As climate change garners ever more attention from media and politicians, there has been a notable increase in interest in the issue of population growth. It seems that the mainstream media is finally connecting the dots between climate change and the number of climate changers. A recent example is the publication in Newsweek of an opinion piece by Michael Shank two weeks ago, in which he stresses that population is not only of great ecological and environmental concern, but that no issue is untouched by it. He writes:

This [population] touches every issue in domestic and foreign policy, from socio-economic opportunities and social mobility, to health care and educational access, to conflicts over scarce resources. No issue is untouched. That’s why a child-centric approach to family development, which aims for a smaller family size, is so critical. It frees up significantly more resources for each child and their future.”

PIC hopes messages such as this, as well as the warning from scientists to end and eventually reverse population growth to prevent “untold human suffering,” reaches leaders at the world climate conference in Madrid next month and will influence decision-makers who attended the UN’s ICPD conference in Nairobi that ended this week. The conference focused on addressing the need for contraception for the estimated 232 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancies but who are not using modern contraceptives. However, there is virtually no mention of the negative impacts of continuing population growth or of the many benefits that would result from reducing that growth, including the impact on climate change. Robin Maynard, Director of PIC’s UK sister organization, Population Matters, attended the conference to advocate for openly talking about population again and linking environment and population policy.

Meanwhile, a story in last week’s Washington Post focused on a “reverse migration” initiative of the Greek government and European Union which provides one-way plane tickets and cash incentives for migrants to return to their country of origin. With access to wealthier destination countries such as Germany and Sweden blocked as Greece’s Balkan neighbours tighten their borders, many migrants have had enough of languishing in miserable refugee camps or working at poorly paid under-the-table agricultural jobs. Approximately 17,000 migrants have made the trip back to Africa, Asia or the Middle East over the past 3 years.

The global population grows by one billion people every 12 years, virtually all of the growth occurs in the developing world. Most of the millions of people who have migrated to Europe in recent years and the far greater number who would like to are not in fact refugees but economic migrants. For the most part, they come from countries with rapidly growing populations but few economic opportunities and poor employment prospects. Europe cannot afford to provide for them. The long-term solution is not migration but population stabilization and eventually reduction. Each country must be responsible for bringing its population to a sustainable level. No country can demand that others take its excess population. Unfortunately the need to “de-silo” the issue of human population growth from environmental degradation and societal collapse seems only to have been tentatively and obliquely addressed at the ICPD in Nairobi.