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Population Connection Our Agricultural Future in Peril

Projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Volume 46, Issue 2 June 2014

President’s Note


elax. We’re not going to run out of food or water. By “we,” of course, I mean “me.” Not just “me,” though. I’d include the rest of the Global One Percenters.

That’s anyone with an income of at least $34,000 a year, since 99 percent of the world lives on less than that figure. Incidentally, this isn’t just a challenge for people in faraway places. A typical two-bedroom apartment is out of reach in 21 states for Americans earning $34,000. Climate change is global, so even some of us One Percenters will fall victim to ever-crazier weather patterns and events. But the human mind can’t really comprehend the fate that looms for millions, even billions, of our fellow humans who risk catastrophe in our ever-more-crowded world. And then there are the countless members of endangered species that climate change threatens with extinction. At the far end of the spectrum, about 1.2 billion people—one in six people worldwide—struggle to survive on less than $1.25 a day. The UN projects that Niger’s population will explode from 16 million to an unimaginable 200 million+ in 2100. Today, four out of five Nigeriens use open defecation as their method of personal waste disposal. It’s hard to imagine their future unless average family size drops rapidly from the current level of seven children per woman. Right here in the United States, we have some 16 million children mired in poverty. Contributing to that sad statistic is the fact that we have the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed nation. That’s why we need real sex education. In our “modern” society, half of all pregnancies remain unplanned. We must counter the constant barrage of efforts to undermine reproductive rights all across the United States.

While debates rage as to whether we are doomed, let’s act as if there’s a fighting chance to change outcomes. As for those who say technology could save us from running out of the resources we need to survive, they’re right. It’s called modern contraception. Over the past half-century, we’ve seen amazing results. (Perhaps the Vatican could recognize birth control as one of those miracles it favors.) Today, 80 nations are at or below replacement rate fertility. But that still leaves some 140 or so nations lagging behind. Costs for voluntary contraception are amazingly modest. Right now, the global health community needs an additional $4 billion dollars a year to be able to provide contraception to the 222 million women with a current unmet need. That’s equal to Coca-Cola’s annual marketing budget or the value of the Internet music program Spotify. A fair share investment from the United States would be about an additional $400 million annually—about the same as the planned cost of a taxpayer-financed Detroit professional hockey stadium. When you get right down to it, all wealth comes from the earth and its resources. By allocating a tiny fraction of that wealth toward achieving zero population growth through voluntary means, we can change the future. And there’s more to life than just avoiding calamity. It would be a healthy change indeed if we could get into the habit of leaving this global campsite of ours in better shape than when each of us arrived.

John Seager john@popconnect.org

We are pleased to introduce you to a new book by Dr. Robert K. Musil, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment. Dr. Musil is the treasurer of Population Connection’s Board of Directors. He is also President and CEO of The Rachel Carson Council, Inc., senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University, and author of Hope for a Heated Planet: How Americans Are Fighting Global Warming and Building a Better Future. He is the former CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and an award-winning journalist. Population Connection — June 2014

Population Connection Volume 46, Issue 2 June 2014

Board Chair J. Joseph Speidel, MD, MPH President and CEO John Seager Editor and Designer Marian Starkey Proofreader Skye Adams Contributors Lester Brown, Rebecca Dodelin, Amanda Claire Frank, Rebecca Harrington, Stacie Murphy, Lisa Palmer, John Seager, Marian Starkey, Alan Weisman Population Connection is the national grassroots population organization that educates young people and advocates progressive action to stabilize world population at a level that can be sustained by earth’s resources. Annual membership ($25) includes a one-year subscription to Population Connection magazine. All contributions, bequests, and gifts are fully taxdeductible in accordance with current laws. Population Connection (ISSN 2331-0529) Population Connection 2120 L Street, NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20037 (202) 332-2200 (800) 767-1956 (202) 332-2302 fax info@popconnect.org


Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? By Alan Weisman

16 New Era of Food Scarcity Echoes Collapsed Civilizations

By Lester R. Brown


Famine Is a Feminist Issue


Editor’s Note


Letters to the Editor


Pop Facts


In the News


Washington View


Field & Outreach

By Lisa Palmer

30 PopEd 32 Cartoon 33

Editorial Excerpts

www.PopulationConnection.org www.PopulationEducation.org http://twitter.com/popconnect www.facebook.com/PopConnectAction

Cover Photo

Shoshone-Paiute Tribal member Reggie Premo utilizes conservation practices such as land leveling and water irrigation pipeline on his commercial alfalfa fields. USDA


June 2014 — Population Connection


Editor’s Note


t a recent international conference, I joined other attendees in a scene that was reminiscent of hungerrelief programs in the developing world. Swarms of people clustered around the back of a truck with hands extended to grab quickly disappearing bag lunches. There was not enough food to feed everyone who had registered for the conference and people knew that if they didn’t get pushy they would go hungry for the rest of the day. The irony didn’t escape us—for many of the people the conference was seeking to help, food scarcity and competition for food are a daily reality. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report in March that should truly scare anyone who likes to eat. Their predictions are even more daunting than they were in past reports. Among the main points in the food security chapter of the report are the following:


Studies have documented a large negative sensitivity of crop yields to extreme daytime temperatures around 30° C.

All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability.

Without adaptation, local temperature increases in excess of about 1° C above pre-industrial is projected to have negative effects on yields for the major crops (wheat, rice, and maize) in both tropical and temperate regions, although individual locations may benefit.

Changes in temperature and precipitation, without considering effects of CO2 will contribute to increased global food prices by 2050, with estimated increases ranging from 3-84 percent.

Population Connection — June 2014

Under scenarios of high levels of warming, leading to local mean temperature increases of 3-4° C or higher, models based on current agricultural systems suggest large negative impacts on agricultural productivity and substantial risks to global food production and security.

As you can see, this report is not written for a lay audience and I don’t necessarily recommend downloading it to your e-reader (unless you’re an insomniac and need help falling asleep at night). Its conclusions, however, should not go unacknowledged by anyone, least of all those of us in the industrialized world who consume so much more than our fair share and contribute such a disproportionate amount to global carbon emissions. For although the United States is a rich country with advanced farming techniques, it’s not above the laws of Mother Nature. Climate changes that cause extended periods of drought, for example, don’t skip over our plains. And so much of our produce comes from overseas that climate changes elsewhere affect our food security a great deal. Missing lunch one day is uncomfortable, but no big deal in the long run. Constantly operating at a calorie deficit and paying even more for food when you’re already struggling to survive are two outcomes of food scarcity that have lasting consequences that harm families, communities, and entire nations. It’s time for the IPCC to address population stabilization as a mitigating factor in the changes to our climate that have already been set in motion, for they will only get worse as the population grows.

Marian Starkey marian@popconnect.org

Letters to the Editor

Send correspo

ndence to marian@popc onnect.org. Letters are also accepted via postal mail. Le tters may be edited for clar ity and length .

Thank you for your work to bring awareness to the issue of human overpopulation. I would like to suggest that, when sharing population numbers, you add the word “human” to emphasize that human population numbers are increasing while the populations of other species are decreasing. The health of an ecosystem (the earth is an ecosystem) is a function of its diversity. An ecosystem with great diversity in numbers of individual species where the population of each individual species is relatively small is a healthy ecosystem. When one species’ numbers increase, the others decrease, to the detriment of the whole. It seems to me we humans are taking up more than our share of the planet. Dorothea Sotiros San Diego, California

Editor’s Response

Thank you for the suggestion. When we believe there could be confusion over which type of population we’re referring to, we do specify, but in most cases with our work using the word population as shorthand for human population is obvious. We are, after all, an organization that focuses on human population growth and its effects on health, development, and the environment (including wildlife). I do appreciate the reminder though, and will try to be more mindful of the distinction going forward. I wanted to make two comments regarding the March issue of Population Connection. Re: Cover I know you are trying to remain hopeful in the face of war atrocities, but the contrast between the beautiful face on the cover and the horrors the Syrian refugee women have to endure was too much. www.popconnect.org

Attn: Marian St Population Co


nnection 2120 L St., NW , Ste. 500 Washington, D C 20037

Re: Opting out of contraceptive mandate In this discussion, I haven’t heard any mention of the potential increased health care costs for unintended pregnancies that opting out of contraceptive coverage might cause. I am not an insurance actuary, but shouldn’t that be reflected in increased premiums for companies that opt out? Keep up the good work, it appears to be paying dividends. Richard Wagener Stony Brook, New York

Editor’s Response

The face on the cover of the last issue was indeed beautiful, but also haunting, and was that of an actual Syrian refugee. I believe that her troubled expression balanced her beauty. Although I know of no study that looks at this exact question, we do know how much it costs, on average, for insurance companies to cover the pregnancies and deliveries of their members. Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote a terrific piece in the New York Times in June 2013 about the rising cost of pregnancy and delivery in the United States (“American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World”). According to the article, “The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section, with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866, the report found.” But of course it’s not the insurance companies that are balking at the birth control benefit—they’d be thrilled to reduce their payouts by preventing unintended pregnancies. The problem is the absurd, over-stepping religious owners of a few companies.

