Wanted: Public Debate over World Population Issues
by Senator John Marty
August 15, 2000

After the Democratic Convention this week, the Presidential campaign will be in full swing. Citizens will have the opportunity to hear the candidates on tax policy, social security, and many other issues. But global population issues will likely get scant attention.

Is population an issue too trivial to merit presidential campaign attention?

No. In the first 24 hours after you read this, the world's population will grow by about 210,000 people - more than the population of the city of Des Moines. In less than 23 days, the population will grow by 4.8 million people - more than the population of Minnesota!

It took from the beginning of human history until the 1800s for the world population to reach one billion. The second billion was reached in 1930. We hit 6 billion last year. Current projections show that we will add another billion people by the year 2013.

Are there limits to the number of people our planet can support without destroying our environment; without exhausting our freshwater supplies?

Twenty five years ago, when the World's population hit four billion people, there was significant public debate over the "population explosion" and whether Earth could sustain life with a rapidly growing population.

But last year, when the population reached the 6 billion milestone, there were a few news stories marking the event, nothing more. No political discussion over whether population growth is a problem. No policy proposals to address the issue.

The impact of this population growth on energy consumption, global warming, and deforestation could be catastrophic. Urban sprawl, waste disposal, and other environmental problems worsen with the growth in population. And, while many wars have been fought over a lack of resources, the shortage of freshwater supplies may make other resource shortages seem minor in comparison.

Yet there is near total silence about population issues in American politics during this election year. Certainly, it is a sensitive topic. Family planning funds for other countries are always tied up in abortion politics in Congress. And our political system is accustomed to crisis response, not proactive efforts to prevent problems.

This is a call for further discussion and debate. Presidential candidates, other politicians, the media and the public need to engage the issue. As stewards of the earth, we owe it to our grandchildren and their grandchildren to address population issues.

Editor's note: There is not enough space here to delve into the topic in more detail, but here are links to organizations eager to provide more information:

World Population Balance: A Minnesota-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public and policy makers about the effects of population growth and the benefits of stabilization. They are holding a conference on Population at Augsburg College in Minneapolis on October 21. http://www.worldpopulationbalance.org/

Population Action International: Population Action International (PAI) is dedicated to advancing policies and programs that slow population growth in order to enhance the quality of life for all people. PAI advocates the expansion of voluntary family planning, other reproductive health services, and educational and economic opportunities for girls and women. These strategies promise to improve the lives of individual women and their families while slowing the world's population growth. To these ends, PAI seeks to increase global political and financial support for effective population policies and programs grounded in individual rights. http://www.populationaction.org/index.html

Day of 6 Billion: (An excellent website for educating young people on population issues.) http://www.dayof6billion.org/home.htm

Zero Population Growth: Zero Population Growth is a national nonprofit organization working to slow population growth and achieve a sustainable balance between the Earth's people and its resources. We seek to protect the environment and ensure a high quality of life for present and future generations. ZPG's education and advocacy programs aim to influence public policies, attitudes, and behavior on national and global population issues and related concerns. http://www.zpg.org/

U.S. Census Bureau Population Statistics http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/world.html

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