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Bustin’ at the Seams: Let’s Talk Population

Leslie Back | Tuesday July 6th, 2010 | 0 Comments

By Leslie Back

As I write, the world population is just a smidge (smidge being the technical term) under 7 billion. This large and ever-increasing figure is one of the most critical points of discussion in ecological conversations. We are hard pressed to find enough clean water, food, and simple space for our growing brood. They just aren’t making more land. And, of course, as the population goes up, consumption goes up and resources go down. Pollution goes up. You know where I am going. This is well covered territory.

What is not as well covered, however, is what to do about it. I had the privilege, about three weeks ago, of writing a paper about the Steady State Economy. New to me at the time, I reviewed the information and found many of the principles intriguing, even inspiring. Made popular by economist Herman Daly and others, the steady state focuses on sustainable scale, efficient allocation and fair distribution. I love the focus on economic development as opposed to just growth for its own sake and the movement’s recognition that more does not necessarily mean better. However, what challenged me about the concept was the issue relating to population. Obviously a steady state economy requires a steady population, slowing the acceleration of our population boom. I envisioned horror stories of birth limits and Chinese style one-child policies in the US and abroad and could not stomach the idea of government interference into my natural right to parent. But, that is not how it has to be.

I had my “Aha” moment last night, while reading the 1992 Al Gore work, Earth in Balance. While reading, the dots started to connect and I gained clarity about what we can and should do about this obese population. According to Gore, there are three critical elements proven to slow population surges and limit growth. First, and probably best known, are high education and literacy levels, especially for women. Second  (and this one I had not considered before) were low infant mortality rates, which give parents confidence that their children will grow into maturity. Third, and of great significance, is the ubiquitous access to a variety of birth control methods.

Of course, Gore wrote those words almost twenty years ago, but we grow larger still. Getting a little despondent, I wondered what average citizens could do, what average government can do. How we can slow this train down before we go off the rail? Well, as always, there is hope. There are things to do and learn.

The steady state movement is alive and well, focusing not only on population minimization but a transition of focus from economic “bigness” to economic depth. And, there are other forces out there, ready to be joined. Always on the forefront, the Sierra Club is leading in education and initiatives and few deliver better information than United Nations Population Fund. Those are just a few of a host of examples: sources for education, tips and inspiration.

The population tide can be turned. We have lost valuable time since Gore wrote his work twenty years ago, but there is still a chance for progress. We have no choice but to act. We are coming to the place of no return. Our planet is not growing, but we are. We all must do our part, have a grander view and give thought to the world that is being created and destroyed for future generations. I have a right to parent. Maybe some day I will. Maybe some day I will adopt.

Leslie is a first-year Sustainable MBA student at Green Mountain College. Study interests include environmental conservation, social responsibility and the power of corporate and non-profit partnerships to bring about positive change. Other areas of interest include social media in sustainable marketing and public policy. She holds an MA in Organizational Management and a BS in Leisure Management. On the rare occasions when she is not studying, she enjoys writing, reading, running, nature walks and yoga.  She hopes to use her skills, talents and education to make a positive impact with an environmentally and socially conscious organization.


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