June 2014 — Population Connection



Population Connection — June 2014

Design by Rebecca Dodelin

June 2014 — Population Connection





Sex Education Study Finds that Classes Come Too Late for Those At Highest Risk

Bill Maher Calls Population a Critical Environmental Issue

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 83 percent of teen girls who were sexually experienced hadn’t gotten formal sex education until after they’d lost their virginity.

“You really can’t be an environmentalist … if you’re not someone who’s extremely concerned about overpopulation.” That’s according to Bill Maher, on his show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” during an interview with Alan Weisman, author of Countdown. The show has 4.1 million viewers per episode.

Although 91 percent of young women ages 15-17 said they’d taken a formal sex education class, the information came too late for most. In fact, the study found that by age 17, 38.6 percent of girls had already had sex. Of them, only 15 percent used a birth control method considered “moderately effective” the first time they had sex.

Birth Control Benefit Does Not Increase Promiscuity, Study Finds New research concludes that the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act isn’t increasing promiscuity. The Contraceptive Choice Project provided 9,256 women ages 14-45 with their choice of reversible birth control free for a year. At the end of the study, survey respondents’ sexual activity had not much changed since a year earlier. They were not engaging in sex with more partners than before, except for some who had previously been sexually inactive and had started having sex with one person. In fact, the percentage of women who reported having more than one partner in the previous 30 days went down as the year of study progressed. 6

Population Connection — June 2014

Countdown won the 34th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Science and Technology category. An article by Alan Weisman appears on page 8 of this issue.

Supreme Court Considers Contraception and Religious Liberty

The federal government plans to charge a penalty of up to $100 per day, per employee, to companies of more than 50 employees that do not comply with the benefit. That adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars a year for both opposing companies. The cases currently being considered by the Supreme Court are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (13-354) and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius (13356). The court’s ruling is expected to be announced in late June.

Hobby Lobby Invests in Abortion-Inducing Drugs

The Supreme Court heard arguments on March 25 from both sides of the debate over the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act.

A reporter for Mother Jones revealed in April that Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan holds $73 million in mutual funds with a wide range of pharmaceutical companies that produce the very birth control drugs and devices they say cause abortions.

Conestoga Wood Specialties is one of the opponents of the benefit. The Mennonite family who started the furniture company says that providing birth control coverage to its employees violates the company’s religious liberty. In question is whether a company can have religious liberty, according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Hobby Lobby—owned by evangelical Christians­—is the other company that filed suit against the federal government and has been given a Supreme Court case.

The companies in Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund portfolio include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard; Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella; Pfizer, which makes Cytotec and Prostin E2—both drugs used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin—three drugs used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions;

and, finally, Aetna and Humana—health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception. “Faith-based” investment options are available to companies whose owners have strict religious beliefs, and tend to perform as well as traditional portfolios. It is therefore unclear why Hobby Lobby’s financial planners did not choose to go with one of those.

Abortion Drug Restrictions in Arizona The strictest law regarding abortioninducing drugs is now held by Arizona, as of April 1. The law requires doctors to comply with the FDA guidelines for mifepristone that were established in 2000, even though since then doctors have lowered the dose, given it up to nine weeks of pregnancy (as opposed to the seven weeks recommended by the FDA), and allowed patients to take the second of two pills at home rather than in the clinic. Similar restrictions were attempted in North Dakota and Oklahoma, but were struck down by their respective state Supreme Courts.

Mississippi Abortion Ban Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a 20-week abortion ban in Mississippi that will go into effect on July 1. It will prohibit abortions after 20 weeks gestation except to save the life of the woman or in cases of severe fetal abnormalities. No www.popconnect.org

exceptions will exist for rape or incest. The most recent statistics, for 2012, show that only two abortions were performed in Mississippi after 20 weeks (both at 21 weeks). The only clinic in Mississippi that performs abortions stops after 16 weeks gestation. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas all have 20-week abortion bans as well.

Philippines Family Planning Breakthrough The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in April, after years of debate, that the family planning law is constitutional. The government will now be permitted to provide reproductive health care services to the country’s poor, free of charge to patients, and sex education will be required in public schools. The law was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012, after the Catholic Church blocked it for 13 years, but the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order while it considered arguments against the law.

IPCC Report Shares Grim News The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN group of scientists, released a new report in March that warned—among other things—that climate change will threaten the world’s food supply. Scientists now believe that the consequences of climate change will be more dire than previously predicted.

The only mention of population growth in the entire 44-page report for policymakers was as follows: “The population and assets projected to be exposed to coastal risks as well as human pressures on coastal ecosystems will increase significantly in the coming decades due to population growth, economic development, and urbanization.” Despite population growth being a major variable in IPCC projections of future climate scenarios, scientists on the panel are loathe to mention population stabilization as a potential mitigating factor.

Iran Backslides Even Further Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is seeking support from parliamentarians to ban vasectomies in his continued effort to increase the nation’s birth rate. Safe abortion is also at risk of becoming more difficult to obtain. Khamenei wants to ward off aging (even though 70 percent of Iran’s population is under 35) and also double the country’s population. “We are not a country of 75 million, we have [the capacity] to become at least 150 million people, if not more.” Iran had one of the world’s most successful family planning programs for the past two decades. To read the original articles from which these summaries were taken, see www.popconnect.org/news. June 2014 — Population Connection



Population Connection — June 2014

Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? Alan Weisman, author of Countdown, spoke to Population Connection’s Board of Directors on February 22, 2014. What follows is an excerpt of his remarks.


June 2014 — Population Connection



don’t pull any punches in my new book, Countdown. We’re facing some serious challenges in this century, and much of it may be a wild ride through uncharted territory. The number of humans on this planet is far more than nature ever intended, and our demands are changing the atmosphere, seas, and soils in dangerous ways. Nevertheless, I came out of writing this book far more encouraged than I was going into it, because I learned that there is an affordable solution that can make a huge difference, and there’s already a lot of momentum and precedence for it in nearly every part of the world. Among the countries I visited that have discovered non-coercive, completely voluntary ways of bringing their fertility rates down is one that surprises a lot of people, because it’s a Muslim theocracy. The same year as its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran actually applied coercion in the opposite direction, charging every fertile female to do her patriotic duty and get pregnant to help build a Twenty Million Man Army to fight off the invading Iraqis. By some estimates, at one point Iran’s growth rate peaked at 4.2 percent, near the biological limits for fertile women and the highest rate of population increase the world had ever seen. But once the war was finally over, the director of Iran’s planning and budget office realized they had big problems. All those males born to supply the Twenty Million Man Army would eventually need jobs, and the chances for providing them shrank with each new birth. He and others met with the Supreme Leader

An even more significant boost to our numbers than modern medical technology came from modern food technology

… Artificial nitrogen fertilizer simply blew the lid off what nature could do.

More than 40 percent of us couldn’t be here without it. to warn of the instability of a nation filled with frustrated, angry, unemployed young men. Soon thereafter, the country that had told its females to get pregnant for the good of the nation was posting banners across roads reading “One is good, two is enough.” A new Ayatollah—he’s still in power today—issued a fatwa stating that, “When wisdom dictates that you do not need more children, a vasectomy is permissible.” A female obstetrician in Tehran told me what it was like being on teams of doctors that went on horseback to health clinics in the remotest villages—and later by 4WD and even helicopters—offering everything from condoms to pills to tubal ligations, all for free. But it was also all voluntary: Everybody could choose the number of children they wanted. The only obligation was to attend premarital counseling, either in a mosque or in the health center. Among the things discussed in those classes was how much it costs to feed, care for, and educate children.

