World Population Day: Let’s Not Forget We Need Nature

Jul 10th, 2019 | By | Category: Biodiversity/Conservation, Other Resources

By Suzanne York, Transition Earth.

World Population Day (July 11th) is a special day of recognition that most people are either unaware of, or want to ignore.  After all, discussing population growth is still often considered taboo.

Yet we are at the point where it needs to be made more of a major issue.  The terrible baggage of the past – population control, sterilization, China’s one-child policy – is gone, we hope, and any decent and credible organization or expert steers clear of advocating for this.  Demands and coercion don’t work. Successful population strategies meet the needs of women and girls for reproductive health and rights, respect cultures, send girls to school, end child marriage, and involve men in family planning decisions, to name a handful of topics that go with population growth.

The Missing Piece

One ‘piece’ that if often missing from this discussion, though is nature.  In a world of 7.7 billion people, heading towards a possible 10 billion humans by 2050, where do flora and fauna fit in?

If we’ve been paying any attention at all, then we know our ecological situation is dire.  This past May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a summary of a forthcoming report that found up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Humans have been the driving force of major extinctions, wiping out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles just between 1970 and 2014.  As reported by The Guardian, our “vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life.”


[Guardian graphic. Source: Living Planet index, WWF/ZSL. Note: shaded areas show the statistical uncertainty surrounding the trend]

[Guardian graphic. Source: Living Planet index, WWF/ZSL. Note: shaded areas show the statistical uncertainty surrounding the trend]

Ana María Hernández, chair of the above-mentioned IPBES report, said she did not know if society could make the major changes needed to stop the annihilation of wildlife.

We could; we actually know what to do.  We just don’t have the will of the majority to change course.  Or the will of governments and corporations addicted to economic growth, which relies on growing populations of consumers.

Climate change, overconsumption, resource scarcity, deforestation, pollution…the list of ways people are altering life on Earth goes on and on.

Population Projections

The most recent United Nations population numbers predict that global population growth will stop increasing by the end of this century. For the planet’s sake, let’s hope this prediction is right.  But it’s the growth that has taken place in the past 70 years or so that has taken a toll on the environment.  Between 1950 and today, the world’s population grew from 2.5 billion to more than 7.7 billion.



Today, many countries, including Japan, Italy, the U.S. and even China are experiencing declining fertility rates.  But others are growing, especially African nations. Between 2020 and 2100, Africa’s population is expected to increase from 1.3 billion to 4.3 billion. Projections show these gains will come mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, which could more than triple in population by 2100.

Addressing this growth requires investing in reproductive health, as well as maternal and child health, plus education and sustainable livelihoods.

This isn’t just for Africa. It’s what all countries should be doing, to ensure healthy populations and thriving ecosystems, whether populations are increasing or not.  And above all, our global society must find a way to halt unsustainable resource use.

Focus on Rights of Nature

A suggestion, when bringing up population growth, is to not only focus on human rights, but also nature’s rights.  People are part of the web of life, and more needs to be done to protect nature if we are to save ourselves and the planet.  Supporting the concept of rights of nature is a key solution.

Rights of nature is based on the concept of not treating nature as property under the law, but rather that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.

Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, India, New Zealand and over three dozen U.S. municipalities – via legal and/or constitutional means – have enshrined nature’s rights at various levels of government.  Other countries also have rules on the books, or are considering rights of nature.

Just this month, Bangladesh’s top court ruled in favor of granting rivers the same legal rights as people.  (Just like corporations do in the U.S.) Per Reuters, the country’s Supreme Court declared that all Bangladesh’s rivers had the legal status of living entities, a move aimed at protecting them from growing pollution, encroachments and illegal dredging. “Water is likely to be the most pressing environmental concern of the next century,” the court said in its order, calling for rivers to be protected “at all costs.”


["OiesOies-4" by MathGoulet is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

[“OiesOies-4” by MathGoulet is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

The path to a healthy, sustainable population involves many efforts, but perhaps the most important one is helping to connect human rights with rights of nature. The planet can survive without people, but we can’t survive without Nature.  Our enormous challenges require courageous ideas.  What we’ve been doing isn’t enough, or isn’t happening fast enough (or worse, as with reproductive rights in the U.S., we keep taking too many steps backwards).

In the words of Hernandez , “If we don’t understand the relationship between biodiversity and the very basic needs of our lives then we are not going to understand how deeply biodiversity is important to maintain our own survival,” she said.

Thriving Together

This World Population Day, there is a newly formed campaign that understands the connection between people and nature.  The Thriving Together movement recognizes that access to family planning is critically important not only for women and girls but also for the environment.  Transition Earth is proud to be part of Thriving Together, and views this as a critical effort to improve understanding of the links between conservation, rights of nature and human health and development.


Suzanne York is Director of Transition Earth.

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