Remember when most Americans saw population growth as a major problem … and stepped up to take action?
In fact, it’s not a distant memory—it’s right now. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 59 percent of Americans agree that “growing world population will be a major problem.” If that’s not a landslide, it’s darn close, considering that only four candidates ever won the White House with more than 59 percent of the popular vote.
Many of those 59 percent are joining in our grassroots outreach. We’re adding 5,000 new members every week to our Email Action Network. And we reached three million American students last year thanks to our Population Education program. That’s equal to the annual number of public high school graduates.
While any scientist can tell you that correlation is not causation, we can point to real progress. When we were founded in 1968, American women had 2.6 children on average. For the past 35 years, however, American fertility has consistently remained at or below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.
In 1970, there were only 10 nations at or below replacement rate. Now there are 78. Thanks partly to U.S. aid, family size in Mexico plummeted from 6.8 children in 1970 to just 2.2 today. It’s a true success story for voluntary family planning, which we champion for women and couples here at home and around the world.
Yet there is vast unfinished business. We add another billion people to our small planet every 12 years. And we face unremitting ideological opposition from Right Wing politicians and from American Catholic bishops—though not from rank-and-file American Catholics, who have smaller families than Protestants.
Elsewhere, the likes of Vladimir Putin, Islamist leaders, and the Vatican push for larger families. Yet hard-pressed Russian couples don’t need more mouths to feed. And there are many responsible voices throughout the world; Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, is now on the verge of achieving replacement rate fertility. And the Philippines finally overcame opposition from their bishops to pass a law providing poor women with access to contraceptives.
It’s good to know that most Americans agree with us. And it’s great that our membership is growing by leaps and bounds. But it’s not enough. The challenge is enormous. Our opponents are relentless. With every tick of the clock, the world gets more crowded. More species face extinction. Extreme poverty takes its toll. Climate change and civil conflict threaten the world.
These days, people seem captivated by screens both large and small. I’m no Luddite, but life is not a spectator sport. Observation needs to be coupled with action. As Teddy Roosevelt put it: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I know that our members and supporters will continue to help us make the population connection for a better, safer, less-crowded world.