Tonight we are exploring the issue of population growth. Our guest will be Laurie Mazur, editor of a new book called A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge.

Background on Population Growth

We’ll start with an excerpt from a United Nations Report, from its department of Economic and Social Affairs, WORLD POPULATION TO 2300, regarded as one of the most thorough and unbiased population estimates.  It reads:

In these projections, world population peaks at 9.22 billion in 2075. Population therefore grows slightly beyond the level of 8.92 billion projected for 2050 in the 2002 [U.N. Estimates], on which these projections are based.

[A]fter reaching its maximum, world population declines slightly and then resumes increasing, slowly, to reach a level of 8.97 billion by 2300.[…] This pattern of rise, decline, and rise again results from assumptions about future trends in vital rates: that, country by country, fertility will fall below replacement level—though in some cases not for decades—and eventually return to replacement; and that, country by country, life expectancy will eventually follow a path of uninterrupted but slowing increase.

With alternative assumptions about fertility, long-range trends could be quite different. With long-range total fertility 0.3 children above replacement, projected world population in 2300 is four times as large as the main projection; with total fertility 0.2 children below replacement, world population in 2300 is one-quarter of the main projection.

[Doing the math, that gives estimates that range from a staggering 32 billion to an equally amazing 2 billion, well below the current population of 6½ billion.]

The full report is online :,

Regardless of the estimates, the impact of population growth is subject to a great deal of debate.  For example, we googled “population myth” and found dozens of sites, many of them quite conservative in orientation, saying that population is not a problem.

For instance, the anti-abortion Population Research Institute  says, “get the facts,” “spread the word.”  They take the U.N. population growth estimates and argue that even if the entire projected world population were squeezed into an area the size of Texas, there would still be room for every person to have a 33 x 33 patch of ground to grow food.

In other words, they’re not worried about food or space; and, they do not take into account any other population and social justice issues.

The Institute for Environment and Development says rather dramatically that it has a study that “shatters the environment/population link.”  They say:

There is at most a weak link between population growth and rising emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change and contradicts calls for population growth to be limited as part of the fight against climate change and shows that the real issue is not the growth in the number of people but the growth in the number of consumers and their consumption levels.”

Their point is that the wealthy countries generally have the lowest growth rates but are contributing the greatest amount of greenhouse gases.

Dr. David Sattherweite of the Institute nevertheless argues:

that contraception and sexual/reproductive health services are key contributors to development, health and human rights in poorer nations and communities. […But] these are not a solution to climate change — which is caused predominantly by a minority of the world’s population that has the highest levels of consumption.”

Many reports focus primarily on people-as-capital. The Taiwan news asks “Is Taiwan Lost?,” claiming that “the dwindling birth rate has boomeranged against the country’s economy by cutting down it’s consumption, which in turn dampens its economic growth significantly.  In other words, people equal growth and growth is equated with a thriving economy, following the traditional and now suspect capitalist model of “grow or die.”

And, according to a recent BBC report, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Russians are celebrating the first rise in population in Russia in 15 years. The decline has traditionally been blamed on emigration, alcoholism, poor healthcare and poverty, and Putin’s worry was that without population growth, Russia would fall hopelessly behind in economic competition with countries like Japan and Germany.

Whether population growth in Russia will solve emigration, alcoholism, health care and poverty is not made clear in this report. Certainly those problems existed in Russia when it a larger population.

Our Conversation with Laurie Mazur

Laurie Mazur is editor of a new book titled: A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & the Environmental Challenge.  She is an independent writer and consultant and is Director of the Population Justice Project in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Part I: Pivotal Issues

  • Your book contains essays by some thirty global experts on population issues, who join you in arguing that we are at a “pivotal moment” in population growth. While (almost) everybody recognizes that population is a critical concern, why is it pivotal now?

    • Population projections: 8-11 billion. What’s the difference for the future of the planet?
    • 3 billion young people under 25—why do they matter (as opposed, say, to world leaders)?
    • What are the likely consequences if we/they fail to act now?
  • Your book is particularly interesting because of its linking of population and environment. (As you note, population is often referenced only in passing in environmental discussions.) What do you see as the fundamental and/or ignored relationships?
  • We especially appreciated the complexity of your book.  You opened our eyes to all sorts of connections, emphasizing that these relationships are reciprocal.  Let’s talk a little about one or several of these as time permits.
    • Population<>Social Justice
    • Population<>Capitalism
    • Population<>Immigration/Migration
    • Population <> Climate Change
  • You and several writers talk about the 1994 Cairo population conference as a kind of watershed, leading to new thinking about population issues. But you also express some dissatisfaction with the follow-up to Cairo.  What were the achievements and disappointments growing from Cairo? Subtopic:
    • We’re guessing that you followed the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. What do you see as its implications (and disappointments) related to population and social justice issues?

Part II: Positive Directions

You and your writers do not offer simple solutions, but, rather explore avenues that you think could help the world grow closer to 8 billion than 11 billion people.

  • You generally reject “population control” or top down, governmental edicts.  But there are examples—most notably China’s one-child policy—that have, in fact, dramatically decreased the rate of growth.  What’s wrong with strong governmental mandates for population control?
  • You (and your authors) argue strongly that education is a key to population moderation, in particular, education for girls, and especially girls who live in poverty. Please explain that equation.
    • Do you have examples of countries where education of girls has made a difference
  • If we do not have government mandates for population control, what role(s) can the government—global or U.S.—play?
    • You note that the Bush administration reversed key Cairo protocols; what’s your feeling about the Obama administration?
    • Adrienne Germaine writes in your book about “mobilizing constituencies.”  What’s the role of activists in influencing, dictating, or creating alternatives to forceful yet humane government policies?
    • What roles will religious groups, particularly the Vatican, Conservative Christians, and Progressive Christians play in the debate?
  • Your final entry in the book is yours and Shira Saperstein’s concise call for action to policy makers. What are its key elements?
  • How can interested listeners and activists become more involved in this project?

We really cannot do justice to this book in a thirty minute interview. It is one of the most comprehensive we’ve examined, and it’s not just about “population.” The book is A Pivotal Moment, and it’s published by Island Press. You can learn more about it at

Playlist for Ecotopia #73: A Pivotal Moment

1. Supernova      4:42  Liquid Blue      Supernova

2. Black Moon (Album Version)      6:59  Emerson, Lake & Palmer      Black Moon

3. Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)  5:11  Neil Young      Ragged Glory      Rock

4. Traffic Jam (Album Version)      2:13  James Taylor      James Taylor Live

5. Death Of Mother Nature Suite (Album Version)     7:54        Kansas    Kansas

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Doctor My Eyes (LP Version)      3:20  Jackson Browne     Jackson Browne

8. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)  3:16  Marvin Gaye   What’s Going On