Population Matters

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Population Matters (formerly known as the Optimum Population Trust) is a think tank and charity promoting "stabilisation and gradual population decrease globally and in the UK" as an environmental measure, but also as beneficial for the economy, development and for other social reasons.[1]

Sir David Attenborough became a patron of the organisation in April 2009.[2]


History

The trust was set up in 1991 by David Willey (now deceased) to monitor and discuss population trends and human carrying capacity. Their website states:

The need for this function was seen in the failure of UK governments to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Population in 1949, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology in 1971 and the Government Population Panel in 1973 to set up a mechanism for monitoring and policy guidance on issues affected by population changes - such as welfare, education, labour supply, population ageing, immigration and impact on the environment.
The need was also seen in a general neglect of the role of population pressure by bodies concerned with the relief of poverty and protection of the environment, and the consequent tendency of those bodies to promote ineffective or counterproductive policies.[3]

Figures

The Population Matters says that 43% of births, or 80 million pregnancies a year are unwanted, and suggests policies which help to avoid them. [4]

Population and environment

Population Matters aims to raise the profile of the role that population growth plays in environmental damage, and in particular climate change.

Population Matters' chair Roger Martin attended the Global Humanitarian Forum in June 2009[5] and is quoted in newspaper articles putting across the think tank's point of view. He argues:

there is not a single environmental problem that would not be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder and ultimately impossible to solve, with more.[6]

and similarly:

A quarter of a million more people are born each day. Until we address that there's no point in doing anything else.[7]

Population Matters claims there is a taboo on discussing the impact of population on the environment and advocates an end to this taboo, leading to an open discussion on how to reduce population growth worldwide. They also promotes so-called 'non-coercive' policies which will support this (through contraception, immigration tightening and education). Population Matters also makes a case that reducing births in developing nations such as Kenya is an effective policy to reduce carbon emissions. As Martin says:

It’s always been obvious that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions – the carbon tonnage can’t shoot down as we want, while the population keeps shooting up.[8]

In September 2011 the Radical Statistics Population Studies group presented a paper critiquing the science behind the claims of Population Matters at the British Society for Population Studies annual conference in York. Their website explains:

Radical Statistics’ Population group of UK demographers/population scientists and statisticians, have examined the claims and policy of Population Matters finding them guilty of frequent overstatement, rhetoric and one-sided assertion rather than evidence that population growth is the main cause of environmental threats. Like others concerned about overpopulation before them, Population Matters promote policies that erroneously focus on the groups who consume the least. The Radical Statistics group calls on high profile patrons of Population Matters to reconsider their support, including the naturalists and broadcasters David Attenborough and Chris Packham, environmental campaigner Jonathan Porritt, and senior academic and cultural figures.[9]

Their paper – Moral Panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign? - presents a wide range of evidence demonstrating that it is the level and type of consumption not the number of people that primarily causes environmental issues. The paper's abstract notes their key findings:

that many of the proposed policies carry with them the implicit assumption that each person's carbon emissions are equal, and as such erroneously focus their policy on socio-economic groups that don't contribute highly to carbon emissions.
that a link between an individual country's human population size and environmental degradation is not evident and cannot be reduced to the simple ecological concept of carrying capacity.
that some of the policies proposed would have negligible effect on the world's population size.[10]

In May 2009, a Sunday Times article 'Billionaire club in bid to curb population' showed that business leaders and wealthy individuals were jumping on the population reduction train, identifying the growing population as the number one social and environmental issue (and one which they argue is mostly the fault of the developing nations).[11]

Guardian columnist George Monbiot criticised Population Matters' aims, claiming that global population increase 'pales into insignificance when compared with the effect of increased consumption and economic growth.'[12] He references a paper published in the scientific journal 'Environment and Urbanization' in Sept 2009 by David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development [13] , which concludes that the total environmental impact does not equal population x affluence x technology, as previously believed, but instead equals CONSUMERS times affluence times technology. Monbiot notes that 'many of the world’s people use so little that they wouldn’t figure in this equation. They are the ones who have most children.' 'Around one sixth of the world’s population is so poor that it produces no significant emissions at all.'[14]

He concludes that the Population Matters is an example of 'the worst form of paternalism, blaming the poor for the excesses of the rich.' 'It’s time we had the guts to name the problem. It’s not sex; it’s money. It’s not the poor; it’s the rich.' [15]

Views of Population Matters' supporters

Jonathon Porritt, former Sustainable Development Commission chair and patron of the Population Matters, claimed that reproductive policies are key to environment and development. He said:

Had there been no 'one child family' policy in China there would now have been 400 million additional Chinese citizens.[16]

It should be noted that Porritt made this statement in a personal capacity rather than as a representative of the Population Matters and China's one-child policy has not been endorsed or commented on by the Population Matters or its website.

