Climate change, biodiversity, air pollution, deforestation, water scarcity, and other environmental issues share a common denominator that lies quietly beneath the higher priorities of the environmental movement: population pressure.
Recently, several experts, including Nafis Sadik, the former director of the UN Population Fund, have said that the lack of attention to population, as evidenced by drops in donor support for family planning since 1995, will have negative consequences for the welfare of future generations. Despite the UN’s 2006 prediction that the population will grow to 9.2 billion by 2050, environmentalists have largely ignored the issue of human population growth, focusing instead on reducing the quantity of resources each person uses and other issues that are often exacerbated by an increasingly crowded Earth.
While scaling down each person’s environmental footprint is indeed important, demands for land and resources will increase in tandem with population growth. This is one reason why the Optimum Population Trust’s (OPT) recently-published report Youthquake: Population, fertility, and environment in the 21st century advocates for wider access to family planning and the promotion of voluntary population policies as part of a comprehensive environmental protection strategy. Discourse on population management is always controversial, but OPT believes that it is critical to achieving environmental sustainability.