August 31, 2010

Our guest is Bill Ryerson, who is President of the Population Media Center. His organization takes a unique approach to education: They create soap operas and melodramas in many languages for myriad countries around the world. They have evidence that soap operas can be a very effective way to inform and influence people on such issues as population, AIDS/HIV, women’s roles, and family planning.

Listen to the program.

Background on Population and Social Justice

Back in February of this year, we talked with Laurie Mazur, author the book, A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge. We were impressed by the connections that Laurie made between population and issues ranging from poverty to religion to agriculture to education to technological fixes to the world’s problems. As background for tonight’s guest, we’d like to read a section of the introduction to Laurie’s book. She wrote:

 We are living in a pivotal moment.Even a casual glance at the headlines reveals this to be a pivotal moment environmentally,… from acidifying oceans to depleted aquifers, the natural systems we depend upon are nearing “tipping points,” beyond which they may not recover.But it is less well known that this is a pivotal moment demographically. While the rate of population growth has slowed in most parts of the world,…our numbers still increase by 75 to 80 million every year….[T]he ultimate size of the human population will be decided in the next decade or so. [She calls for an approach to “population justice” that takes] a nuanced understanding of the relationship between human numbers and environmental harm, and the inequitable patterns of consumption that mediate that relationship….Of each proposed action we must ask, Does it uphold and enhance established human rights? Does it advance the cause of social justice; will it reduce inequality? Will it promote human well-being and protect the environment?




 A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge. Laurie Mazur, ed. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010.

 Our Discussion with Bill Ryerson

Our guest tonight, Bill Ryerson, shares that belief in the centrality of population to a host of global issues. And his approach to educating people is unique: His nonprofit, Population Media Center, produces soap operas that run for months, even years, in dozens of countries around the world. Through these melodramas, they provide information as well as role models for people of all ages.

[We play an excerpt from Coconut Bay–distributed in the Eastern Caribbean]

Please tell us a little about what we just heard from Coconut Bay and how this illustrates your project.

  • You have produced soaps all over the world–please tell us some of the countries where you’ve worked. [For our reference: Brazil, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Vietnam.]
  • Do you seek or need governmental cooperation? theirs or ours?
  • How do you go about launching a project–including writing, recruiting actors, production, airing the programs?
  • What kinds of cultural or cross-cultural precautions do you and your staff take before launching a project in another country?
  • Who pays for this and how costly is it?
  • We’ll talk about your central issue of population a little later in the program. What are some of the other issues you’ve addressed in these dramas? [Our reference: Environmental preservation, HIV Aids, Reproductive Health, Gender Issues, Women’s Education, Child Protection.]
  • You use something called the Sabido methodology for creating your programs, which you candidly say are highly melodramatic. Where did this method originate and how does it work?
  • What kinds of evidence have you collected that this approach works? WHY does it work? Do people really emulate soap opera role models? Do people sometimes find it “preachy”? Or do people identify with the wrong character [the Archie Bunker effect]? How many people do you think your broadcasts have reached?
  • What additional media projects have you developed–TV? other media? your worldwide game? [From the press release: a transmedia program aimed at teens here in the U.S. to help prevent teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS. This cutting edge approach of using multi-platform storytelling (the story’s content is seamlessly delivered through multiple devices including TV, mobile phones and video games), has been proven to strengthen bonds between audience members and the characters, especially youth ages 18-24.]

 [We’ll take a short break and listen to part of another episode of Coconut Bay, then ask our guest Bill Ryerson, about the broader issue of population impact.]

  • You argue that population is “the multiplier of everything else.” Please explain that position.
  • If we look at birth rates and population change over the past century, it sometimes seems as if change just happens and that the consequences are unpredictable. [The birth rate falls in the UK, and suddenly England is importing workers for the jobs Brits don’t want to do.] What are the most important trends (and consequences if the world doesn’t act)?
  • You have argued that that contraception-as-a solution is a myth. Please explain. What are some of the other myths about population solutions?
  • And what are your best hopes for solutions? [An impossibly broad question, we realize.]
  • Population and abortion are still inflammatory issues in this country, and we’ve seen policy changes between the Bush and Obama administrations. What are “we” doing constructively at the moment? What should the U.S. be doing?
  • What other groups or organizations are taking action around the world?
  • How can concerned listeners become involved with or show support for constructive population programs and solutions?

 Our guest has been Bill Ryerson, President of Population Media, you can learn a great deal more about their work by visiting their website We’ll also post links on our website to several related articles by Bill or about the population issue.

 How Soap Operas Might Save Us from Overpopulation

 Population: The Last Taboo

Population: The Multiplier of Everything

Playlist for Ecotopia #101

1. Stay Human (All The Freaky People) 4:27 Michael Franti & Spearhead   Stay Human

2. Worldwide Connected 5:06 The Herbaliser Something Wicked This Way Comes

3. People (Single Version) 3:43 Barbra Streisand People

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

5. The Road to Utopia 4:54 Utopia Adventures In Utopia