As we read Rape of the Land, by Andrea Smith, the conversation trickled down to how we consider and connect population and the environment. From my past experience (interning for Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program this past summer) and our conversation in the Ecofeminism classroom, I gathered a good over-arching point: we must consider quantity of the global population AND the quality of lifestyles that drastically vary – not just quantity. Let me explain… When we discuss population, it should not be about the number of people in the world or they carrying capacity of the globe. Our conversations should be about resource consumption, the range of lifestyles across countries, and the recognition of lifestyle quality choices and changes. Quantity can also come into play but along side the idea of reproductive justice, informed choices, and basic human rights.
Understanding how the global population will be effected by climate change is a major importance when looking at the connection between population and the environment. Unfortunately, not all parts of the world and not all people will be affected the same way. As we read in Soil Not Oil! by Vandana Shiva, those least responsible for climate change are those worse affected by its consequences. For instance, global challenges like over consumption, rapid population growth and climate change all affect the quality and accessibility of water. This particularly puts a strain on already limited freshwater systems (fresh accessible drinking water is less than 1% of the earth’s water – the rest is in impractical forms like of salt water and ice). In addition, water scarcity, as well as contamination, disproportionately impact poor women and girls. For many girls, the time commitment and effort that is required (and is increasing) to walk miles to access clean water impedes their schooling. These obligations to their families withhold basic education or the ability to get a formal wage-earning job. As a result, many women become locked into a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. This consequently has a ripple effect that impacts entire communities and countries socially, economically, and environmentally.
Last summer, I learned that the best way to address rapid population growth and the pressing consequences of environmental degradation is sustainable development via choice family planning and services. Meaning, for instance, not forcing a woman to take birth control or forcing sterilization; not enforcing a law that discourages women from having the family she chooses, but providing the resources to allow women to make educated reproductive choices for themselves. In fact, there are many women who want help – they want the choice of how many children to have because they see the effects having a large families has on their lives and the environment around them, but do not have the access to those resources required to make those choices.
Paying attention to the reproductive health of women around the world only concentrates on one side of the issue (quantity) – the other side is the connection between population and the environment = lifestyle choices (quality). As a woman in America, I consume much more than an average women in, for instance, India. My lifestyle is highly energy consuming (from the production and transportation of my food, clothing, and other items, to my travel by car and plane, to the heating and cooling my house). The waste I produce and the resources I use are extremely high (not matter how much I recycle). In order to break this vicious cycle we must choose a different lifestyle, which includes things like eating locally, limiting the amount of driving time, growing a backyard garden, being prudent about energy use at home. It’s all about choices.
“Everybody thinks of changing humanity but nobody thinks of changing themselves.”
– Leo Tolstoy