Polar bear cub

Hope Within Hardship

From Stephanie Feldstein, Population and Sustainability Program Director


2020 was a year of struggle and suffering. In the midst of a runaway pandemic that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, painful job losses and economic insecurity, we also faced threats to our civil rights and democracy. At times these momentous obstacles felt overwhelming, but we never stopped fighting to protect wildlife and wild places; increase access to reproductive healthcare; create a just and sustainable food system; and change the way people think about population, consumption and conservation.

Despite the challenges of the past year, the Population and Sustainability team launched new initiatives that helped people make connections between important issues, like the Film Justice Food Festival and our national survey results on perceptions about family planning and environmental protection. We released a policy guide to advance climate-friendly diet shifts and published op-eds on topics ranging from contraception and the importance of supporting the local economy to the benefits of breastfeeding and busting myths about grass-fed beef. We reached thousands of people through virtual platforms and built new partnerships. There’s a lot of work ahead in the new year, but with your continued support, we’re ready to take it on.

Holiday waste

All the extra waste generated over the holiday season is hard on wildlife. But it doesn’t have to be — check out our new Simplify the Holidays website for ideas on how to celebrate both the people and planet you love.

Population Fact

Plastic trash

Study: More Plastic Than Wildlife

In case there was any doubt that 2020 changed the world, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that as of this year, the mass of human-made materials such as concrete, asphalt, metal and plastic now outweigh the combined biomass of every living plant and animal on Earth.

Since 1900 human-made mass has doubled approximately every 20 years, to the point where plastic alone outweighs all animals on land and in the ocean. Meanwhile, due to this ever-increasing consumption and growth, overall biomass has decreased. Even as the mass of agricultural crops has grown, for example, the loss of plant mass caused by deforestation and other land-use changes has exceeded it.

Here’s one thing you can do: Support the #PlasticFreePresident action plan by signing the petition urging President-elect Biden to end the plastic pollution crisis.

Farm workers

Justice for Black Farmers

The American food system has a long history of white supremacy, including denying Black farmers billions of dollars in federal farm assistance. As a result, Black farmers have lost millions of acres of farmland since the Civil War. A new bill introduced by Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand seeks to address the historic and ongoing discrimination against Black farmers.

The legislation would create independent civil rights oversight in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provide land grants and debt forgiveness, and increase resources like funding and technical assistance to help Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers acquire land and invest in the long-term success of their farms. While this bill may be a long shot in the current Congress, it lays important groundwork for creating a more equitable food system.

Here’s one thing you can do: Call your senators and ask them to support the Justice for Black Farmers Act.


Virtual Presentations Reach Thousands

The global pandemic changed the nature of outreach this year, with conferences and festivals cancelled and volunteer condom distributors staying home to protect public health. But even in this new socially distanced landscape, the Population and Sustainability team joined and hosted dozens of online conference panels, webinars, trainings, trivia nights and other virtual events to educate thousands of people about population growth, consumption and equitable solutions that create a world where people and wildlife can thrive.

One benefit of online events is that we’ve been able to reach wider, more diverse audiences. Here are a few of our recent presentations:

From Beef to Beans: Agricultural Solutions to Healing the Planet

Waste Reduction: National Survey Results and Campaign Solutions That Look Upstream

The Wolf Lover’s Guide to Changing the World: Every Day Actions to Help Protect Wild Wolves

How to Talk About Population Pressure


Why Can’t We Talk About Population Growth?

A national survey conducted by the Center found that most Americans think the world’s population is growing too fast and that human population growth is driving other species to extinction. Despite that agreement, population pressure is still often absent from media headlines and conversations in the environmental movement. As population and sustainability campaigner Kelley Dennings writes in EcoWatch, “although there is growing agreement about the problem, there’s less understanding of the solutions.” Kelley describes how advancing human rights is an effective, ethical solution and why we need leadership from the environmental community in approaching these challenging conversations.

Here’s one thing you can do: Ready to start a conversation in your community? Watch our video with tips on how to write op-eds and letters to the editor.


The Fight for Healthcare as a Human Right

COVID-19 job losses have left an estimated 4 million women facing the loss of their employer-sponsored insurance, affecting nearly 1 in 10 women who obtain sexual and reproductive healthcare. Amid the new challenges posed by the pandemic, reproductive healthcare has continued to face old challenges, including inequitable access to services, a Supreme Court case considering the constitutionality of guaranteed access to contraception and ballot measures undermining the legal right to abortion. The fight for reproductive healthcare must be recognized as a fight for human rights.

But there’s hope with inauguration day around the corner. President-elect Biden has promised an ambitious platform for women’s rights, including an agenda to strengthen access to reproductive healthcare. And there are a number of actions he can take without waiting for Congress, including reversing the global and domestic gag rules that have prevented health clinics that provide or even discuss abortion services from receiving federal funding.

Here’s one thing you can do: Learn more about the state — and potential future — of reproductive healthcare in the United States by reading Ms. magazine’s article on what women can expect from a Biden presidency.

North Atlantic right whales

Wildlife Spotlight: North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic Right Whales can weigh up to 70 tons and live up to 70 years on a diet of tiny crustaceans consumed from massive amounts of ocean water filtered through their baleen plates. The fact that they can maintain their size and lifespan without teeth is notable, but it’s not how they earned the “right” title. Unfortunately their name comes from being considered the “right whale” to hunt, a distinction that has driven them to brink of extinction.

Although they can no longer be hunted, entanglement in commercial fishing gear continues to be a threat to these impressive marine mammals. At least 32 right whales have been killed in the past three years, but the Center and our allies are fighting to save them, filing an emergency rulemaking petition to protect the whales from fishing gear and calling on Congress to provide emergency funding to help end the entanglements.

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Photo credits: Polar bear cub via Canva; Stephanie Feldstein staff photo; Holiday season waste by bsuter/Flickr; Plastic pollution by dmitriylo/Twenty20; Farm workers by Zen Chung via Pexels; Crowd by dobbidodarr/Twenty20; Virtual presentations photo by Urban Sustainability Directors Network; Nurse by jsdaniel/Twenty20; North American right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) courtesy NOAA.

Center for Biological Diversity
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