How challenging will it be to feed the world’s population in 2050? Depends on how many people there are in 2050. And that number depends on a lot of things – not least of which is how many women are empowered to choose their family size with the help of modern contraception.
Seems obvious, but unfortunately, this fact is left out of too many conversations about the connections between population dynamics and sustainable development. That was starkly illustrated last week at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference, where two events – one a full-day workshop, the other a single panel – took dramatically different approaches to discussing the role of fertility and reproductive rights in determining the trajectory of communities and the planet.
The workshop, “From Nairobi to New Orleans: Reporting on Resilience, Climate Change and Population Dynamics,” was organized by the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program (with a little input from Women at the Center). You can read the full agenda online, but here are some highlights from the speakers, as Tweeted by reporters during the event:
“Population growth is determined largely by fertility, which is responsive to women’s empowerment.” — Kathleen Mogelgaard #SEJ2014
— Jillian Keenan (@JillianKeenan) September 3, 2014
Kathleen Mogelgaard: Population is not static. Trends are not fixed, they respond to conditions in society. #SEJ2014
— New Security Beat (@NewSecurityBeat) September 3, 2014
#SEJ2014 Journo Ken Weiss says Bangladeshi women who delay marriage in favor work, earn more and have fewer children
— steve sapienza (@saptwit) September 3, 2014
By contrast, the panel titled “Feeding Eight Billion People in a Warming World” (description available on this page) started with the premise that “The [food security] challenge is only growing more pressing as the global population soars past eight billion by 2025.” While the panelists offered a variety of interesting ideas for improving access to food for these billions – 842 million of whom are already going hungry today – not a single speaker alluded to the possibility that our current population growth trajectory isn’t set in stone. (However, a lunch discussion afterwards, “Hot & Hungry: Farming to Feed 9 Billion,” offered a much more well-rounded conversation, led by freelance reporter Lisa Palmer and Rosalia Omungo, a television reporter from Kenya.)
The United Nations’ population projections, the acknowledged “gold standard” of such demographic forecasts, offer a variety of scenarios for population growth rates. Introducing additional access to reproductive health services can make a huge difference; where voluntary family planning is more available, family sizes tend to fall. Where family sizes fall, moms and dads invest more in each child, with better results for health, education, prosperity and resilience.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: investments in access to family planning are good for women, families, and our sustainable future.