Why are we so afraid to talk about human population?

When it comes to the environment, human population is the 900-pound gorilla in the corner.  I know this from first hand--I once got into hot water for a New Scientist piece that slammed conservatives in the U.S. for failing to support family planning.

  People are great, but enough already... (photo by William Laurance)

People are great, but enough already... (photo by William Laurance)

Now, in a provocative essay, Jonathan Porritt asks why is nearly everyone--including most leading environmental groups--so reticent to talk about population?

It's a good question.  According to the U.N. Population Division, Earth's population is projected to peak at nearly 11 billion people this century. 

Africa will have 400% more mouths to feed, according to the U.N.  Nigeria--already teetering on the edge of social and economic chaos--will have five times its present population.

These are incredible figures, and they underscore momentous challenges ahead--for global food security, social welfare, immigration and national security issues, and of course the environment.

The challenge is growing.  According to a recent analysis by Leontine Alkema and colleagues, by 2015 nearly a billion women will need contraception or will have an unmet need for contraception.  This number is rapidly increasing, especially in developing nations.

Demographers like Alkema keep saying the same thing: One of the smartest long-term investments we can make today is in family-planning and contraception, especially where population growth is fastest and most likely to be destabilizing in the long term.  A good place to start is Africa.

We need a lot more talk--and action--on population.

-Bill Laurance