President’s Note
September 2019

Will rapid population growth trigger a total collapse?

It already has. Just ask the 9 million residents in and around Chennai, India, where the wells have run dry. Another 20 Indian cities face the same fate within 18 months. More than half that nation is already dealing with high-to-extreme water stress, which results in the deaths of 200,000 people each year.

Ask the citizens of Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Maldives—Pacific island nations threatened by oceanic inundation due to climate change.

Ask the 15,364 scientists who’ve warned that “we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.”

Collapses generally don’t follow the plot line of those Hollywood movies where everything, everywhere goes to hell all at once. In the real world, one catastrophe often triggers the next. Just consider the fate—and the impact—of the 70 million people now displaced from their homes, nearly double the number just a decade ago.

We regularly hear from the demographic equivalent of the Flat Earth Society who argue that none of this is due to population growth. Tell that to Indian women standing for hours in long lines under the scorching sun to fill water jugs. Tell that to villagers fleeing famine, drought, or civil chaos in Africa, Asia, and Central America.

Some people seem strangely comforted that world population might possibly stop growing by 2100 or thereabouts. The most recent UN medium projection indicates we’ll add another 3.2 billion people by the end of the century. Who in their right mind thinks the earth would be improved by population growth equal to all current inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere plus Africa?

One of our members asked me recently if I thought population growth was the world’s biggest challenge. I replied that it certainly qualifies, and that virtually every other global challenge is exacerbated by population growth.

It stands out because we absolutely know how to achieve zero population growth: by smashing all barriers to reproductive health services. Hania Zlotnik, a distinguished former board member of Population Connection and the first woman to serve as Director of the UN Population Division, says that if we want a different future, we must “change the now.” Step One involves doing everything possible to ensure that every pregnancy—and at the very least, every birth—everywhere is intended.

Yet we’re moving in the opposite direction. Trump’s odious Global Gag Rule has dramatically increased unintended pregnancies in some of the poorest places on earth. Here at home, Trump has imposed a Domestic Gag Rule, which will devastate family planning programs across our nation.

Every day brings news of another catastrophe. We must counter fanaticism with facts and enlist a rising generation. Time is short.

John Seager

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