Population Matters – how to address population growth

By Milena Rampoldi and Denise Nanni, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns at Population Matters. The main goal of Population Matters is about how to face the challenge of sustainability related to the human population size. A very complex matter, involving many approaches, points of views, and ideologic and religious principles.

What are the main threats to sustainability?
We live on a finite planet and while many of the resources we currently rely on are renewable, many – like land and fossil fuels – are not. Above and beyond that, we are rendering resources which should be renewable – such as clean air and water, and a functioning ecosystem – unable to sustain us through pollution, climate change and other actions. These things are happening because each person brings a demand for resources with them when they arrive on the planet and because how we currently use those resources generates harmful side-effects such as greenhouse gases. Quite simply, the more of us there are and the more we consume, the greater the burden the plant has to carry – and we are already using more than one-and-a-half times the Earth’s non-renewable resources every year. The greatest challenge we face in the 21st century is how to live within the planet’s means when people are emerging from poverty and their levels of consumption increase while unsustainable levels of consumption in the rich world show no signs of reducing. 
How do you address these threats?
These are enormous and urgent challenges and we need to use every tool at our disposal – that is ethical and respects human rights to meet them. That means technological solutions such as transferring to new energy sources and products that uses fewer resources, and taking active steps right now to limit the activities that drive the most pressing and severe problems, such as climate change and habitat destruction. Primarily, we need to reduce the demands we place on the planet by reducing our consumption. We certainly have to look at how our economic system works in driving consumption and maintaining inequalities and we need to moderate our individual consumption. The single most effective thing we can do to reduce consumption right now, however, is limit the amount of new consumers putting pressure on our planet. First, that means ensuring that people who can’t currently control their family size can do so by overcoming all barriers to the use of effective, modern contraception. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, doing all we can to ensure that people who can control their family size choose to have small families or no children at all.
In what ways do you raise awareness about sustainable consumption?
Population Matters faces a challenge and an opportunity in our messaging and campaigns because solving the problems arising from population and consumption touches on so many issues, including wildlife conservation, women’s empowerment, family planning and climate change. That means we can highlight the issues in the context of all these areas but must also “compete” for attention with everyone else working on those important issues. In our work on consumption, we see our website (www.populationmatters.org) and social media (Twitter.com/PopnMatters and Facebook.com/PopulationMatters) as key vehicles for making those connections and raising awareness – we now have more than 280,000 highly engaged followers on Facebook who share our posts and spread the message. We also work with the traditional media – one of our patrons, the naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham, recently wrote an opinion piece on our behalf in The Times, for instance.
How important are civil society capacity building and media coverage in your activity?
The truth is, for many years there has been a reluctance among many civil society organisations in the environmental movement to talk about population for a long time. That has acted as a brake on understanding of the problem and generating solutions. We understand the old perception that talking about numbers of children means focusing on high-fertility, low-consumption poorer parts of the world and letting the low-fertility, high-consumption parts low off the hook. That’s not what we’re about at all and I think there is now a growing understanding that population advocates do what we do because it is a means of addressing consumption. The issue has also suffered from an unjustified association with authoritarian and human-rights abusing approaches such as the one child policy in China and the sterilisation camps in India. The reality is that we stand for women’s empowerment, respect for human rights, a decent standard of living for all and a healthy environment. Increasingly civil society organisations are recognising our shared interests and values and from local women’s organisations to enormous environment NGOs, we are seeing a positive shift and a growing willingness to talk about this subject. That’s a healthy and vital development.
As far as the media goes, our concerns map directly onto key issues in which the media has an interest, such as climate change and habitat destruction globally and resource and infrastructure pressures domestically in the UK. We work to ensure that the importance and relevance of population to all of those issues is brought into the media’s discussion of them.  
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
We are primarily a campaigning organisation with a wide focus and there isn’t  at present a great deal we can achieve working with local authorities. It is very important that people in their local area have access to high quality family planning and education about the impacts of population and family size on the environment. Down the line, that may be an avenue we pursue but we’re a small organisation ad taht probably isn’t the most effective use of our resources just now.