As I write this, I’m still trying to process this most disturbing—even terrifying—of elections. Since President-elect Trump has never served in any public office and has made all manner of contradictory statements, it’s hard to know just how events will unfold. There is, however, every indication that vital population programs may be eviscerated. We will not stand idly by.
Most people don’t seem to know that we’ve made more progress on meeting the population challenge than on many other issues of similar global magnitude, including poverty, civil conflict, and the environment.
When I was born in 1950, the average woman around the world had five children. Today, she has half that many. Since replacement rate fertility is 2.1 children per woman (in a low-mortality society), we’re 86 percent of the way to that milestone from where we were at my birth. Four of the six inhabited continents are at or below replacement rate fertility, and Asia is just barely above, at 2.2 children per woman. Only Africa is well above that level.
In 1950, the average American woman had 3.3 children. Today she has just 1.9, and we’ve been at or below replacement rate for more than four decades. In Mexico—historically our largest immigrant-sending country—family size plummeted from 6.7 children in 1970 to just 2.2 today. Immigration from Mexico is now at net zero.
While mass media and digital communications make a difference, when it comes to something as personal as reproductive health, it’s vital to build trust. The truism “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” hits the nail on the head. Building trust often involves personal interaction. That’s why it’s so important for our Population Education department to work with teachers who care deeply about educating the next generation. And it’s why well-staffed local clinics are just as important in Richmond as they are in Rwanda. Now, they may be shuttered.
We haven’t met all of the world’s population challenges. Not by a long shot. And with 45 percent of American births still unplanned, we’ve got a long way to go here at home as well. Now, there is a real risk that decades of hard work may be destroyed by the new Congress and the next president.
Bottom line: We know what works. Remove barriers to contraception, while affirming women’s rights, and population challenges evaporate. It’s as simple as it is difficult—especially since our nation will now be run by retrograde politicians who refuse to accept that population challenges are very real.
As tides rise and species disappear forever, this is no time to throw up our hands. We must persist.
We thank the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) for its generous donation of nearly $70,000 in September. EPI, led by the energetic and prolific Lester Brown, analyzed data in novel ways to make connections between different environmental challenges and our growing human population. From 2001 until it closed its doors in June 2015, EPI staff worked with Lester to produce eleven books and countless fact sheets and data briefs. EPI designated Population Connection as the recipient of its remaining funds ($68,950.93) after all organizational obligations were finalized. Lester Brown has done so much for this field, and we will continue to honor his legacy through the work this donation makes possible.