Ron Arnold's Left Tracking Library

Session 3:
Population and the Environment


Session 3:
Population and the Environment

Cheryl Saperstein [Moriah Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana] Moderator: [tape begins in mid-sentence] ...this session.  Isn't quite filling up the setting like this, but I think we better work with it since we're running short of time.  This is the Population and Environment Session.  My name's Cheryl Saperstein.  I'm a program officer at the Moriah Fund. 

Voice: Can you stand a little closer to the microphone?

Cheryl Saperstein: Sure.  I don't.  I think.  I'm Cheryl Saperstein.  I'm a program officer at the Moriah Fund.  And I used to be in charge of both population and environment, though, since about a year and a half ago, though I switched to just population, although I still try and keep up as much as possible with the interaction between the two fields because I think that's a really crucial place to look.

I'm glad we have a lot of people here today.  If I can't see you it's because there's some glare.  So wave your arms madly or something if you want to ask questions.

I guess, you know, it's appropriate to have this session following David Suzuki's speech this morning because he did open with the statement about the growing population on earth and that seems to be a concern that is being noted more and more often in the media certainly and among people I think who work in environmental organizations, many of whom are starting to develop population programs.

So my feeling is that as environmental grantmakers it will become increasingly important to be knowledgeable about the issues, tensions, problems and opportunities involved in the population field, even if it's not your priority issue. 

What I thought we would do today is have two short presentations.  Jody Jacobson who's a researcher at Worldwatch Institute will give you some background about the issues and what's involved.  And Judith Eddy from the Compton Foundation will talk a little bit about population, environment, particularly with relationship to UNCED and the upcoming 1994 Population Conference.  And then we should have ample time for questions and discussion.

I'd like to save the last 20 minutes to a half an hour to generate a list of funding strategies and options specifically, because I think sessions on population and environment often don't leave enough time to look forward and think about what the opportunities are rather than what the problems are.  So I hope that we'll be able to do that.

I'd like to turn this over to Jody.  Jody is senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute.  She's the author of several Worldwatch papers.  Co-author since 1987 of the Annual State of the World Report.  And staff writer for Worldwatch magazine.  She's a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Madison where she studied environmental science and economics.  And her research interests and expertise include the relationship between human population and the environment, reproductive health and family planning and women and development issues.

Jody Jacobson: Thanks Cheryl.  I was really glad... Am I speaking loud enough?  I was really glad to be asked to join you because I think that something David Suzuki mentioned earlier today and that many people often repeat that the population issue is one of the most important we face.  I think it's one of the most important we face right now in large part because there are tremendous opportunities for looking at the issue, exploring ways of positively dealing with population trends.  But it's also important because there's tremendous room for making mistakes. 

And the way--I should probably start or or or couch my talk by giving you a little bit of my own perspective.  The way I look at the issue comes from an integrated perspective of women, population and the environment as well as looking at development within not only a natural resource context but a social and human rights context.  So, when I try to put these issues together I'm also looking at these other variables.

Male voice: You're getting lots of feedback on the microphone.

Jody Jacobson: Okay.  Anyway, I'll just continue from where I was, assuming that it was understandable.  But what I'd like to do is just to talk a little bit about why the issue is so complex, what some of the opportunities are and what some of the problems are that we've faced in the past and what you can learn from those problems as funders and as people looking to lead the field in this area.

For one thing over the past few years and I think Rio was very much a signal of this, we found that the population-environment issue is very complicated.  It is not easy to either describe the problems or the relationships between population and the environment because in many cases they are not linear problems or connections, and too because oftentimes the social context in which population growth or out of which population growth arises is very little talked about.

And I'd like to sort of look back to something that Julian Simon said early on which the Bush administration and the earlier Reagan administration happen to have hung their hats on is this issue that population is a neutral phenomenon.  Well, it's not.  But I've found the debate almost assuming that the causes of population growth are almost neutral and that population growth happens without these sort of uh more roots causes.  And I think that those are things that we need to look at as the positive points of intervention.

