with Malala, I recalled my interaction in Nairobi with Shanize Njeri Wanjiku, a 10-year-old budding poet whose every exhalation made the case for female empowerment.
Dubin-Scott's point about the absence of a population focus at the COP26 climate talks echoes what I reported on in 2014, when the United Nations hosted simultaneous meetings on climate and population with little sign of crosstalk.
As COP26 began, the organization Population Matters urged the climate negotiators to consider how population factors drive both climate change and climate impacts. This section, particularly, meshes with my longtime concerns about the second issue:
The piece in the Economist that Dubin-Scott criticized - on the perils of shrinking populations - proposes this could slow technological progress, in part making the argument for more brains as a source of more breakthroughs that Julian Simon made decades ago.
What do you think?
Please watch the Sustain What discussion I had on this subject with Joel Cohen, Katindi Sivi-Njonjo, a Kenyan futurist, and Craig Tucker, the author of "A Planet of 3 Billion": "How Many Billions Can a Heating, Pandemic-Wrapped Planet Support?"
What other issues don't get into the media spotlight? What factors get too much attention? Weigh in.
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Banner caption: Girls study in 2018 in the tribal community of Dhamanwadi, north of Goa, India (photo by Sandeep Rasal/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images).
Winter is coming to the Northern Hemisphere. I'm filing on a slow internet connection from rural Maine and it is cold outside.