The Forum was well attended by people of all ages – and yes, it did tackle the issue of over-population in one of its workshops. One of the speakers on the panel was Sara Parkin OBE. She is a Director of The Forum for the Future. She spoke passionately about the need to educate women in the developing world on birth control and access to contraception. She demonstrated that the issue of birth control is linked to population growth, which is inevitable linked to sustainability and climate change – and she referred to the Secretary General of that 1972 Conference, Maurice Strong, who said bluntly back then: “Either we reduce our population voluntarily, or nature will do it for us brutally.”
As a species we think that we have – or will have - the technology to solve the problems of population growth and climate change. This is an arrogant and foolish pretension. The reality is far more complicated. Sara Parkin had this to say: “Currently, rich countries are alone in showing a rise in average family size. With a disproportionate impact on the environment, this puts them on fragile ecological, moral and diplomatic territory. A child born in Europe accounts for 11 times more greenhouse gas emissions than one born in Africa; for North America, the figure is 24 times. (These do not include ‘offshore’ emissions embedded in imports.) Ultimately, it is clear that, with increasing pressure on key resources, such as land, food and water, everywhere, planning our family is a personal responsibility, as well as a global dilemma.” She also pointed out that: “The UN has three projections for the global population in 2100: High = 16 billion; Medium = 10 billion (we are roughly on track for this); Low = 6 billion . And that lower projection - of 1 billion people fewer than there are now - is achievable”.
“This is a target that could be met simply by responding to the two hundred plus million couples around the world who say they want contraceptives to help plan their family but can’t get them, and by ensuring new generations get the information and contraceptives they need to plan their future families. There are countries with hugely successful programmes to learn from. Thailand, for example, has achieved lower birth rates without any sort of coercion, as has Iran, a country not often cited as an exemplar of world leadership. Above all we need – in the UK- to talk about the numbers of people and our demography as we plan for the future. Any hopes of ending environmental degradation, meeting the Millennium Development Goals, creating resilient communities and economies, and building trusted governance systems will be dashed unless there are fewer of us in the future than there are now. If we can’t do that by bringing down birth rates thoughtfully and carefully, then we shouldn’t be surprised if rising death rates do it for us. At all levels the crisis is a humanitarian one. The solutions are known, are cheap, and come with many collateral benefits”.