In reading through the vast resources of The Overpopulation Project, I happened across this excellent article on “The Missing SDG” - or Sustainable Development Goal. The article was a reflection of a discussion held on November 7th, 2019, where around fifty people gathered in Ekocentrum, Gothenburg to discuss the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. While clearly there were many useful candidates outlined by others, I must commend Jenna Dodson and Patrícia Dérer from The Overpopulation Project for their presentation.
They argued for the 18th SDG to be “End Population Growth”, where they highlighted the role of population growth in driving biodiversity loss and climate change, problems that helped spur the creation of the SDGs. They argued that we need to address population growth directly, in order to achieve better progress for most of the other SDGs. Given how short we have fallen in the accomplishment of so many of our SDGs, I could not agree more. As Dodson and Dérer argued, if population increase remains unchecked, it will undermine achievement of the SDGs focused on ending hunger and poverty and reaching environmental sustainability. Of course, I would have preferred “End Runaway Population Growth”, since its runaway nature is the most problematic element.
(NOTE: I think it would be amazing if we were able to get Sir David Attenborough to amend his quote as The Overpopulation Project does in its article to say “All of our Sustainable Development Goals become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder - and ultimately impossible - to solve with ever more people.” Sometimes a simple edit like that could have a massive impact on the debate. If you know Sir David, please put in the ask!
Anyways, back to the meeting. Dodson and Dérer correctly argued that it is possible to influence future population growth through rights-based policies. They pointed out the obvious - but which is so often willfully ignored by so many - Demography is not destiny, but to some degree a political choice. They briefed on the proven policies, such as voluntary family planning programs providing free or inexpensive access to contraceptives, that can drive fertility rates down by avoiding unwanted pregnancies. They highlighted the social, economic and environmental benefits of small families. Theypointed out the importance of better-covered targets in the SDGs that also help with slowing down population growth, such as quality education and gender equality. At the end of the event, theIr was a vote of which candidate SDG concept should be the new 18th SDG. As it turns out, “End Population Growth” got by far the most votes. I bet “End Runaway Population Growth” might have gotten a few more!
If only the United Nations would address runaway population growth head on. Folks like John Wilmoth, the 10th director of the UN Population Divison within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs must be suffering such a massive cognitive dissonance, given the UN’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, while seemingly not seeing how runaway population growth is systematically undermining their accomplishment. When interviewed in this New York Times article for his response to the recent Lancet study about the potential for bending the population curve by 2064 at 9.7 billion he was quoted calling this a “problem.”
“It’s kind of an extreme assumption to think that countries aren’t going to think their way out of the problem for the next 80 years,” he said.
Why is this a problem? If he sees the ultimate bending of the global population curve as a problem, then clearly he does not see how runaway population growth will undermine the UN SDGs. Or he is not a big fan of the SDGs.
I would love to know How Many People Does John Wilmoth Believe The Earth Can Support?