“If we continue with the current mode of operation, namely coal, oil and gas, the planet is not likely to be habitable a hundred years from now. And beyond the climate issue, there's another issue affecting habitability, and that is expanding human footprint. Expanding human farming and expanding human habitation are the primary causes of the loss of biodiversity that makes the planet habitable.
“If you and I were to visit the planet 3 billion years ago, we probably would not have survived one minute because you couldn't drink the water, couldn't breathe the air, there was no food to eat. The world was toxic to any type of advanced life, including humans. It's only the 3 billion years of gradual evolution of the web of life that makes the planet habitable, and we are systematically destroying it as humanity expands into rainforest after rainforest to grow soybeans and to build housing developments and superhighways.”
Human population is a problem—tackling it through education isn’t.
We need to slow our global fertility rate to 1.5 children per woman if we’re to lower our population to a sustainable level of around 3 billion. That decline is already happening in many post-industrial nations, to the chagrin and panic of their leaders. However, many cultures around the world still prize large families. But in a world of increasingly scarce resources like water, limiting family sizes remains the main driver of some campaigners, including Bill Ryerson.
Bill is an ecologist and founder of the Population Media Center, an initiative which creates mainstream entertainment in many nations around the world, pushing the needle on cultural practices to drive behaviour change on population and even gender violence. PMC produces telenovelas and radionovelas which have seen fertility rates decline in nations they’ve been shown.
Bill and I spend the first half of the episode talking about the population problem, the policy problems, the history of population growth. He then introduces the concept of the demographic dividend, which showed that small families actually lead to economic growth, before explaining the successes and heartwarming stories of the work PMC has done around the world.
© Rachel Donald
Planet: Critical investigates why the world is in crisis—and what to do about it. Support the project with a paid subscription.