So as far as population goes, where are we?  Five point five billion people in the world today.  And according to the median projections of the UN, we're likely to see a world population about 8 billion people by 2025 or so, 9 billion people by 2030 and the best guesstimates right now of the United Nations according to their median projections which sort of take current trends and project them out, are that the Earth's population will stable out at approximately 11 billion people. 

Now, where can we reasonably assume we will go?  Given what is known as population momentum, the number of people that are in the population who are entering childbearing or are in childbearing age and the numbers of children they're likely to have given the current trends, it's not likely that we can really dramatically change, say, the future of 9 billion people at some point and probably 11 billion.

What we can do at this point in time is put in, is look at the critical issues behind population growth, start to change the dynamics that leads to rapid population growth and forestall the world population growing even faster and ending up at an even higher number in 2100, which, according to again the UN population projections would be some 14 billion people. 

Clearly there are problems vis a vis population and resources.  But I would argue that these are mostly at the local and regional level and involve natural resources such as water, fuelwood, land use, et cetera.  And I think it's at these kinds of local and regional issues that we need to start looking in terms of both gathering information on just what are the relationships between human numbers dependent on resources and the resources available and the other kinds of things in the equation, which Paul Ehrlich has called the IPOT equation, the one that looks at what the technology and the population sizes and what the consumption rate is and sort of multiplies that out to give you what is the impact of that population.  We need to look at those three different intervention points for particular populations in particular areas.

Earlier today in a session that I was in a woman stood up and talked about making Agenda 21 or sustainable development strategies for urban areas throughout the country and using Earth Day as a focal point for creating an agenda for doing so, and I thought that this is really the kind of thing we're talking about.  We're talking about looking at a region and its resources and what it can sustain over time and asking ourselves now, how are we consuming those resources, what do we project into the future, what do we want to leave to our kids. 

This can be done in many different areas.  It's complex, but it needs to be undertaken by local people and under local initiatives.

The other thing I'd like to just touch on, and I'm just touching on these different issues, we can come back with questions later, because there's sort of a broad area to discuss and I just want to sort of throw out some ideas.  We sort of get caught in an argument, is population a cause of poverty and environmental degradation, is it a symptom of poverty and environmental degradation.  It's both.  It's a vicious cycle.  There's no doubt in my mind about that.  Lots of grief of population growth are, they do arrive out of two primary conditions, I believe.  One is poverty, the other is the very low status of women in developing nations and their lack of control over or access to productive resources and their lack of access to family planning.  But that's only one part of the equation.

And so it does become a vicious cycle.  I do not think it's helpful to get caught in the debate about whether it's a symptom or a cause.  It just is and it's happening.

Cheryl had asked me to talk briefly about what the history of population programs has been, what the successes and failures have been, and what those kinds of things have taught us.  Well, again, this is a very broad brush thing.  I think all of you know that the issue of population has been around or before Malthus.  There have been foundations and individuals throughout the early part of this century that have talked about it as an issue.  But in terms of a political movement, in terms of an international funding movement, it was really in the late 50s and the 1960s that the US government got involved in family planning as a response to demographic trends for instance, and that there was a really huge push for a national family planning programs through the Agency for International Development and others. 

Since then the issue of family planning particularly and the status of women has become highly politicized.  Right now we are operating under what we call the Mexico City policy which was put forth at the 1984 International Conference on Population in Mexico City, which the Reagan administration basically took the funds that it used to put toward family planning and said that no one would use these funds, no one would receive these funds if they were in any way affiliated with abortion activities, research or counseling.  And that has dramatically affected the population field.

But I would say that some of the other lessons learned that are not quite as obvious from the political debate are that, something I mentioned earlier, family planning is not the only or the answer to demographic trends.  That many other things feed into population trends that we are not looking at such as whether or not women have at the household level control over income and how it gets spent.  Or how time are women spending in certain kinds of subsistence activities and how much do they rely on children as an economically rational response to the extension in their time, for instance, when women are responsible for gathering fuelwood.  And as fuelwood supplies become less available to them for a number of reasons they may rely more and more on their children to go out in the field so they can undertake their other activities they're responsible for.