Population only increases in two ways: more people are born than die, or people live longer, so they’re still around when others are born. For much of human history, most babies were dead by their fifth birthday. The fact that population grew so slowly until about two centuries ago means that even though a woman might have had seven or eight births, the average number of children who survived long enough to have kids themselves was barely more than two. And average life expectancy was only about 40 years. But then, in 1796, Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine for smallpox, which used to knock back our numbers each year by the millions. That was soon followed by vaccinations for other diseases, antiseptics, eradication of insects that carried epidemics, pasteurization of milk—and suddenly, fewer were dying young, and people were living longer. An even more significant boost to our numbers than modern medical technology came from modern food technology. Just before World War I, two Germans, chemist Fritz Haber and engineer Carl Bosch, invented something that has changed the world arguably more than anything else, ever. That was a way to pull nitrogen from the air and apply it chemically to soils. Before the Haber-Bosch process, the amount of plant life on the planet was limited to what a relatively few species that hosted nitrogen-fixing bacteria could contribute to the soil. Artificial nitrogen fertilizer simply blew the lid off what nature could do. More than 40 percent of us couldn’t be here without it. Take away artificial fertilizer, and our population would be little more than half what it is today.

Previous page: A woman from Shovna village in southern Bangladesh is harvesting her crop in a farmer-managed experiment looking at new wheat varieties, planting dates, and nitrogen levels. The project is part of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia. T. Krupnik/ International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Opposite: Norman Borlaug in 1964, scoring wheat plants for rust resistance in wheat breeding plots near Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, northern Mexico, at what is now CIMMYT’s CENEB station (Campo Experimental Norman E. Borlaug, or The Norman E. Borlaug Experiment Station). CIMMYT

10 Population Connection — June 2014

In a 2009 encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “On this earth there is room for everyone … through hard work and creativity.” While researching this book I visited the Vatican to ask if by enough “for everyone” the Church meant just us, or other species, too. After all, in Genesis, God tells Noah that to save the human race, he also had to save all the animals— we can’t have a world without them. Also, there was the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences—which, to the previous pope’s dismay, had warned in 1994 that it was now “unthinkable to sustain

indefinitely a birthrate beyond 2.3 children per couple … The consequences would be unsustainable to the point of absurdity.” Nevertheless, the Church still encourages population growth. Where, I asked the academy’s current director, will we get food for nearly 10 billion by mid-century, when already we have more than 1 billion hungry people? Wouldn’t clearing more forests for farming be disastrous? Plagued by floods and erosion, China alone is spending $40 billion to put trees back.

The answer, I was told, was new transgenic crops being designed at the centers of the Green Revolution: the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. In the 1960s, just as burgeoning populations in the developing world were nearing the brink of famine, a miracle of genetic breeding occurred at those centers that more than doubled the world’s grain harvests—in some cases, increasing yields ten-fold. Green Revolution food technologies are often touted for debunking dire predictions of inevitable famines as population growth outpaces food production made by economist Thomas Robert Malthus and later by American ecologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, who wrote the 1968 book The Population Bomb. But when I went to both centers, I met no food scientists who agreed that Malthus or the Ehrlichs had been refuted. Actually, they said, when Green Revolution founder Norman Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, in his acceptance speech, he warned that, “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.” Borlaug, who is credited with saving more lives than anyone in history, understood the paradox of food: The more we produce, the more people don’t die of starvation and live to beget more people who need to be fed. Until his death, he served on the boards of population groups, because he knew that food production can’t keep up with the very population growth it helps produce. And despite everyone’s best efforts, it’s


June 2014 — Population Connection 11

likely going to get worse. The first two places where the Green Revolution was tried were India and Pakistan. Both were saved from what seemed like certain famine. But as a result, in about a decade India will surpass China as the most populous nation. And Pakistan is one of the fastest growing, and one of the scariest, places on earth. Pakistan today has more than 185 million people in a country not much bigger than Texas, which has 26 million. By mid-century, if its growth continues apace, Pakistan will far outnumber today’s United States, with a projected 395 million people—all in a land the size of Texas. A significant portion of them are frustrated, angry, unemployed young men. Every day I was there, mayhem erupted, including several urban grenade battles. I lost one interview with two men who’ve been saving Karachi’s mangrove forests, because the previous day they were found floating in the lagoon, tortured and murdered by the local timber mafia. At Karachi’s Civil Hospital, whose entrance is also a police station, armed guards are posted, lest warfare erupt. Pakistan is waxing out of control. And it happens to be a nuclear power. In India, the head of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, who directed the implementation of India’s Green Revolution back in the ’60s, told me that India’s three biggest problems are, “Population, population, and population.” Three farmers I met in his office took me to their villages, where I spent a day interviewing widows of farmers who’d killed themselves because levels in the 50-foot wells originally dug to water Green Revolution crops have now dropped to 500 and even 1,000 feet, and they couldn’t afford to keep drilling.

In India, the head of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, who directed the implementation of India’s

Green Revolution back in the ’60s, told me that India’s three biggest problems are, “Population, population, and population.”

According to figures from their farm union, corroborated by the Indian government, 270,000 Green Revolution Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995. Overwhelmingly, the symbolic method of choice is by drinking pesticide, which must be used to protect their laboratory-bred crops that didn’t evolve in nature. “Half our people are sick from pesticides: heart attacks, high blood pressure, cancer,” the farmers told me. “Our kids have skin diseases and bad eyesight. No matter how much they eat, they’re anemic. Their teachers call them slow learners. And their fathers, all 200,000 rupees in debt on every acre, are all suicides‑in‑waiting. We’re all on each other’s suicide watch.” Today more than half the human race lives not on farms, but in cities, compared to only a third of us in 1950. Since kids in urban areas aren’t an economic asset to parents like they are on farms, it’s been widely assumed that world population would level off around 9.2 billion by mid-century. But even though we’re growing more slowly, there are already so many of us that the UN Population Division’s latest revision projects that

our numbers will keep growing, hitting nearly 11 billion by the end of the century, with no sure peak in sight. “In the next 50 years,” Hans-Joachim Braun, Norman Borlaug’s successor at the wheat improvement program, told me, “we will need to produce as much food as has been consumed over our entire human history.” They were trying, he said. Geneticists there showed me what the Vatican was talking about: experiments to accelerate photosynthesis to beat previous Green Revolution yields, and possibly even to give grains enough energy to fix their own nitrogen to minimize artificial fertilizer needs. But, everyone said, even if they can do this, commercially viable, enhancedphotosynthesizing crops are at least 25 years away. And by then, there will be 2 billion more of us. Agricultural engineers face another problem, spawned by growing populations: As ever more of us expel more carbon, our overloaded atmosphere overheats the planet. Grains have temperature thresholds; for every 1º C of warming, scientists predict, harvests drop 10 percent. With our world now headed beyond a 2º C increase at present emission rates, population will be up, food production down, irrigation water scarcer—and, coastal dikes may have to protect much of the world’s rice production from sea level rise: probably an unaffordable scenario. And rosy predictions that northern Canada and Siberia will be breadbaskets in a warmer world neglect that their conifer-covered, acidic soils will take millennia to adapt to the needs of crops. With 40 percent of the non-frozen earth

Opposite: A woman works in the paddy field on a winter morning in Srimangal, Bangladesh. K M Asad, Courtesy of Photoshare

12 Population Connection — June 2014

now dedicated to feeding ourselves, everywhere I went I spent a lot of time researching the question: How much nature do we need to preserve to assure our own viability? In Latin America, ecologists in a worldwide effort called the Natural Capital Project have shown that Costa Rican coffee yields from bushes adjacent to rainforest were 20 percent higher than plants a kilometer away, because birds, bats, native bees, and reptiles were pollinating and providing pest control.

