Talk outlines goal of reaching minimal population growth

Advocates of controlling the world's explosive population growth hope to persuade the U.S. to provide $1 billion in contraception aid for 220 million potential mothers in the developing world.

Attaining minimal population growth worldwide would open the door for "every woman to have the absolute right to determine when and how many children she will have and to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, with enough food and clean water and the opportunity for good education," says Stacie Murphy of the Population Connection Center, a national grassroots organization based in Washington, D.C.

Murphy will speak on "Beyond Seven Billion: The Challenges of Global Population Growth" at 5:15 p.m. today, Sept. 27, at the Southern Oregon University Science Building, Room 118. Her talk is free.

"If you try to develop as a nation without getting population growth under control, you are chasing a moving target," said Murphy.

The world's population hit the 7 billion mark last year and at current birth rates is projected to grow to between 9 billion and 11 billion by 2050.

By contrast, the world's population was estimated at 1 billion in 1800, just before the Industrial Revolution, Murphy said in a phone interview.

Overpopulation contributes to climate change and other environmental and economic problems, Murphy said.

It's "a key component in many problems that aren't going to get better if we don't make population a priority," she said.

She noted it's the developed world that "consumes resources way out of proportion to its population," making a much bigger impact on the environment.

"We often get the question, is there an upper boundary for our population? We reply that it depends on the living standard you want," she said. "If you want to live like the average American, it's 2 billion. If you want to live like the average Ethiopian, it's a lot more, but then, do you get clean water and food?"

Population Connection, formerly known as Zero Population Growth, experienced its heyday in the 1960s and '70s with Paul Ehrlich's book, "The Population Bomb." But the concept now suffers from the problem that most people think the issue was dealt with back then.

"It's not something people talk about directly," she said. "It's around the edges. It's hard to give it a second wind."

That's one reason why the Population Connection Center has shifted its focus to providing access to modern contraception and family planning in the developing world.

"It's difficult to talk about because you're talking about sex, religion and intensely personal decisions — and you don't want to sound like you're telling people how many children they can have," she said. "But if you give people the means and the information, almost universally, they choose smaller families."

Another obstacle is that family planning often is "conflated" with the deeply emotional and controversial issue of abortion, she said.

"It's impossible to have a conversation in this Congress without a political fight, because some see contraception as the first step to unraveling their ideal society," she said.

"With contraception, women have the power to determine the trajectory of their lives."

Countries whose population growth falls at or below "replacement rate" — when births and deaths equal out — include the U.S., Canada, China, Europe and the former Soviet nations. India, the Arab states and South America's growth falls less than 1 percent above the replacement rate, while Africa and some Arab nations continue to see substantial population growth.

Population Connection's goal with lawmakers is threefold, Murphy said:

  • Give $1 billion toward contraception for 220 million potential mothers in the developing world.
  • Permanently repeal the "global gag rule" in which the U.S. Agency for International Development withdraws funding to foreign nongovernmental organizations that fund abortion or abortion counseling. Population Connection maintains such a policy has a chilling effect on family planning. The rule was in place during the Reagan and Bush administrations but repealed by the Clinton and Obama administrations, according to Population Connection.
  • Provide a "robust" contribution to the United Nations Population Fund to improve reproductive health services in developing nations.

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