So these, these different things, the, the family planning piece, the status of women piece, how that works around with poverty, and what I call "the other" population policies, the things we don't tend to look at.  The kinds of government policies that may actually increase the incentive for higher numbers of children while at the same time you have family planning programs seeking to reduce them.  And the kinds of population policies that derive from say government sponsored programs that move large numbers of people off the land that they're customarily living on, forcing them to move into urban areas where they are living in slums and it becomes, in terms of the population problem but it's really the result of a government policy.

We need to start looking at this broader context.

And as far as new directions and approaches to the population issue, as I said earlier, I do think that there are clearly a number of opportunities and innovative ways to start to not only fund the issue but really work toward solutions.

Among these--and we've already sketched out some, and we're going broader discussion of those later--but I don't want to take too much time.  I just want to sketch out some that I think are really key.  Among these are providing seed money for and strengthening women's empowerment groups in local and regional areas in the developing world.  Investing in better quality family planning and family planning within comprehensive reproductive health care.

Now I really think, having looked at the family planning issues for many years, it's not a question in my mind that family planning is not only a health intervention, it's a basic human right.  And every woman every where, irrespective of whether or not the population in her country is growing very rapidly, must have access to family planning.  It should not be the highly politicized issue that it has become. 

But we do know that there is a gap in terms of what is called unmet need for family planning worldwide and that that need needs to be met. 

Other things that need to be concentrated on are a legal literacy program for women in developing countries so that they can use their own empowerment to enforce the laws and policies that are sometimes on the books but are not enforced in their favor.  Educational strategies for women and girls.  Health surveys to find out what other kinds of care they feel they need, because we have found that women oftentimes will reject family planning, in part because it doesn't meet their needs, in part because they feel it is forced upon them, and in part because they feel it's the only health intervention they ever receive.

And we need, I think very importantly, to find out what two key variables, how these are operating in the population - environment question: One is the undervaluation of women's work and the other is the undervaluation of the value of natural resources.  In my mind these two things, which are nowhere represented in national income statistics or accounting and which we talked about, sort of, David talked about a little bit in terms of the lack of good ways of accounting for economic growth versus sustainable growth.  I think that these two things, the value of natural resources and the value of women's work are key.

And researching ways and fighting for ways to find those things in national statistics is incredibly important.

And then lastly, these are in no particular order, strengthening the linkages between women's groups in countries and between women's groups internationally as well as those groups who are, who are involved in the population, environment and social sorts of nexus that's coming out post-Rio and looking towards the 1994 International Conference on Population.

I'll stop there and give the microphone over to you, Edith and Cheryl.

Cheryl Saperstein: Thank you.  I know you probably have questions and comments to go after this, but I thought we would save them until we've all spoken up here.  Oh, well, I should introduce--Edith Eddy is the director of the Compton Foundation in Menlo Park, California, which is a private foundation with assets of $75 million. [Ralston-Purina fortune.]  The Compton Foundation's grants are focused primarily in the area of peace, population, the environment, social welfare, education and the arts.  For 9 years prior to joining the Compton Foundation, Edith was a program officer at the Packard Foundation and from 1974 to 79 she was the co-director of the Action Research Liaison Office at Stanford University.  That was a program which coordinated applied research projects initiated by non-profit community agencies and which has now become a part of Stanford Public Service Center.  Edith is a graduate of Swarthmore College and has a Master's in education from Harvard.  She currently serves on the board of the Robert Brownley Foundation, which funds environmental education and the Spring Foundation for Research on Women in Contemporary Society.

Edith Eddy:  Thanks.  Well, it sounds like they're having a great party over there.  Maybe we should just go over there and join. 