In the Philippines, surrounded by the world’s biologically richest seas, despite a national government that has long bowed to the world’s most conservative Catholic bishops (one Manila suburb sends men to prison for six months if they buy condoms without a prescription), I saw fishing villages take family planning into their own hands. They’ve come to understand that if they want to keep fishing—the source of 90 percent of Filipinos’ protein—they have to keep the number of fishermen in balance with fishstocks.

Japan is one of the first countries on earth whose population has begun to shrink. The reason is that four years after World War II, Japan had to cut off its baby boom. After the war, Japanese soldiers went home to their wives, and Japan added 10 million new babies. But Japan’s economy was wrecked, and people were starving. Pregnant Japanese women were hurling themselves in front of trains. In 1949, in an emergency measure, Japan legalized abortion—this was before birth control pills—and millions of Japanese women partook, lest they watch more babies die of hunger. So today, as the last large generation born before World War II dies off, there’s a much smaller generation to replace them. Add to that high education and the low fertility that naturally follows, and just past the middle of this century, Japan will be headed back to its 1945 population. Many Japanese economists are terrified by that. But Akihiko Matsutani, who is no radical, but an economist at a major policy institute, sees it as an opportunity. When I met him, Japan had just compounded its shrinkage by losing its most fertile fruit-growing area, Fukushima, and all its nuclear power. Matsutani envisions a gradual realignment away from heavy exporting industries in big port cities to a dispersed economy of lighter industries and agriculture, distributed across a landscape that younger people are starting to return to, as empty homes vacated by that last dying, overgrown generation are available and cheap. Lifestyles, he predicts, will actually improve: Wages won’t drop, because laborers will be fewer and more valuable. But working hours will also be fewer as demand shrinks with the population. Prosperity will be redefined to mean having more leisure time to enjoy, rather than by being able to afford more consumer toys to occupy far too little downtime. This is not a bad


June 2014 — Population Connection 13

14 Population Connection — June 2014

vision of a workable future, though many economists can’t imagine it, because to them the definition of economic health is perpetual growth.

impossibility and a biophysical impossibility, I would judge the latter to be the more impossible, and take my chances with the former.”

The late American economist Julian Simon, who was known for preaching that human ingenuity ensured that resources would never run out, declared in 1994, “We now have the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years.” With world population then growing by 1.4 percent annually, Paul and Anne Ehrlich checked his math and responded that this was unlikely: At current rates, within 6,000 years the mass of human population would equal the mass of the universe.

Here’s the bottom line: If we keep on the way we’re going, we’ll add 2.5 billion more people in the next 35 years. Because we’ve already used up the best lands and the cheapest energy resources, they’re going to have a much bigger, much dirtier impact than the last 2.5 billion. Population increase is mainly among the world’s poor, and the richest fifth of the world’s people consume up to 66 times as much as the poorest fifth. If we multiply our numbers by the amount we consume, it turns out that the United States is the most overpopulated country on earth.

And yet Simon is still often cited today. Economists warn that if population ever stopped growing, there would be too few young laborers paying into pension funds to support too many old people. But for a generation or so until old and young come back into balance, we’ll just have to adjust—I know it won’t be simple. But we can do this gradually and acceptably—and I can think of a lot of things my country spends money on, such as our ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, that could be better spent by helping to care for senior citizens.

But our numbers have reached a point where we’ve essentially redefined the concept of original sin. Even the humblest among us compounds the world’s mounting problems by needing food, firewood, and shelter. The world’s masses may be poor—but more now live in cities, where they somehow manage to get cell phones, and whether they’ve pirated the power or not, they’re plugging in their chargers every night, like you and me.

A former World Bank economist, Herman Daly, has noted that changing the minds and hearts of economists, politicians, and voters, in order to switch to a sustainable economy, might seem impossible. “But the alternative to a sustainable economy—an ever-growing economy— is biophysically impossible,” Daly wrote. “In choosing between tackling a political

The reason I wrote this book was not to ask whether we could support the 11 billion we’re headed toward, but whether we’re already too many. Every species in history that has exceeded the limits of its resource base has suffered a population crash. One way or another, our population has to come down. Either we manage it gracefully, or nature will do it to us, brutally.

Now here’s the good news. We can fix this for less money each year than the United States government was spending in a month in Afghanistan and Iraq. That amount—about $8.1 billion annually—would provide contraception for everyone on earth who wants it. In this book I accompanied the people who make contraceptives available in places like Uganda, Thailand, and Mexico. I was staggered to learn how few donors there are—mainly, a few western governments and four private foundations—and how fragile the supply lines are. If a shipment of contraceptive injections doesn’t arrive, or the truck carrying birth control pills breaks down, or they disappear from the warehouse, all those careful efforts are lost. Without contraception reaching women in the developing world, our ranks would expand by a million more humans not every 4.5 days, but every 2.5 days. That’s seven more Beijings a year, instead of the four we’re currently adding. Put another way, just a half a child more per woman than the UN projects in its mediumfertility scenario, and we’d be nearing not 11, but 16 billion by the end of this century; just half a child per female fewer though, and we’d be back down to 6 billion. More than half the world’s countries have fertility rates that are near, or below replacement rate. If we do whatever it takes to help get the rest there, too, by making the means available so everybody can choose the number of children they want, we’ll gradually be heading down toward a truly sustainable number.

Opposite: Drought-affected soil. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)


June 2014 — Population Connection 15

New Era of Food Scarcity Echoes Collapsed Civilizations By Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute

16 Population Connection — June 2014


he world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one-third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.

This new era is one of rising food prices and spreading hunger. On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts. On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Agriculture as it exists today developed over 11,000 years of rather remarkable climate stability. It has evolved to maximize production within that climate system. Now, suddenly, the climate is changing. With each passing year, the agricultural system is becoming more out of sync with the climate system. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread. Can we reverse these trends in time? Or is food the weak link in our early-twenty-first-century civilization, much as it was in so many of the earlier civilizations whose archeological sites we now study? This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century, when the dominant issues in agriculture were overproduction, huge grain surpluses, and access to markets by grain exporters. During that time, the world, in effect, had two reserves: large carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) and a large area of cropland idled under U.S. farm programs to avoid overproduction. When the world harvest was good, the United States would idle more land. When the harvest was subpar, it would return land to production. The excess production capacity was used to maintain stability in world grain markets. The large stocks of grain cushioned world crop shortfalls. When India’s monsoon failed in 1965, for example, the United States shipped a fifth of its wheat harvest to India to avert a potentially massive famine. And because of abundant stocks, this had little effect on the world grain price. When this period of food abundance began, the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has 7.2 billion. From 1950 to 2000 there were occasional grain price spikes as a result of weather-induced events, such as a severe drought in Russia or an intense heat wave in the American Midwest. But their effects on price were short-lived. Within a year or so things were back to normal. The combination of abundant stocks and idled cropland made this period one of the most food-secure in world history. But it was not to last. By 1986, steadily rising world demand for grain and unacceptably high budgetary costs led to a phasing out of the U.S. cropland set-aside program. Today the United States has some land idled in its Conservation Reserve Program, but it targets land that is highly susceptible to erosion. The days of productive land ready to be quickly brought into production when needed are over. Ever since agriculture began, carryover stocks of grain have been the most basic indicator of food security. The goal of farmers everywhere is to produce enough grain not just to make it to the next harvest but to do so with a comfortable margin. From 1986, when we lost the idled cropland buffer, through 2001, the annual world carryover stocks of grain averaged a comfortable 107 days of consumption.


