A fresh perspective on the population-environment-development ties

Martha M. Campbell, University of California, Berkeley
Jade S. Sasser, University of California, Berkeley

There is little doubt that population growth plays a role in aspects of environmental decline, even though the relationship between the population factor and climate change may be less direct than many people would like to believe. What isn’t in question is the relationship between the needs of increasing numbers of people on fresh water supplies, and on forests in many places. Less well understood is the relationship between population and development. There is a large and well documented unmet need for family planning in nearly all low-income countries, where women want on average fewer children than they are having, yet they commonly run into unnecessary barriers to contraceptive use. A sense of discomfort around the subject of reproduction is one reason most environmental groups no longer talk about population growth. This is based largely on a sense that attempts to achieve lower birth rates might lead to coercive family planning. A new systematic survey shows that the ongoing controversy around these issues hinders discussion, and hinders any mention of the population growth factor in environmental organizations and in most reports in the written press on environmental challenges. Also missing in decisions to leave out the population subject is recognition that the growth of human population is also hindering development. Development is dependent on education and health, and in countries and regions with rapid population growth, it is difficult or impossible for educational or health infrastructures to catch up with the expanding needs. The implications of this for the links between environment and development may seem startling to some: both of these have a requirement in common, the need to reduce the many barriers between women and their ability to manage their childbearing. The steps taken to achieve this are voluntary, purely within a human rights framework.

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Presented in Session 14: Population, environment, and policy