I have been asked to talk a little bit about Rio and a little bit about the upcoming conference, UN conference, International Conference on Population and Development, and then make some recommendations for possible grantmaking in this field.  And I want to begin by saying that for me going to Rio in June was, it was for me really a watershed event.  It was a watershed event because when I went to Rio, I went with the background of my academic training, which is as a biologist.  And as an environmentalist who comes at the environment from a biologist's perspective, not unlike the perspective that Dave Suzuki did such a good job of expressing this morning.  And I hold a very dominant paradigm in my own imagination.  What he describes so vividly in terms of the test tubes, and the organisms building up and using up the test tube, and our being at the 59th minute of the hour and being half full, but having one minute left.  That's a very dominant paradigm for me.  And it's how I tend to look at population.

What happened to me in Rio is that I spent most of my time there observing a treaty-making process that happened in the women's tent.  And I was quite profoundly changed by that experience and I'm going to try to explain to you how and why.

First of all, as you probably know, population was a non-issue at Rio for the obvious reason that at the official meetings out at Rio Centro, the southern countries had declined to have population be part of the discussions and part of the negotiations unless the north was willing to deal with consumption issues.  And the northern countries, in particular, our country, had said that the U.S. standard of living was not an issue, that we, it was not open to discussion.  And we weren't willing to talk about consumption.  And so it was a draw and population got dropped.

There was some language about population.  The language was heavily influenced by the Holy See, the Vatican, which, in a very strange way became bedfellows with feminist groups, so that the language has to do with language about human rights, but it doesn't have anything to do with the physical repercussions of population growth on the environment.

And in all the treaty negotiations on specific areas like forests or marine life or climate, none of them deal with what is the impact of a population at the 59th minute in a 60 minute hour that's growing exponentially and that threatens not only the survival of the human species but the survival of all species in a very very short period of time.

So, basically population was left out of the formal meetings and it was left out of all of the NGO treaties with the exception of one.  So, somewhere around 35 treaties were being negotiated within the NGO forum and only one was willing to talk about population.  And that was the one in the women's tent.  And it was only one of several treaties that the women worked on.

What shocked me was to listen to people, particularly women from the countries of India and Brazil assert that there was no relationship between population and environment.  They were extremely educated articulate people and it was very hard for me to understand how they could stand up and say these two are not related.

What I came to perceive over the period of twelve days of trying to understand this was that if you came from a perspective of having lived in a country in which your government has decided that population is an issue and that the way to solve it is top down, the government is going to solve it by imposing certain restrictions on the people and that you are going to be the guinea pigs for experiments for different kinds of birth, new birth control methods that haven't yet been tried out yet, that aren't necessarily safe yet, or you're going to face sterilization or your partner face sterilization because you've been bribed with a radio, and you don't really understand what sterilization is or means, that you may have a very different feeling about population control than we have in this country in the developed world.

You may also have the feeling that the ultimate answer to this question has got to come from giving people and in particular, women, access first of all to health, secondly to a chance to be educated, third to a chance to have those children they bear grow up healthy, fourthly, the capital, the chance to have your work result in some kind of accumulation of income.  Those are all absolutely crucial to your having the perspective that would allow you to say, Yes, the replacement number of children is the choice I make. 

To provide that opportunity to the women of the Third World means a tremendous restructuring of the way the wealthy nations of the world currently do business.  It really means that we have to rethink the international organizations that we have created that dominate how money and wealth and resources are transferred in this world.  And in particular that determine that the wealthy nations are going to continue to become wealthier and the poor nations poorer, because of the situation we have set up is that the net transfer of wealth in this globe goes from south to north, goes from poor to rich.

Until we really get that, until we really understand that we have to change everything, that we have to address the fundamental issues of dignity of the human person regardless whether that person is male or female, brown, black or white, in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, we are not going to solve the population problem in any way other than massive starvation, which I think for most of us is morally and personally a reprehensible solution.

