President's Note, September 2022

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: September 19, 2022

Graduating from college armed with a degree in political science, I improbably decided to become a carpenter. My responses to help wanted ads went unanswered to the point where I imagined local contractors chuckling over their morning coffee at my hapless entreaties. Finally, I got a job with an outfit that specialized in hiring inept workers at low wages. Once, while placing sloppy finishing touches on a home, our foreman, Tony, remarked, “Well, you can’t see it from my house.”

A big part of the problem in today’s complex, interconnected world is that none of us are capable of seeing all of it from wherever we live. We tend to cherry-pick the parts that fit into our favored narrative. Alas, wishful thinking rarely leads to wish fulfillment, so we must try to see things are they are.

The most recent UN population estimates and projections—released on World Population Day (July 11)—will lead to claims by some that the era of rapid population growth is nearly over. It isn’t. In fact, it only took a dozen years to add the most recent billion people to our planet—we are projected to hit 8 billion on November 15. We’re now also projected to peak at 10.4 billion people in the 2080s—a projection that assumes significant fertility declines in high-fertility countries in the next few decades.

We are depleting resources at an alarming rate. As for those who argue that the problem is our lifestyle, rather than our numbers, that’s cold comfort for the roughly 1 million species now threatened with extinction.

Why do some environmental groups that approvingly cite eventual population stabilization get their hackles up when the topic of overpopulation is raised? If they view an end to population growth as a positive development, then surely it must be due to some concern about overpopulation. And, if they don’t believe, as we do, that the world is already overpopulated at 8 billion people, then do they think a world of 10.4 billion, or more, is likely to be sustainable?

Asked about overpopulation, many in the United States change the subject and talk about inequitable distribution of resources and our high fossil fuel emissions. Of course, they’re right as far as that goes, but there is much more to the story.

Many leaders in the Global South speak forthrightly about overpopulation. It’s too immediate a threat where they live to hide behind euphemisms. By contrast, the general silence on the part of most U.S. environmental groups is truly puzzling, given the good work they do on so many fronts.

Access to high-quality voluntary family planning results in smaller families, which leads to slower population growth. Given the nearly endless litany of human and natural disasters, couldn’t we all be better off if there were fewer of us? Let’s smash the barriers that now prevent so many people from having fewer children and better lives. A safer, less-crowded world is possible, but only if we speak clearly and act boldly.

A longtime stalwart member of Population Connection—joining back in our ZPG days—Guy Stoye, 89, died recently. Guy loved the natural world unreservedly—birds, bats, bees, even those pesky wasps! Several years ago, I was privileged to have lunch with him and his wife, Ann, at their home on the shore of Danbury Bog in New Hampshire. The word “palace” conjures up images of a vast turreted edifice. Their home was a different sort of palace, remarkable not by size or design but rather location in the midst of nature. A man of many interests, Guy’s obituary in The Laconia Daily Sun noted that he “achieved greatness in his own way, one small act of grace at a time.” We are honored to have been included in his estate plans.

John Seager