Today is World Population Day—a day meant to draw attention to the various social and environmental implications of rapid population growth and compel people into action. This year’s theme highlights “family planning as a human right,” and urges us to make the clear connections between population and access to healthcare.
World Population Day was first established by the UN on July 11, 1987 in recognition of the world’s population reaching five billion people. In just 31 years, we have added a little over two billion more people, and are projected to add ANOTHER three billion by 2050.
If you’re looking for a little context here, that growth rate is STAGGERING. The effects of a rapidly growing population are myriad, and range from environmental degradation to political instability to economic marginalization. And of course, the underlying cause of such rapid growth is a simple one: lack of access to resources. It’s not so surprising that impoverished regions generally have a harder time accessing healthcare, education, and economic opportunity, is it? Well, consider that 214 million women in marginalized regions of the world today actually want to be using some form of contraceptive but are not.
Undoubtedly, the purpose of today is to recognize the many challenges we face with regards to population—and as we know, there are many. But, when I first thought about what World Population Day might mean, my impulse wasn’t to be completely freaked out about the future. Can’t we all just take a second to recognize that this day is about more than that? You see, population is greater than a simple number or a projection—at a macro-level, population is relevant in political economy, social justice, international trade, environmentalism, religion, education, development, and so on. But, beyond all of that, population is intricately related to the most intimate and quotidian practices—from the types of food we eat and the kinds of clothes we wear all the way down to our mannerisms and our personal aesthetic.
So, in addition to a proper recognition of some major threats rapid population growth is facing, World Population Day should also be the day we appreciate humans and their journeys through life. We would be remiss not to recognize how population brings together the social and the environmental; the political and the economic. In essence, this day highlights both the urgency of population issues (cue: rapid population growth, systematic oppression of women, lack of access to resources, excessive consumption, and nonrenewable resources!) and the great strides we have taken forward as a species (things like development, technology, education, medicine, humanitarian aid, etc!). So get out there and enjoy this day—and while you’re at it, do what you can to make this world a better place. Or better yet, join us!