Ultimately, the document that came out of the women's treaty, which took several days beyond the anticipated days to conclude, has in it I think one really crucial sentence.  It's a compromise, it's not perfect, it's as far as people were able to get in that period of time, but I want to read it to you because I think it's really important as a sentence.  It's in the NGO Treaty on Population, Environment and Development.  And it reads as follows:

"The international community must address problems arising from the relationship between population, environment and development."

I want to pause there and emphasize that it acknowledges that there is a relationship.  That was a big step from the denial of the relationship to acknowledging there is a relationship between population, environment and development. 

"We must address those problems within the framework and boundaries set by ethics, human rights and democratic principles and in recognition of the fact that one-quarter of the world's population, predominantly in the industrialized nations consumes over 70 percent of Earth's resources and is responsible for most of the global environmental degradation."

Rio is over.  What next.  There was a lot of energy that came together around Rio that is now trying to find where to fix itself, where to focus.

The next major international global meeting that is going to deal with the issues of development and population and the environment is going to happen in 1994 in September in Cairo.  And it is the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development.  This is the third in a series of such conferences.  The first was held in 1974 in Bucharest.  I'm told that at that time there was no mention of women and nothing, the meeting had nothing to do with family planning at all.  However, it did set goals for global population, to be assessed, and, uh, ten years later, a second meeting happened in Mexico City and we probably all are painfully aware of what happened at that meeting.  That was the meeting at which the United States decided that we would no longer fund major family planning organizations such as the U.N. Family Planning Organization, nor would we fund any organization that even using other money even informed people about abortion.

But this is going to be the third.  This time the meeting not only includes women, not only includes family planning, but it includes environment.  It's one of six major themes that the conference is attempting to address.

According to Naziz Sadiku, who is the Secretary General of the UNFPA and the Secretary General for this meeting, there are immensely high expectations for this meeting, partially as a result of UNCED.  The rationale for the meeting, as I said, is to compare to progress of the world in meeting the goals set in 84. 

The goal of the meeting is to prepare a new plan and to create a mandate that will result in increased funding for population.  The process consists of the same process that existed for UNCED: A series of PrepCons.  There already have been two.  There will be two more.  The one potentially of greatest interest to us here in this room is the one that will take place this next summer in New York City.  A specific date for that has not been set.  It could be in May or June or considerably, August, but it will be here in our country next Spring.  And the fourth one will be in March of 1994.  There also are a series of regional meetings.  The next one is this month in two weeks in Geneva.  And then there will be one in December in Dakar.  And there also are a series of expert meetings and plans for roundtables.  Those don't have any funding yet.

I think the significance of this next meeting and only planned meeting that deals with these three issues or attempts to deal with them is that it presents an opportunity for some of the energy that has been generated around UNCED to move to the next iteration.  I think everyone who attended UNCED or read about it was familiar with people's perception that it was a good first step.  But it really was only a beginning. 

For a beginning to have any meaning at all it has to have something that comes next.  And the conference in 94 is one of the things that is coming next.

However at this point there's a significant problem.  Which is that at this point there is absolutely no planning, indeed, resistance to any kind of a gathering of non-governmental organizations to take place at the same time as the U.N. conference takes place.  Now, there's not total agreement about this, but the Secretary General does not want there to be, does not want the governmental meeting to be upstaged by a non-governmental meeting.  She doesn't want it to be, the media to be distracted from the meeting of the governmental leaders.  And the host in Cairo is also worried about there being non-governmental organizations mixing and milling in that city at the time where they're trying to host the governmental meeting.

Other people such as the, there's a U.N. organization on non-governmental organizations.  They aren't as interested in and supportive of having an NGO forum as are the U.S. foundations that fund in the population field internationally.  And there is some possibility that there is a new player in this game, which is an independent commission which has been initiated by the Rockefeller Foundation and is being funded by other large foundations and governments all over the world, might conceivably be an entity that would push for an NGO forum.