At the Global Humanitarian Forum, Roger Martin contradicted his earlier point that population reduction means carbon reduction when he said, 'every person not born in the future means there's more carbon for the rest of us'[17], implying more concern over the prolonged consumption based wealth of the West, than the damaging planetary effects of increasing carbon use and emissions.


Population Matters' view on consumption levels

The Population Matters website does address levels of consumption in affluent countries, saying:

Population Matters' overall task is to enable people to recognise the links between the quality of life and environmental destruction and (a) high population levels; (b) wasteful consumption; and (c) poor technology. Population Matters concentrates on (a) because other environmental organisations dangerously neglect this component. In addition it is a subject which until recently has been shunned by the media. Seeking to reshape people's reproductive behaviour, however democratically, involves the intimate decisions of individuals and is seen as an infringement of human rights. Population Matters believes that all other human rights and needs will suffer if this issue continues to be ignored.[18]

The Population Matters holds the view that addressing environmental and carbon footprint is needed but that it will not be enough without population reduction:

The global footprint is an average of a wide range of values ranging from 0.65 gha/cap (Afghanistan), through 4.8 gha/cap (Europe) and 9.6 gha/cap (USA), up to 10.2 gha/cap (United Arab Republic). According to the GFN, the 956 million population of the high-income countries have a footprint of 6.4 gha/cap which is eight times higher than that of the 2.3 billion inhabitants of the lowest-income countries (footprint = 0.8gha/cap.) An estimate by Andrew Ferguson, Editor of the Population Matters Journal, is that if the 956 million people in the developed world cut their footprint by two-thirds, it would still not balance the effect of the lowest-income 2.3 billion increasing their footprint by half of the per capita cut in the developed world.[19]

UK population reduction policy

Population Matters says:

OPT calculations suggest that even if we comprehensively greened our lifestyles, the UK could only support 27 million people – less than half its present population – from its own resources. It’s tempting to think we can always buy our way out of trouble but apart from being grossly unfair to poorer people in developing countries, this would be an exceptionally high-risk strategy in a world of growing hunger and increasing resource nationalism.[20]

Population Matters advocates stabilising and then reducing the UK population to an 'environmentally sustainable level' by:

  • Zero net migration (balanced by allowing the same number of people into the country as the number who leave each year);
  • A reduction in unplanned pregnancies, particularly among teenagers, where they are the highest in Europe;
  • Encouragement to parents to voluntarily "Stop at Two" children to reduce the impact of family size on population growth and the environment.[21]

Population Matters' arguments for limits to national populations are based on the concept of carrying capacity, a useful ecological theory which says that an ecosystem will collapse if populations of species within it outstrip the resources available. They claim that the UK has outstretched its carrying capacity and cannot sustainably support its current population with its limited resources. However, the Radical Statistics Population Studies group present a wide range of scientific evidence to show that the notion of carrying capacity is of limited use in relation to human populations, because;

i) humans have regularly increased the capacity of the earth through their own endeavours to improve agricultural and industrial techniques and ii) human consumption is not driven by biological needs only, but is responsive to versatile cultural attitudes and adaptive to changing cultural contexts.[22]

I.e it is the current unsustainable level of resource consumption that is the main problem, not the sheer number of humans irrespective of their varying impacts.

With no credible scientific backing to support the environmental impacts of increasing the UK's population Population Matters' policies such as zero net migration can be seen as a right wing stance which plays dangerously into the campaigns of nationalist and fascist parties such as the British National Party and the UK Independence Party.

Contraception as carbon offsetting

In December 2009 Population Matters made headlines by suggesting that reducing population growth in the global South (particularly Africa) will have a large impact on carbon emissions, with the least economic cost. Their report, "Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost", said, 'every £4 spent on family planning saves one tonne of CO2. A similar reduction would require an £8 investment in tree planting, £15 in wind power, £31 in solar energy and £56 in hybrid vehicle technology.' [23]

The calculations (carried out by London School of Economics MSc student Thomas Wire) found that 'the 10 tonnes emitted by a return flight from London to Sydney would be offset by enabling the avoidance of one unwanted birth in a country such as Kenya'[24].