June 2014 — Population Connection 17

Previous page: A Mexican farmer-turned-seed-producer visits his wheat field. X. Fonseca/CIMMYT Above: Farmers in Rockingham County, Virginia, check the results of no-till farming in their fields as part of their participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). USDA

This safety cushion was not to last either. After 2001, the carryover stocks of grain dropped sharply as world consumption exceeded production. From 2002 through 2011, they averaged only 74 days of consumption, a drop of onethird. Within two decades, the world had lost both of its safety cushions. An unprecedented period of world food security has come to an end. In recent years, world carryover stocks of grain have been only slightly above the 70 days that was considered a desirable minimum during the late-twentieth century. Now stock levels must take into account the effect on harvests of higher temperatures, more extensive drought, and more intense heat waves. Although there is no easy way to precisely quantify the harvest effects of any of these 18 Population Connection — June 2014

climate-related threats, it is clear that any of them can shrink harvests, potentially creating chaos in the world grain market. To mitigate this risk, a stock reserve equal to 110 days of consumption would produce a much safer level of food security. As the earth’s temperature rises, it affects agriculture in many ways. High temperatures interfere with pollination and reduce photosynthesis of basic food crops. The most vulnerable part of a plant’s life cycle is the pollination period. Of the world’s three food staples—corn (maize), wheat, and rice—corn is particularly vulnerable. In order for it to reproduce, pollen must fall from the tassel to the strands of silk that emerge from the end of each ear. Each of these silk strands is attached to a kernel site on the

cob. If the kernel is to develop, a grain of pollen must fall on the silk strand and then journey to the kernel site where fertilization takes place. When temperatures are uncommonly high, the silk strands quickly dry out and turn brown, unable to play their role in the fertilization process. When it comes to rice, scientists in the Philippines report that pollination falls from 100 percent at 93° F to near zero at 104° F, leading to crop failure. High temperatures can also dehydrate plants. When a corn plant curls its leaves to reduce exposure to the sun, photosynthesis is reduced. And when the stomata on the underside of the leaves close to reduce moisture loss, carbon dioxide (CO2) intake is also reduced, further

restricting photosynthesis. At elevated temperatures, the corn plant, which under ideal conditions is extraordinarily productive, goes into thermal shock. Crop ecologists in several countries have been focusing on the precise relationship between temperature and crop yields. Their findings suggest a rule of thumb that a 1°-C rise in temperature above the norm during the growing season lowers wheat, rice, and maize yields by 10 percent. The scientists concluded that “temperature increases due to global warming will make it increasingly difficult to feed earth’s growing population.” Stanford University scientists conducted an empirical analysis of the effect of temperature on U.S. corn and soybean yields. Using data for 1982–98 from 618 counties for corn and 444 counties for soybeans, they concluded that for each 1° C rise in temperature, yields of each crop declined by 17 percent. This study suggests that the earlier rule of thumb that a 1° C rise in temperature would reduce yields by 10 percent could be conservative. The earth’s rising temperature also affects crop yields indirectly via the melting of mountain glaciers. As the larger glaciers shrink and the smaller ones disappear, the ice melt that sustains rivers, and the irrigation systems dependent on them, will diminish. In early 2012, a release from the University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service indicated that 2010 was the 21st consecutive year of glacier retreat. They also noted that glaciers are now melting at least twice as fast as a decade ago. Mountain glaciers are melting in the Andes, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, and elsewhere, but nowhere does melting threaten world food security more www.popconnect.org

than in the glaciers of the Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau that feed the major rivers of India and China. In the Indus, Ganges, Yellow, and Yangtze River basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, the loss of glacial-fed, dry-season flow will shrink harvests and could create unmanageable food shortages. The world has never faced such a predictably massive threat to food production as that posed by the melting mountain glaciers of Asia. China and India are the world’s top two wheat producers, and they also totally dominate the rice harvest. In China, which is even more dependent than India on river water for irrigation, the situation is particularly challenging. Chinese government data show that the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau that feed the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers are melting at a torrid pace. The Yellow River, whose basin is home to 153 million people, could experience a large dry-season flow reduction. The Yangtze River, by far the larger of the two, is threatened by the disappearance of glaciers as well. The basin’s 586 million people rely heavily on rice from fields irrigated with its water. Yao Tandong, one of China’s leading glaciologists, predicts that two-thirds of China’s glaciers could be gone by 2060. In the southwestern United States, the Colorado River—the region’s primary source of irrigation water—depends on snowfields in the Rockies for much of its flow. California, in addition to depending heavily on the Colorado, relies on snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada range in the eastern part of the state. Both the Sierra Nevada and the Coastal Ranges supply irrigation water to California’s Central Valley, the country’s fruit and vegetable basket. In early 2014 in the midst of a

major drought, snowpack in California was two-thirds lower than average. Even as the melting of glaciers threatens dry-season river flows, the melting of mountain glaciers and of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is raising the sea level and thus threatening the ricegrowing river deltas of Asia. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt entirely, it would raise the sea level 23 feet. The latest projections show the sea level rising by up to six feet during this century. Such a rise would sharply reduce the rice harvest in Asia, home to over half the world’s people. Even half that rise would inundate half the riceland in Bangladesh, a country of 152 million people, and would submerge a large part of the Mekong Delta, a region that produces half of Vietnam’s rice, leaving the many countries that import rice from it looking elsewhere. The continuing loss of mountain glaciers and the resulting reduced meltwater runoff could create unprecedented water shortages and political instability in some of the world’s more densely populated countries. China, already struggling to contain food price inflation, could well see spreading social unrest if food supplies tighten. In the 1970s, when tight world food supplies were generating unacceptable food price inflation in the United States, the government restricted grain exports. This is probably not an option today where China is concerned. Each month when the U.S. Treasury Department auctions off securities to cover the U.S. fiscal deficit, China is one of the big buyers. Now holding close to $1 trillion of U.S. debt, China has become the banker for the United States. Like it or not, Americans will be sharing their grain harvest with Chinese consumers. The idea that June 2014 — Population Connection 19

shrinking glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau could one day drive up food prices at U.S. supermarket checkout counters is yet another sign of how integrated our global civilization has become. Scientists also expect higher temperatures to bring more drought—we’ve all witnessed the dramatic increase in the land area affected by drought in recent decades. A team of scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States reported that the earth’s land area experiencing very dry conditions expanded from well below 20 percent from the 1950s to the

20 Population Connection — June 2014

1970s to closer to 25 percent in recent years. The scientists attributed most of the change to a rise in temperature and the remainder to reduced precipitation. The drying was concentrated in the Mediterranean region, East and South Asia, parts of Canada, Africa, and eastern Australia. A 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that if atmospheric CO2 climbs from the current level of 396 parts per million (ppm) to above 450 ppm, the world will face irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions. The study

likened the conditions to those of the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. Physicist Joe Romm, drawing on recent climate research, reports that “levels of aridity comparable to those in the Dust Bowl could stretch from Kansas to California by mid-century.” In addition to more widespread drought and more numerous wildfires, climate change brings more extreme heat waves. One of the most destructive of these came in the Midwest in 1988. Combined with drought, as most heat waves are, this one dropped the U.S. grain harvest from an annual average of 324 million tons in

the preceding years to 204 million tons. Fortunately, the United States—the world’s dominant grain supplier—had substantial stocks at that time that it could draw upon, allowing it to meet its export commitments. If such a drop were to occur today, when grain stocks are seriously depleted, there would be panic in the world grain market.

cattle-producing state had to sell their herds. They had no forage, no water, and no choice. The heat and drought in Texas shattered nearly all records in the state’s history for both intensity and duration. Agricultural damage was estimated to exceed $7 billion. The massive drought continued into 2012 and spread across the United States.

In the summer of 2010, Russia experienced an extraordinary heat wave unlike anything it had seen before. The July temperature in Moscow averaged a staggering 14° F above the norm. High temperatures sparked wildfires. In addi-

As the earth’s temperature rises, scientists expect heat waves to be both more frequent and more intense. Stated another way, crop-shrinking heat waves will now become part of the agricultural landscape. Among other things, this means that the world should increase its carryover stocks of grain to provide adequate food security.

“Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.” tion to claiming nearly 56,000 lives and causing an estimated $300 billion worth of damage to the country’s forests, this heat wave reduced the Russian grain harvest from nearly 100 million tons to 60 million tons. Russia, which had been an exporting country, suddenly banned exports. Close on the heels of these unprecedented high temperatures in Russia was the 2011 heat wave in Texas, a leading U.S. agricultural state. In Dallas the average temperature reached 100° F for 40 consecutive days. It also forced many farmers into bankruptcy. More than a million acres of crops were never harvested. Many ranchers in this leading

Food shortages undermined earlier civilizations. The Sumerians and Mayans are just two of the many early civilizations that declined apparently because they moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable. For the Sumerians, rising salt levels in the soil as a result of a defect in their otherwise well-engineered irrigation system eventually brought down their food system and thus their civilization. For the Mayans, soil erosion was one of the keys to their downfall, as it was for so many other early civilizations. We, too, are on such a path. While the Sumerians suffered from rising salt levels in the soil, our modern-day agriculture is suffering from rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And like the Mayans, we, too, are mismanaging our land and generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While the decline of early civilizations can be traced to one, or possibly two, environmental trends, such as deforestation and soil erosion, that undermined their food supply, we are now dealing with several. In addition to some of the most severe soil erosion in human history, we are also facing newer trends such as the depletion of aquifers, the plateauing of grain yields in the more agriculturally advanced countries, and rising temperature. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the United Nations reports that food prices are now more than double what they were in 2002–04. For most Americans, who spend on average nine percent of their income on food, this is not a big deal. But for consumers who spend 50–70 percent of their income on food, a doubling of food prices is a serious matter. There is little latitude for them to offset the price rise simply by spending more. If we continue with business as usual, the ranks of the hungry will continue to expand. The bottom line is that it is becoming much more difficult for the world’s farmers to keep up with the world’s rapidly growing demand for grain. World grain stocks were drawn down a decade ago and we have not been able to rebuild them. If we cannot do so, we can expect that with the next poor harvest, food prices will soar, hunger will intensify, and food unrest will spread. We are entering a time of chronic food scarcity, one that is leading to intense competition for control of land and water resources—in short, a new geopolitics of food.

Opposite, clockwise from left: Kenyan farmer in her maize field damaged by stem borers. CIMMYT After the failure of yet another rainy season in Kenya in 2006, farmers saw their cattle, their only source of food and income, die of thirst and hunger. Kenya Red Cross Society A farmer wipes his eyes after driving through dry fields near the town of Huron in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Scott Anger A school boy wears worn-out shoes while carrying a plastic bottle he filled with river water as he and others head back to school. In Kenya a bruising and recurring drought is driving huge numbers of subsistence farmers away from rural areas, where they are increasingly reliant on hand-outs, into congested slums. AFP/Tony Karumba


June 2014 — Population Connection 21

Famine Is a Feminist Issue To feed the world, start by teaching girls to read By Lisa Palmer

22 Population Connection — June 2014

“Planning ahead for feeding a hot, hungry, teeming planet is both a numbers game and social venture.”


n 2013 the United Nations Population Division revised its population projections to show that population could grow even faster than previously anticipated, especially in Africa. Planning ahead for feeding a hot, hungry, teeming planet is both a numbers game and social venture. Calories, climate change, and acres of land are some of the factors on one side of the equation. The 7 billion people in the world, projected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050, are on the other. Technically, farmers today grow enough food to feed everyone. But nearly 1 billion people on the planet periodically go without eating, in most cases because the food is too expensive or not available in the right places. That number could get a lot worse. The food problem isn’t linear. To prevent hunger, farmers would have to double food production by 2050 even though the population isn’t doubling. Income growth is driving half of the increase in the world’s predicted food consumption. As more people in the developing world get wealthier, they adopt diets rich in meat and dairy. And it takes 13 pounds of grain to make a pound of beef. Can’t we just grow more food? That will be tough. Half of the world’s vegetated land is

already devoted to agriculture. Clearing more land, especially tropical forests, would be an environmental disaster. Crop yields are not improving fast enough. To keep up with projected food demands, farmers will need to produce 2.4 percent more each year. Even with the spread of modern farming methods, yield gains globally are now just 0.9 to 1.6 percent per year. Production could improve a little bit through more efficient use of current land and improvements in soil health, irrigation, and seed selection. But no quick and easy solutions will meet the projected demands, says Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop systems and global change program. “It’s a mess!” says Ziska, who coauthored a chapter on food security and food production systems in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “In the past, by adding energy in the form of fertilizer, and by adding water, we were able to achieve yield gains,” he says. Fertilizer is not only expensive, it’s also petroleum-based and a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. We also can’t irrigate every field. Lack of access to water in many areas makes it

A farmer in Morogoro, Tanzania, shows the effects of drought on her maize crop. She is enrolled in a farmer field school to learn about improved, drought-tolerant maize varieties, organized by Tanzanian seed company Tanseed International Limited with support from CIMMYT’s Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project. Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT


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impossible, climate change will worsen droughts, and in some places there isn’t enough energy to fuel the pump. And we’re just starting to see the problems climate change will have on weed growth, pests, and crops’ heat stress. Improvements can be made in some of the least productive agricultural areas that are expected to have an explosion in population, especially sub-Saharan Africa. But crop scientists alone can’t solve the problem. “This area is in trouble,” Ziska says. “We’ve been screaming about hunger in sub-Saharan Africa for years, not that it has done any good.” Every food expert I spoke with sounded, frankly, a little panicked. “The problem in crafting a sustainable food future is that it’s bigger than people think,”

24 Population Connection — June 2014

says Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and the World Resources Institute. “Population growth rates are higher and higher. It’s harder to keep up with yield growth than we previously thought. The impact of greenhouse gas emissions on agriculture is bigger than people think.” Researchers working at the food and population nexus are most concerned about sub-Saharan Africa. Half of the world’s predicted growth in food consumption comes from population growth, and that’s where the population is growing most quickly. “So the question is, what can you do about it?” Searchinger says. “One thing you can do is go around killing people. But that’s not going to happen! So we are going to have to find ways to get population to replacement levels.”

That’s why empowering women is now one of the main solutions for feeding the world. Globally, most countries have achieved a birth rate at replacement levels, about two children per woman. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the fertility rate is 5.6 children per woman, largely because girls are not aware of reproductive choices and drop out of school at a young age and have kids. Fertility rates are highest in countries where women don’t have access to birth control or maternal and child health care. Babies often die before they turn five years old, and mothers overcompensate in family planning in hopes that at least a few kids will survive to adulthood. Unless the status of women changes in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re going to have a lot more than 1 billion hungry by mid-century.

When women have access to education and are aware of family planning, birth rates decline. Author Gordon Conway explains the connections best in One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?. He links equal rights for women to improvements in food production and consumption and future progress on food security. Of farmers worldwide, 43 percent are women. Because they are mothers, educators, and innovators, Conway argues, protecting women from discrimination and exploitation, and helping them to be more productive, will prevent widespread famine. If women are empowered to make their own choices, it means a girl stays in school longer. She has children later in life. She has access to reproductive health and family planning services when she needs them. And she can be confident that her baby will grow to a healthy adult. Which leads to

population growth at replacement rates and improved food security. In Mali, women with secondary education or higher have an average of three children; those who don’t go to school have an average of seven. And when a child is born to a mother who can read, it is 50 percent more likely to survive to its fifth birthday than a child born to an illiterate woman. People in sub-Saharan Africa are the world’s hungriest. A quarter of them are undernourished. They have the world’s worst crop yields. They consume nine percent of the world’s calories yet are 13 percent of the world’s population. But the population growth in the region, along with predictions that people will eat more because they’re now underfed, means sub-Saharan Africa will account for 37 percent of all additional calories required by mid-century.

“If you take what the population experts know and you think about what that means for food security and land use,” Searchinger says, “the solution to empower women and reduce child mortality stares you in the face and makes complete sense.” Growing more crops per acre remains elusive. We’re not going to feed 2.6 billion more mouths by just using better seeds or watering a little more land. Reducing meat consumption and food waste and improving efficiency will help. But the empowerment of women can keep subSaharan Africa from starving.

Lisa Palmer is a freelance journalist based in Maryland and a fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center. This article originally appeared in Slate.

