President's Note, June 2021
Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: June 14, 2021
The United States spans a continent rich in natural resources. The land-locked African Sahelian nation of Chad ranks near the very bottom of global lists in terms of resources and prosperity. These two vastly different nations have one thing in common: Both are overpopulated.
The United Nations World Food Programme reports that Chad “has one of the highest levels of hunger in the world” and that “around 40 percent of children aged under five suffer stunting.” This malnutrition results from overpopulation in a land where women average 5.6 children and where only about 4 percent of the land is arable.
Overpopulation in the U.S. is driving sky-high levels of carbon emissions. Our CO2 emissions in just two days are greater than all such emissions in Chad over the past 60 years. The climate crisis is destroying global biodiversity and placing hundreds of millions of people at mortal risk in places like Chad. More than 20,000 scientists from nearly 200 countries have stated that “planet Earth is facing a climate emergency” and that we are “failing to adequately limit population growth.”
Population Connection’s own mission statement begins with the words “Overpopulation threatens.” Not everyone agrees. Calling current talk about overpopulation “nonsense,” Johns Hopkins University Professor Erle Ellis says, “We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves.” That’s hardly a compelling argument when we’re adding some 80 million people each year to our overheated planet.
The overpopulation debate has proceeded for several hundred years with the likes of Thomas Malthus and our co-founder Paul Ehrlich making our case while being opposed by David Ricardo and Julian Simon. Mostly, we’ve heard from those in the Global North. It’s time we also pay attention to voices from the Global South, where the vast majority of population growth is taking place.
Chad’s Minister of Public Health, Moussa Khadam, points out that “Chad has very high illiteracy and is already overpopulated in the center and the south. We need better tools for family planning and greater awareness to tackle traditions that are centuries old.” Khadam’s grandfather had 64 children. Khadam decided to stop at two.
African women leaders in key public health posts from Egypt to Ghana to Burundi to Namibia have also raised the alarm about overpopulation. And Malawi’s Vice President, Dr. Saulos Chilima, warned his fellow citizens that “unbridled overpopulation and environmental degradation are threatening our communities.”
Let’s all heed these warnings from the continent where human history began about the threats posed by overpopulation. We can help by adding our voices—and by getting our own house in order.
Healthy Human Habits That Help the Environment
Former Population Connection board chair and University of California San Francisco professor emeritus J. Joseph Speidel MD, MPH has recently published The Building Blocks of Health: How to Optimize Wellness With a Lifestyle Checklist. Dr. Speidel provides an evidence-based strategy for healthy behavior to reverse the lifestyle-related damage that leads to illness and early death. The book explains why eating a healthy plant-based diet will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping to mitigate further climate changes.