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No. 2, December 17, 2010

In This Issue:

National Geographic Tackles Overpopulation in 2011
U.S. Southwest: Too Many People, Not Enough Water
Beating Climate Change With Family Planning

National Geographic Tackles Overpopulation in 2011

One of the world's most popular and influential magazines is making a major issue of human overpopulation and overconsumption. The January 2011 issue of National Geographic devotes its cover and nearly 40 pages to a story titled "Population 7 Billion: How Your World Will Change." The substantial article is accompanied by color photos, charts and graphs to help readers wrap their heads around the parameters of the problem. Better yet, the piece is the first in a series that the magazine will run throughout 2011 to mark the impending arrival of the seven-billionth person on our planet, projected to happen sometime late in the year.

It's a major media moment for a problem that is too often ignored, but this welcome development comes with a caveat. The article leans toward the "not such a big deal" attitude that has helped to marginalize the threat of overpopulation in recent decades: consumption is more important than population, curbing population growth won't help climate change, there's no cause for panic. This framing of the issue continues to be a major obstacle to public awareness about the critical environmental and planetary problems of human overpopulation. Still, it's exciting to see this issue get some substantial media attention.

What to do: Check out the story for yourself and then write a letter and engage National Geographic in a dialogue about how important overpopulation really is -- and share the story with your friends as a way to spark a discussion about this critical issue.

U.S. Southwest: Too Many People, Not Enough Water

The prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published an impressive collection of papers in December on the future of water resources in the southwestern United States. The authors' consensus bears out what those of us who live here in the Southwest already know pretty well: We're headed for a water crisis that will cause shortages and conflict for the tens of millions of humans living in the region, and likely disaster for many of its other species. As one of the authors points out, one look at Lake Mead -- the water-storage reservoir on the Nevada-Arizona border that's now less than 40-percent full, an all-time low -- is worth a thousand words.

The papers address a host of challenges facing the region -- from mega-droughts worsened by climate change to unsustainable population growth -- and the conclusions are pretty clear. Rather than continuing to chase new supplies that enable runaway growth, the Southwest must get serious about reducing consumption and limiting population. In a media interview, Peter Gleick -- president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, and author of one of the papers -- summed it up pretty well. "Something must be done to avoid the coming crisis. We're in a car heading for a brick wall, and there is little indication that we've even taken our foot off the gas, much less applied the brakes."

Beating Climate Change With Family Planning

National Geographic's somewhat limited vision notwithstanding, mounting evidence continues to show that curbing unsustainable population growth is not only a critical factor in reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases that's causing global climate disruption, it's one of the most cost-effective ways to do it. A new report from the Worldwatch Institute concludes that the empowerment and education of women, along with better access to family planning, would slow population growth and lead to huge reductions in carbon emissions down the road. That's one of the reasons the Center for Biological Diversity gave away 350,000 Endangered Species Condoms this year.

And a new paper from the Center for Global Development concludes that no other strategy for tackling climate change is more cost-effective than investments in education of girls and women and making family planning more widely available. The authors calculate that a million dollars invested in such initiatives would save 250,000 tons of carbon emissions -- five times the benefit of investments in energy efficient buildings, and more than seven times the benefits of hybrid cars.

As we've said all along, all of these strategies are important, of course. But, without addressing overpopulation and its effects on greenhouse gas emissions, efforts to reduce carbon footprints -- and save species that disappear beneath them -- eventually will be overwhelmed by too many feet.

Center for Biological Diversity | P.O. Box 710, Tucson, AZ 85702-0710

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