Opposite: A farmer weeding a maize field near the Pusa site of the Borlaug Institute for South Asia in the Indian state of Bihar. M. DeFreese/CIMMYT Above left: A group of women farmers from the mid-hills of Nepal. Maize is the staple food in the region, but these women, like many farmers in the region, used to struggle to grow enough maize to last the year. The women’s lives changed when they were invited to take part in trials of improved maize varieties developed for the region. The project focused on women and other disadvantaged groups, testing and promoting technologies that could be implemented by the farmers themselves. Participating farmers have observed 20-50 percent higher grain yields with the new varieties. D. Mowbray/CIMMYT Above right: A child in India reads in the rice paddy, where her mother can monitor and look after her while she works. Puranjit Gangopadhyay, Courtesy of Photoshare


June 2014 — Population Connection 25

Washington View

Hurry Up and Wait By Stacie Murphy

The Budget Process Moves Forward … Slowly Although the White House released preliminary information about President Obama’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015 in early March, it was more than six weeks later before there was enough information available to determine the actual amount requested for international family planning programs. Fortunately, the news turned out to be good: We now know that the President has requested $644.3 million for family planning, including $35.3 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). That overall request is more than $34 million higher than the current funding level, and an increase of almost $9 million over the president’s request from Fiscal Year 2014. Although it’s not the $1 billion that Population Connection continues to advocate for, it is a robust request that illustrates the fact that President Obama does truly understand the importance of access to family planning for the more than 222 million women in the developing world who want to prevent pregnancy but don’t currently have the means to do so. We don’t yet know what the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will 26 Population Connection — June 2014

do when they meet to set their budget priorities. We expect that, as has happened in the last few budget cycles, the House will adopt a figure lower than the president’s request, while the Senate may recommend a higher number. As the process goes forward, we will keep our members and supporters informed about all developments. (If you’re not already signed up to receive information and alerts through our Email Action Network, sign up on the homepage of our website, www.popconnect.org, or email me at stacie@popconnect.org.)

The Supreme Court Debates Affordable Birth Control On the morning of March 25, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, the suit contesting the requirement that corporations offer health insurance that covers birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued for the government, while Paul D. Clement represented Hobby Lobby. These are the same lawyers who argued the main lawsuit about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act almost exactly two years ago. Almost immediately, it became clear that the three female justices had a

particular interest in this case: 28 of the first 32 questions asked of Paul Clement (the first coming only moments into his opening statement) came from the three women. Their sympathy for the government’s case was very apparent throughout the morning. Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that there are groups that object to blood transfusions and vaccinations, to name just a couple of examples, and asked Mr. Clement where the line for religious exemptions should be drawn. Justice Kagan also added that the precedent set by a ruling for Hobby Lobby could have implications far beyond health insurance law, pointing out that if the justices accepted Mr. Clement’s argument, it could place every law in the United States at risk of violating the religious freedom of corporations. She suggested that companies could object on religious grounds to laws forbidding sex discrimination, child labor, family leave, or even the minimum wage. Mr. Verrilli was subject to similar questions from the conservative wing of the court, which seemed, as might be expected, less than persuaded by the government’s case. Court watchers agree that the outcome will probably depend, as it has in so many other recent cases, on how Justice Anthony Kennedy

ultimately votes. During oral arguments, he asked questions that seemed to indicate sympathy for both sides of the case, making it difficult to predict where he will finally side.

Meanwhile, Outside the Court … While the justices heard arguments inside, outside—during an unusually cold and snowy day—hundreds of birth control defenders rallied to show support for access to affordable birth control. I was there, along with several of my Population Connection colleagues. We www.popconnect.org

chanted, we waved signs with slogans like “No Bosses in the Bedroom,” and, I have to admit, we also debated which of the anti-birth control protesters sharing the sidewalk with us was the most ridiculous. We decided it was a toss-up between the guys with the kilts (did I mention it was snowing?) and the man wearing a sandwich board depicting President Obama smiling over a field of skulls (yes, seriously). After oral arguments ended, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards and NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue came out to talk

to the crowd about what they’d heard inside. They thanked us all for coming out to help support birth control access, and reminded us that our voices have the power to make a difference.

And So the Waiting Begins

We expect a ruling in the Hobby Lobby case sometime in late June, and perhaps further progress on the budget in July. I hope everyone who supports family planning, both here in the United States and internationally, will remember the power they have as voters and advocates and use their voices to speak up for women and families all over the world. June 2014 — Population Connection 27

Field & Outreach

Capitol Hill Days 2014

Making an Impact One Congressional Office at a Time By Rebecca Harrington


ooking around the crowded ballroom at this year’s Capitol Hill Days, I was struck by the size and diversity of the group gathered to advocate for international family planning—nearly 150 participants from 28 states all across the United States joined us this year! As I scanned the large meeting space, I saw many longtime Population Connection members, students who had returned to D.C. for the second, third, or even fourth time to attend our conference, and new faces eager to learn about the links between population, women’s health and empowerment, and the environment. Eric Chalmers, a senior at Seattle University, experienced a similar moment of awe at the size the event has grown to in just three short years since he first attended. “I remember coming to Capitol Hill Days on a scholarship as a college freshman and finding a conference filled with great energy, information, and enthusiastic people. I left with an enlightened and energized perspective on women’s reproductive rights, and know that many of my fellow students left with the same feeling. Three years later, as a senior, I returned to a conference with nearly three times as many passionate students from around the country, where I enjoyed the same

28 Population Connection — June 2014

high-caliber experience. This is what really makes Capitol Hill Days special. Population Connection and the conference have grown, but the mission and passion of the organization and conference have not changed, which to me illustrates a genuine, inspiring, and unrelenting commitment to justice for women.”

Expert Speakers Got Participants Ready … On Saturday morning, Callie Simon, Technical Advisor for Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health at Pathfinder International, shared the story of Almaz, a 17-year-old Ethiopian woman, and her multiple attempts to acquire contraception at her local health clinic. Almaz was seeking birth control to avoid the unwanted pregnancies she had watched her friends experience, but was shamed and judged by the clinic staff for being an unmarried, sexually active woman. “Everybody was looking at me and whispering, and even one of the elder women asked me why I was there, since the clinic is only serving older women with children. I was too embarrassed and immediately left the clinic. I didn’t know what to do or where to go to get the method to protect myself from unwanted pregnancy. I got frightened

and worried I would end up in the same situation as my friends.” In response to this story, Amran Ahmed, a rising junior at Arizona State University, shared what she has witnessed in Somalia and how that has shaped her career goals. “I was born in Somalia, a country where the majority of the population doesn’t have access to quality health care, especially women and children. This lack of access to health care and women’s rights are the two main drivers of my future goals. Capitol Hill Days allowed me to gain so much knowledge about the issues women face abroad and in the United States. The conference opened my eyes to the problems we face at home, and some of the solutions being implemented abroad. This was truly an educational weekend and I am amazed by the hard work Population Connection is doing. I want to finish my undergraduate studies at ASU and go to graduate school for public health. Eventually, I want to return home to Somalia and work to increase women’s reproductive rights in local clinics and hospitals, and to build a bridge of communication between women and medical professionals. Capitol Hill Days was truly an amazing experience and I look forward to next year’s event.”

Kenneth Weiss, the journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his groundbreaking Los Angeles Times series “Beyond 7 Billion,” delivered the weekend’s keynote address to a rapt (and somewhat star-struck) audience. A lifelong scuba diver and surfer, Weiss described how he “got his start in the ocean,” referring to his initial motivation to write about environmental issues. However, as he traveled for the “Beyond 7 Billion” series, his eyes widened to the human rights, development, and economic impacts of rapid population growth. He echoed what many in the population field lament—that “there’s been a lag in helping the world complete the demographic transition.” He concluded his address by saying, “I used to think population growth was an environmental issue, and it is, but it’s a human rights issue as well.”

… for Visits to Capitol Hill

Participants enthusiastically reported back after their meetings in 127 Capitol Hill offices on the Monday following their lobby training. Many found their nerves giving way to excitement. Several said that the weekend and their time on Capitol Hill had been life-changing. In the words of longtime Population Connection member and teacher trainer Jean Perry-Jones, “This year’s Capitol www.popconnect.org

Hill Days was very informative and productive. There was a great youthful energy that rekindled motivation among the more seasoned activists. During my Hill visits, I got to thank a couple of my representatives for moving  the needle since my visit last year, and switching their votes to those in support of family planning.” Jean’s advice to her fellow activists? “Keep  coming back. I’ve got to believe that the work we do makes a difference.” Glen Herman shared, “When I arrived, I was a little uncertain. However, it proved to be extremely energizing and fulfilling. It was everything I was looking for, and then some.  The energy was very positive; the breakout sessions were very informative.  Population Connection did a great job transforming 150 nonprofessionals into a group of invigorated lobbyists.  Speaking at the Capitol Hill offices of my representatives was the highest level of advocacy I have ever done, but it was a great success.  Meals with interesting people, a weekend of educational presentations, informative training, and a day in the buildings where the country’s decisions are formulated— all this made for a rewarding experience knowing that we did our best to make an impact. I want to thank you and your organization for this tremendous event.”