I have a vivid memory of Rio from walking down Copacabana Beach carrying a large banner with a lot of other people.  We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that banner should say.  Ultimately what it said was, When the People Lead, the Leaders will follow.  I was stunned because I was expecting when I got to Rio, given the U.S government's position, that people would be very angry at us and that if we walked in that parade, people would throw tomatoes at us, or be just angry.  It was very amazing to me that when we walked down that mile-long walk that the people cheered us.  And expanding that message there was something in what we were trying to say as NGOs that was profoundly responsive to the people in Brazil who were also there with the same feeling and the same attempt, collective attempt to influence their government.

The opportunities for grantmakings...Should I say these now, or do you want to do that later?

Cheryl Saperstein: You can go ahead.

Edith Eddy: Okay, quickly, five things that have occurred to me.  First of all, as environmentalists, look, I think we don't know enough yet about the relationship between population and environment.  The Population Resource Center in Princeton, New Jersey, has, for the last two years, had a project that has been exploring what is the relationship between these two fields and trying to unearth who is interested and what kinds of research projects might evolve that could be funded.  And we've made quite a lot of progress and I highlight them because I think they're one of the few groups that is looking, trying to look at this connection in any depth.

I think there are a lot of feminist groups who have a lot of ideas but not much money.  And that it would make sense for us to try to get more funding for those feminist groups so that they can do the research they need to do.  Many feminists groups maintain, for example, or are aware of abusive forced sterilization and so on that they feel that's very important not happen again, but they don't have the documentation to prove that.  And consequently, some of the more traditional population groups don't necessarily understand what the feminist groups are saying.  So I think it's really important that we have better documentation of what the abuses are that we're trying to avoid. 

We don't--polling is something that could be extremely helpful.  For example, I'm told that George Gallup of the Gallup Polls happens to have a particular interest in population.  I don't think we have a very good understanding of U.S. attitudes.  Of why there's such an apparent absence of concern among the U.S. population about population issues.  Why is it that we're willing to have our government decrease funding in this area?  Why don't we care?  Why don't we understand?  So research is the first thing that I think is--and those are just three examples.

The second thing that I think is really important is to expand the common ground between the feminist groups, environmental groups, population groups.  There is common ground and it needs to be explored and expanded.  So I think that we could be very helpful in supporting NGO organizing, but that national level and international, building coalitions.  And particularly focusing that funding around the PrepCon in New York in 1993.

The third area is that I think that if we start early enough there is an opportunity to possibly have, support a concurrent NGO forum that would happen simultaneously with the UN meeting.  As I mentioned, there are about 20 US funders and who fund in the population field who are interested in this, and if the environmental funders were interested in it as well, it's possible that we might be able to actually overcome the resistance and have such a forum take place.

A fourth thing that I think is very important to educate, uh, to fund, and this is also built on the Rio experience is the education of the media.  A number of groups including CNN, including Island Press, including US Citizens Network, did an excellent job of educating the media.  So that when the media's attention finally got around to UNCED, there were materials ready to hand them.  And we had 8,000 media people coming to UNCED who did not know anything about the environment or very little and wanted to get up to speed very fast.  Well, the funding for those materials started a good year and a half to three years before they were needed.  And as a consequence they were very good.  And I think the media was very well served.  And as a result, everybody else was well served by the [indistinct] of that effort.

And a fifth area I want to say that I think sometimes small grants spread over a broad area can be singularly effective.  And I give as an example the Global Fund for Women, which some of you may know about, which is an organization which is funded by individuals and by foundations which makes small grants to women's groups all over the world.  Their grants are typically $5,000.  But that $5,000 to a group in Indonesia or in Bangladesh or in Chile can go a long long way.  And particularly if those grants were focused on trying to get greater participation of those groups who are silent groups in this international process.  I think that is a way in which we could make a huge and constructive difference.

So those are just five suggestions to start us off on the question of how can we make a difference. 

Cheryl Saperstein: Thank you.  I'd like to just open this up to discussion, questions, comments, information you want to share with each other.  And I'd like to ask that you identify yourself when you speak.

Chuck ? (Male participant totally indistinct.)