The Population Matters has set up a carbon offsetting provider called Pop Offsets which will sponsor family planning programmes in countries with the highest birth rates (and lowest climate impact) to offset (and therefore promote the continuation of) carbon intensive companies and individuals. [25]

In response, Friends of the Earth's Head of Climate Change Mike Childs said:

The idea of paying for birth control in developing countries to offset carbon-intensive lifestyles in rich countries is repugnant. Rich countries caused climate change and their reluctance to cut their own emissions is pushing the planet to the brink of climate chaos.
G8 countries make up 13 per cent of the world's population yet account for 45 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The problem lies with high consumer lifestyles in the rich world - not with growing populations in poorer countries.
The critical challenge is reducing the massive over-consumption of resources by people in rich nations. Rich countries have a legal and moral responsibility to lead on tackling climate change by making huge and swift cuts in their own emissions.[26]

Following this criticism the Pop offsets website has changed its wording. As the Radical Statisticians note;

It is now offered with an emphasis that the decision to donate is one of “conscience not science”, but the unscientific calculations that balance consumption with unborn children remain part of the donation process and are indeed at the heart of the OPT perspective.[27]

Carbon offsetting is a neoliberal market based solution to climate change, which advocates the continuation of carbon intense, and polluting industry and lifestyles in the West, offset by projects which aim to prevent or reduce carbon emissions, usually in the global South.

A BBC Horizon special hosted by David Attenborough on 9 December 2009 further explored the idea of population control for carbon reduction.

David Attenborough

The eminent naturalist and documentary maker David Attenborough lent his name to the Population Matters in April 2009. In December 2009 Attenborough hosted a special BBC 2 Horizon programme 'How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth' which promoted the trust's view that population is one of the biggest environmental issues.[28]

Affiliations

Population Matters is a partner in the Global Footprint Network.[29]

People

Staff


Patrons

Circa December 2009

  • Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE, Naturalist, broadcaster and trustee of the British Museum and Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew; and a former controller of BBC Two.
  • Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University
  • Dr Jane Goodall DBE, Founder, Jane Goodall Institute, and UN Messenger of Peace.
  • Susan Hampshire OBE, Actress and population campaigner
  • Professor John Guillebaud Former Co-chair of Population Matters, Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health, University College, London. Former Medical Director, Margaret Pyke Centre for Family Planning.
  • Dr James Lovelock CBE Scientist and environmentalist known for proposing the Gaia theory that Earth functions as an organism, and author of 'The Revenge of Gaia'.
  • Professor Aubrey Manning OBE, President of the Wildlife Trusts and Emeritus Professor of Natural History, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Norman Myers CMG, Visiting Fellow, Green College, Oxford University, and at Universities of Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, California, Michigan and Texas
  • Sara Parkin OBE, Founder Director and Trustee of Forum for the Future and Director of the Natural Environment Research Council and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and Head Teachers into Industry.
  • Jonathon Porritt CBE, Founder Director of Forum for the Future and former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission.
  • Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO, Chancellor of Kent University, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at the James Martin Institute, and former UK Permanent Representative on the United Nations Security Council [30]

December 2011

Additional patrons:

Board of Trustees

Circa December 2009

  • Roger Martin, CHAIR OF TRUSTEES, was a senior diplomat, resigning 20 years ago; becoming a leading environmentalist in the South-West and serving on many green NGOs and quangos.
  • Professor Stephen Bown Professor of Laser Medicine at University College London
  • Harry Cripps MA MSc DMS CEng CEnv FIChemE MEI, chemical engineer, energy efficiency consultant and chartered environmentalist
  • Dr Pippa Hayes is a full-time general practitioner in Devon and mother of two teenage boys.
  • Rosemary Horsey is married to a doctor with two children and four grandchildren, two of them adopted. She has worked as a volunteer in environmental NGOs for almost all her adult life.
  • Garry Jones BA MA (Cantab) works for a major eNGO, encouraging a greater connection between people and environment. He is also actively involved in the local voluntary sector in Staffordshire.
  • Simon Ross is an established management consultant providing organisational strategy and performance improvement to the public and private sectors.
  • Alan Stedall is an IT Director and has led a number of large-scale systems projects for several UK businesses.
  • Yvette Willey, Company Secretary, Treasurer and Membership Secretary. Yvette Willey has been with Population Matters since its foundation and is a businesswoman with treasury and accounts experience. [32]

