Population Control and Sustainability

Overpopulation is inextricably tied to countless environmental issues: Poverty, water shortages, pollution and waste management, famine, and resource consumption, to name a few. It was this topic, with a focus on family planning and sex education, that was the focus of a discussion on Wednesday in the Kirner-Johnson Red Pit led by Izaak Walton League representative Rebecca Wadler Lase ’00 and Sierra Club representative Cassie Gardener.

Lase opened the lecture with a few frightening statistics. There are currently 6.9 billion people in the world. It took us a mere 12 years to get from five to six million, whereas it took humanity until the middle of the 1800s before the global population hit one billion. Exponential growth becomes even more frightening because, already, 23 percent of the world’s population lives on less than one U.S. dollar per day. This number is expected to grow, as the developing world has the greatest trouble curbing population growth.

Cassie Gardener is the national campus organizer for the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program, which aims to foster healthy communities by advancing sustainable development programs. Sierra Club has joined with women’s health and rights organizations to teach about sexual and reproductive health, because education of sexual health and contraception has shown to be most effective in lowering birth rates in impoverished countries where population growth is spiraling out of control.

Gardener used a series of interactive visual aids to help to accurately portray the unfair distribution of wealth and resource consumption globally. There are eight Asians for every one American, yet for every dollar in per capita GDP in America, an Asian receives less than one cent. The root of this problem is in overpopulation, and the cyclical nature of poverty requires that we take action now to change the world.

The solution lies in family planning. The two main organizations that head the movement for family planning and education are the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Population Fund. Although together these organizations provide services in more than 140 countries, it still isn’t enough. Family planning education has shown a direct correlation with population growth, and it’s urgent, Gardener said, that the U.S. government take a more active role in a problem that will soon become a global crisis.

Gardener urged the audience to try to make a difference. As the wealthiest country in the world, she said, it’s our obligation to take the initiative in solving this problem. Her organization has set a goal for $1 billion in federal aid for international voluntary family planning, and she thinks that with enough support and action on a grass roots level, we can curb population growth and make progress toward creating a sustainable future.

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