Johns Hopkins University graduate student Emmanuelle Calvet with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA/2)

June 2014 — Population Connection 29

And the Oscar Goes to … PopEd

PopEd Announces Winners of the 2013-2014 World of 7 Billion Student Video Contest By Amanda Claire Frank


ou are probably aware that rapid population growth harms our environment and traps people in a cycle of poverty. But can you explain this connection in less than 60 seconds? Moreover, can you create a compelling story using video, images, and music? That is what this year’s participants in the World of 7 Billion high school video contest were tasked with doing, and we were amazed by the level of sophistication and enthusiasm they displayed. The 2013-2014 contest was open to high school students worldwide. We asked them to film a video no longer than 60 seconds that explored how population growth contributes to one of three issues: climate change, global poverty, and water sustainability. The response was staggering: We received 929 videos in total—60 percent more than last year’s contest! Student entries came from every corner of the world, representing 41 states and territories and 26 foreign countries. We are so pleased that the contest is gaining momentum and introducing more and more students to population issues in a memorable way. We announced the winners of each category last month. The videos boast innovative filmmaking and sound research. One participant, Kayla Briet, 30 Population Connection — June 2014

composed original music to use in her video. Another, Zach Gavin, visited local businesses to borrow props and spent two weeks building his set. And Juliet Gleason spent countless hours taking pictures of pennies from her basement floor in order to create stop-motion animation. The result is a collection of thoughtful and creative videos that challenge viewers to make the population connection. Our panel of judges, which included experts in filmmaking and in the three issue areas, were equally captivated by this year’s talent. “They were each very enjoyable to watch,” said one judge, “and I am very impressed with not only the students’ comprehension of the issues, but their creativity in communicating through video.” Another applauded Skylar Laakso’s video that explained coral bleaching, saying “I’ve got scientists on staff who couldn’t do this well in 7.5 minutes.” The contest is only in its third year. We look forward to planning next year’s contest and introducing a whole new group of student filmmakers to the issue of population growth. You can check out this year’s winners along with their photos and bios on our contest website, www.worldof7billion.org.

Second Place Winners Zach Gavin “A False Reality” Keene, New Hampshire Juliet Gleason “One Penny, Two Penny” Pullman, Washington Rachel Reichard “Save Water, Save Our World” Mililani, Hawaii

Honorable Mentions Georgia Carroll “The Way We Live” Lutherville, Maryland Skylar Laakso “Climate Change—Bring Back the Color” Medfield, Massachusetts Thaara Shankar “Two Dollars a Day” Rockville, Maryland Simon Elischer “Overpopulation = Poverty” Lusaka, Zambia Alexandra Kissilenko “Every Drop Counts” White Plains, New York Andrew Demeter “Water: Privilege or Right?” Concord, Ohio Griffin Powell “Start Without Them” Fleming Island, Florida

Climate Change First Place

Global Poverty First Place

Water Sustainability First Place

Marius Vaitkevičius attends Mažeikiai Gabija Gymnasium in Mažeikiai, Lithuania, where he will graduate in 2015. You may recognize him from last year’s contest when his submission took First Place in the food security category. Marius blew our judges away again this year with “Climate Change and How to Slow It Down.” The video displays major sources of greenhouse gases, including an unforgettable opening scene of a cow passing gas. He ends by emphasizing the steps we can take to reduce emissions and protect our environment. Marius plans to continue in filmmaking after graduation and also expresses an interest in human rights. We hope he continues to use his filmmaking skills to raise awareness of global issues and inspire others to take action.

Tim Eddy, an eleventh-grader at Southern Cross K-12 School in New South Wales, Australia, found our contest through an internet search and was so intrigued that he submitted videos in all three categories, two of which made it to the final round. His winning video “The Poverty Trap” uses motion graphics where written facts on population are transformed into the shape of a bear trap. “I learned a lot of startling things about the poverty trap and how hard it is for poverty-stricken people to get out of the cycle.” He felt the image of an actual trap best conveyed this message. Tim is an accomplished filmmaker who has won awards in other contests and even runs his own company, “Nifty Book Trailers,” for which he creates book trailers for authors around the world.

Kayla Briet, a senior at Cypress High School in Cypress, California, was drawn to the contest because of her interest in environmental science. She also happens to be talented in all aspects of filmmaking, from writing scripts to capturing shots; she even composed and performed an original soundtrack for this video. The message Kayla wanted viewers to take away is that their choices matter. “In environmental terms, big companies are so powerful, but when people really believe in themselves and their capabilities we can make a difference in even the smallest choices.” Kayla is an active filmmaker who has won awards in other contests, including Second Place in the White House Student Film Festival, which awarded her a trip to D.C. to meet President Obama.


June 2014 — Population Connection 31


Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News

32 Population Connection — June 2014

Editorial Excerpts

Dallas, Texas

Los Angeles, California

It is hard to imagine anyone, from conservative to liberal, who would want their employer’s religious beliefs imposed on their workforce or insurance coverage. Religious freedom is a personal freedom, not an employer choice.

Three companies—Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores with 13,000 full-time employees; Mardel, a bookstore chain; and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet manufacturer—are challenging the [contraceptive] mandate. The businesses say it would require them to cover forms of contraception that the owners regard as equivalent to abortion—and thus offensive to their religious faith.

For that reason, the U.S. Supreme Court should reject Hobby Lobby’s claim that providing employees with certain contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act violates the company’s religious liberty. It doesn’t. The deep-seated personal convictions of Hobby Lobby’s executives and Conestoga’s Mennonite owners are not in question. What is at issue is whether a private, profit-making business can dictate religious beliefs on employees, a point Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg zeroed in on during oral arguments in the case last week. Extending the religious rights of individuals to corporations that don’t have an explicit religious mission would have unintended, far-reaching consequences on both secular and religious freedoms. Individuals have long cited religious reasons for opposing all sorts of laws, and the courts have worked through cases very carefully to preserve balance. Extending conscientious objector status to secular corporations would be a mistake. Religious freedom is an individual right, and the justices should affirm this principle. —March 31, 2014


Two principal issues will be argued Tuesday: Can a for-profit business claim a religious exemption from the mandate under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act? And does the requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage impose a “substantial burden” on their exercise of religion? The first question is easily answered. It isn’t just, as a federal appeals court in Philadelphia pithily put it, that businesses “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously motivated actions.” It is that business corporations are legal entities distinct from the individuals who create them. As the Obama administration persuasively argues, the owners of Hobby Lobby aren’t entitled to an exemption for their businesses “based on their individual religious beliefs.” But even if moneymaking corporations were to be viewed as religious believers, the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate isn’t a substantial burden on their exercise of religion. The mandate doesn’t require an employer to do anything more than make it possible for a female employee to decide for herself whether to use contraceptives. —March 25, 2014

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Population Connection 2120 L Street, NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20037


Your legacy … people and the planet in balance Have you considered leaving a legacy gift ensuring that your commitment to zero population growth continues well into the future? By remembering Population Connection in your will or estate plan, you can make a meaningful contribution to stabilizing population and improving the quality of life for everyone, everywhere. We also offer charitable gift annuities, which provide guaranteed life income and significant tax advantages. We are proud to honor our legacy donors as members of The ZPG Society. For more information, please contact Shauna Scherer, Director of Marketing and Development, at shauna@popconnect.org or (202) 974-7730.

Population Connection members Katharine and Julian Donahue, visiting Iguazu Falls in Brazil.

If you’ve already included Zero Population Growth (ZPG) in your estate plans, there is no need to change any language. We proudly maintain the name and the mission. 34 Population Connection — June 2014

Profile for Marian Starkey


Population Connection magazine, June 2014


Population Connection magazine, June 2014