Circa December 2011

  • Roger Martin, Chair. Former senior diplomat, leading environmentalist in the South-West serving on many green NGOs and quangos.
  • Harry Cripps Chemical engineer, energy efficiency consultant and chartered environmentalist.
  • Pippa Hayes Full-time general practitioner in Devon and mother of two teenage boys.
  • Maggie Avison Charity sector professional, currently taking time out to study for a postgraduate degree.
  • Stephen Bown Professor of Laser Medicine at University College London.
  • Venetia Caine Currently Newswatch editor, after working in the civil and probation services, teaching, campaigning and voluntary work.
  • Nina Clarke International training consultant in language and skills.
  • Colin Gallagher Chair of a leading UK economic research and strategy consultancy.
  • Nick Reeves OBE Executive Director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management and writer on environmental affairs.[33]

Advisory Council

  • Martin Chilcott Chairman & CEO, Meltwater Ventures & 2degrees.
  • Patrick Curry PhD Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Wales, Lampeter. He is the author of Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, Polity, 2006.
  • Martin Desvaux PhD CPhys is a physicist experienced in life assessment techniques for power generation, petrochemical and plant, and formerly a director of ERA Technology and a Trustee of Population Matters. He now researches ecological issues.
  • John Rowley, Founder/Editor of www.peopleandplanet.net and former Editor, People magazine (International Planned Parenthood Federation)
  • Rajamani NagarajahHealth and development consultant to the European Commission and former Director of Population Concern.
  • William Ryerson (USA), Founder and president of Population Media Center, William Ryerson has worked to promote population stabilisation for four decades, with an emphasis on social change communications.
  • Alastair Service CBE, former Chairman of the Family Planning Association
  • Valerie Stevens former Co-chair and Chair of Population Matters, Valerie Stevens also worked in Friends of the Earth for 20 years, five of them spent as an elected member of the board of directors, and has long experience of political campaigning.[34]

Former members of advisory council

  • Nick Reeves, Executive Director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and writer on environmental affairs (became a trustee).
  • Catherine Budgett-Meakin, Senior Advisor, Population & Sustainability Network (supported by the Margaret Pyke Memorial Trust). Listed as a member of the advisory council on Population Matters website, version updated 6 February 2006[35], no longer a member by May 2010[36]
  • Martin Chilcott, Chairman & CEO, Meltwater Ventures & 2degrees. Listed as a member of the advisory council on Population Matters website, version updated 6 February 2006[37] By May 2010 he had resigned.[38]
  • Rosamund McDougall, Former Co-chair and Policy Director of Population Matters, writer and speaker on population issues, publisher, international financial journalist (The Banker, Financial Times) and campaigner (Family Planning Association). Listed as a member of the advisory council on Population Matters website, version updated 14 Dec 2007.[39] No longer a member by May 2010.[40]
  • Rajamani Nagarajah, Health and development consultant to the European Commission and former Director of Population Concern. Listed as a member of the advisory council on Population Matters website, version updated 6 February 2006[41]. By May 2010 he had resigned.[42]

Others

  • David Nicholson-Lord, listed as "research associate" on Population Matters website updated 14 December 2007[43]. Described as "Population Matters policy director" in an Population Matters' article, "Population growth threatens UK’s future", on the Population Matters website as at May 2010.[44] He is former environment editor, Independent on Sunday, Deputy Chair of the New Economics Foundation and Chair of the Urban Wildlife Network. As of May 2010 he is no longer a policy director of the Population Matters, nor does he have any official position at the Population Matters.[45]
  • David Burton, an environmental strategist and member of the Optimum Population Trust. Wrote Guardian article advocating carbon offsetting through contraception measures.[46]

Funding

Population Matters states that it is financed by its members, that it receives funding neither from the government nor from any political or business interests, and that it is not affiliated to any other organisation (except as a partner in the Global Footprint Network).[47]

Contact

Address:
Phone:
Email:
Website:

Resources

Population Studies annual conference, York, 7-9 September 2010.

