In the News, September 2022

Written by Olivia Nater, Communications Manager | Published: September 19, 2022

U.S. Birth Rate Up Again, but Aging Trend Remains

According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 3,659,289 births in 2021, an increase of about 46,000, or 1 percent, from 2020. The CDC’s analysis found that during the initial Covid-19 lockdowns in spring 2020, there was a sharp decline in conceptions that led to fewer births. But conceptions began increasing again by the summer of 2020 as unemployment decreased and families received government benefits.

Nevertheless, the birth rate in 2021 was still lower than in 2019, reflecting an ongoing trend towards smaller families. The declining U.S. birth rate is leading to population ageing—new Census data shows that since 2000, the national median age has increased by 3.4 years to 38.8. The Northeast was the oldest region in 2021, with a median age of 40.4, followed by the Midwest (39.0), the South (38.6), and the West (37.7). The Census data also revealed that the country is becoming more diverse, with all race and ethnicity groups growing between 2020 and 2021 except for the white population, which declined by 0.03 percent.

Pandemic disruptions affected the quality of the 2020 Census, with research published in May this year showing household populations were overcounted in eight states (Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Utah), yet undercounted in six others (Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas). However, the Census Bureau concluded that the national total in the 2020 Census was largely accurate. Overall, the U.S. population increased from 331,501,080 on July 1, 2020, to 331,893,745 on July 1, 2021.

Increase in Vasectomies Post-Roe and a Prospective Over-the-Counter Pill

The Supreme Court’s devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade seems to have prompted many men to seek out a vasectomy. Popular Florida urologist Dr. Doug Stein told The Washington Post that since the Court’s decision, the number of vasectomy requests he receives daily has increased from four or five to 12-18.

In other encouraging contraceptive news, HRA Pharma, a French company, has submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first over-the-counter contraceptive pill in the U.S. Opill is a “mini pill,” a type of pill that contains only progestin. Unlike combination pills that also contain estrogen, progestin-only pills do not increase the risk of high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.

Over 100 countries already allow some contraceptive pills to be sold without a prescription. A 2016 survey of U.S.-based women of childbearing age found that almost 30 percent have had difficulty obtaining birth control prescriptions or refills. An over-the-counter pill—as long as it’s affordably priced—would help make birth control more accessible across the country, especially for marginalized communities. The FDA is expected to make a decision in 2023.

Supreme Court Ruling Sets Back Climate Action

The Supreme Court’s ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency on June 30 represents a blow to the EPA’s ability to take meaningful climate action. The conservative 6-3 majority ruled that the EPA cannot set state-level emissions caps for power plants. The power sector is the second-largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S., after transportation.

The Court stated that federal agencies require explicit authorization from Congress to decide on issues “of major economic and political significance,” raising concerns that the ruling could also hamper other much-needed environmental measures.

Report: We Must “Redefine Humanity’s Relationship With Nature”

It’s been 50 years since the seminal United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (also known as the Stockholm Conference) in 1972, the UN’s first international conference dedicated to environmental issues. The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) published a new report to provide a scientific basis for the Stockholm+50 follow-up conference held in early June 2022.

The report provides yet another urgent call to transform our relationship with nature in order to tackle the interlinked planetary and social crises. Its key recommendations include greening cities; facilitating sustainable lifestyles; improving animal welfare alongside a global shift to plant-based diets; nature-based education campaigns for children; and replacing GDP with sustainability and well-being indicators. The report also calls on policymakers to draw on the knowledge of Indigenous communities.

Climate Change Causes Deadly Record Heatwaves and Floods

Temperatures across Europe, from Spain to the British Isles, soared this summer, causing record-breaking droughts and fires. The United Kingdom declared a national emergency when parts of its runways melted in the heatwave, while Portugal recorded more than 1,000 deaths due to extreme temperatures. French authorities battled wildfires and implemented water use restrictions as more than 100 municipalities ran out of drinking water and required water truck supplies.

Brutal heatwaves also hit India earlier this year, with temperatures reaching 100-year records. Aside from the direct threat to human lives and livelihoods, heatwaves have been estimated to cost India’s economy 101 billion hours of lost labor annually due to outdoor work, such as agriculture and construction, becoming increasingly unmanageable.

Deadly floods in Bangladesh have left millions of children homeless, hungry, and lacking health care, safe water, and education. Covid-19 school closures combined with flood impacts have disrupted the education of 37 million children in Bangladesh since the start of the pandemic, according to UNICEF.

In eastern Uganda, at least 30 people have been killed by flash flooding, while more than 5,600 have been displaced and 400,000 left without clean drinking water. Extreme weather also struck parts of the U.S., with catastrophic flooding in Kentucky claiming close to 40 lives.

A report published in May by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed that four critical climate records were broken in 2021: atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, sea level rise, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. It also showed that the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. In response to the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres criticized “the dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption” and renewed his call for a rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

Zero Hunger SDG Moving Out of Reach

A UN report published in July revealed that the number of people suffering from hunger increased by 46 million between 2020 and 2021 and by 150 million between 2019 and 2021. As many as 828 million people, or more than 10 percent of the world’s population, don’t have enough to eat.

Since 2017, world hunger has been increasing again (after steadily declining for over a decade), with the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030 moving ever further out of reach. The report warns of the intensification of three key drivers of hunger and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks, including the disruption of supply chains caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

One-in-Six Deaths Due to Pollution

A study published in The Lancet Planetary Health in May revealed that environmental pollution causes an estimated 9 million premature deaths annually, with 90 percent of these deaths taking place in low- and middle-income countries. Air pollution accounts for the vast majority of pollution-related deaths, at 6.7 million per year, followed by water pollution at 1.4 million deaths, lead poisoning at 900,000, and occupational pollution from carcinogens and particulate matter at 870,000.

The study found that the total number of pollution-related deaths has not changed in the past five years, but the contributions from different sources have shifted. In 2015, there were more deaths from household air pollution (from stoves that burn solid fuels such as wood) and unsafe water than in 2019. However, 2019 saw an increase in deaths caused by modern forms of pollution resulting from fossil fuel combustion (including from traffic) and toxic chemicals.