Notes

  1. What is the Optimum Population Trust?, Population Matters website, accessed 9 May 2010
  2. Parminder Bahra, David Attenborough to be patron of Optimum Population Trust. The Times. April 14, 2009, acc 9 May 2010
  3. Optimum Population Trust About Us, Accessed 8/12/09
  4. John Vidal, Rich nations to offset emissions with birth control, The Guardian. December 3, 2009, acc 9 May 2010
  5. Global Humanitarian Forum 2009, Accessed 8/12/09
  6. Roger Martin, Demographics Dynamics at Global Humanitarian Forum 2009. see You Tube, Accessed 8/12/09
  7. Roger Martin, Demographics Dynamics at Global Humanitarian Forum 2009. see You Tube, Accessed 8/12/09
  8. Richard Pindar, Contraception Cheapest Way to combat Climate Change, The Telegraph, 9th Sept 09, acc 9 May 2010
  9. Radical Statistics website Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters October 27th, 2011. Accessed 14/12/11
  10. John Bibby, Sylvie Dubuc, Michael Grayer, Diana Kornbrot, Alan Marshall, Ludi Simpson and Paul Norman. Moral panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign? Radical Statistics Population Studies group, presented at the British Society for Population Studies annual conference, York, 7-9 September 2010.
  11. John Harlow, 'Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation'- America's richest people meet to discuss ways of tackling a 'disastrous' environmental, social and industrial threat, The Sunday Times, May 24, 2009, acc 9 May 2010
  12. John Vidal, Rich nations to offset emissions with birth control, The Guardian. December 3, 2009, acc 9 May 2010
  13. . David Satterthwaite, September 2009. The implications of population growth and urbanization for climate change. Environment & Urbanization, Vol 21(2): 545–567. DOI: 10.1177/0956247809344361.
  14. George Monbiot, 29 September 2009, The Guardian 'The Population Myth'
  15. George Monbiot, 29 September 2009, The Guardian 'The Population Myth'
  16. John Vidal, Rich nations to offset emissions with birth control, The Guardian. December 3, 2009, accessed 9 May 2010
  17. Roger Martin, Demographics Dynamics at Global Humanitarian Forum 2009. see You Tube, Accessed 8/12/09
  18. What is the Optimum Population Trust?, Population Matters website, acc 13 May 2010
  19. Towards sustainable and optimum populations, Population Matters website, acc 13 May 2010
  20. Population growth threatens UK’s future, Population Matters website, 21 Aug 2008, acc 109 May 2010
  21. Optimum Population Trust Migration, Accessed 06/12/09
  22. John Bibby, Sylvie Dubuc, Michael Grayer, Diana Kornbrot, Alan Marshall, Ludi Simpson and Paul Norman. Moral panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign? Radical Statistics Population Studies group, presented at the British Society for Population Studies annual conference, York, 7-9 September 2010.
  23. David Burton, Guardian online. Thursday 3 December 2009. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/dec/03/population-growth-carbon-offsets 'Indefinite population growth is not an option'
  24. John Vidal, The Guardian Newspaper. Thursday 3 December 2009. 'Rich nations to offset emissions with birth control'
  25. Pop Offsets What we Do accessed 8/12/09
  26. Friends of the Earth. 'Rich countries must cut their own emissions instead of paying to offset CO2'. December 4, 2009
  27. John Bibby, Sylvie Dubuc, Michael Grayer, Diana Kornbrot, Alan Marshall, Ludi Simpson and Paul Norman. Moral panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign? Radical Statistics Population Studies group, presented at the British Society for Population Studies annual conference, York, 7-9 September 2010.
  28. BBC 2 How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth Fri 11 Dec 2009. Accessed 14/12/11
  29. Optimum Population Trust About Us, Accessed 06/12/09
  30. Optimum Population Trust About Us, Accessed 06/12/09
  31. Population Matters' website, Our People section Patrons Accessed 14/12/11
  32. Optimum Population Trust About Us, Accessed 06/12/09
  33. Population Matters' website, Our People section Trustees Accessed 14/12/11
  34. Population Matters' website, Our People section Advisory Council Accessed 14/12/11
  35. About Population Matters, Population Matters website, version placed in web archive 15 Feb 2010, acc in web archive May 10 2010
  36. Email from Population Matters to SpinProfiles editors, 8 May 2010
  37. About Population Matters, Population Matters website, version placed in web archive 15 Feb 2010, acc in web archive May 10 2010
  38. Email from Population Matters to SpinProfiles editors, 8 May 2010
  39. About Us, Population Matters website, version updated 14 December 2007, placed in web archive January 4 2008, accessed in web archive 10 May 2010
  40. Email from Population Matters to SpinProfiles editors, 8 May 2010
  41. About Population Matters, Population Matters website, version placed in web archive 15 Feb 2010, acc in web archive May 10 2010
  42. Email from Population Matters to SpinProfiles editors, 8 May 2010
  43. About Us, Population Matters website, version updated 14 Dec 2007, placed in web archive 4 Jan 2008, acc in web archive 10 May 2010
  44. Population growth threatens UK’s future, Population Matters website, 21 Aug 2008, acc 10 May 2010
  45. Email from Population Matters to SpinProfiles editors, 8 May 2010
  46. David Burton, 'Indefinite population growth is not an option' Guardian online. Thursday 3 December 2009.
  47. Optimum Population Trust About Us, Accessed 06/12/09