Ironically, instead of focusing on effective ways to keep their own population in check, humans have become obsessed with trying to control any wildlife that dares to exist, from addling the eggs of mute swans and forcibly drugging wild horses with a fertility control pesticide, to hunting down bears, deer, wolves and many other animals.
Our runaway growth left unchecked is already devastating animals and their habitats. The two primary reasons for the loss of animal habitat: our growing population’s demand for wood as a source of fuel, lumber and paper; and an unabated appetite for the flesh of cattle, which involves the use of vast ranch lands.
|Friends of Animals is not anti-children. We are pro family-planning, pro contraception for humans and encourage a rational approach to leading a fulfilling life, which we believe can be found whether we choose to have children or not. No matter what, we hope to see a future where all people who have children did so by choice.|
By the best estimates, some 80 million pregnancies around the world are unintended. The unplanned pregnancy rate here in the U.S. is significantly higher than in many other developed countries. Currently about half of the 6.6 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended.
Human expansion=animal extinction
Human population growth is the single largest threat to animal life, and the major cause of environmental degradation and global climate change.
We are fast becoming a “single species” planet as we have already used about half of the world’s land surface to grow crops, raise “livestock,” construct roads and build towns and cities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s international statistics, our planet’s human inhabitants number about 7.3 billion and grow by 80 million a year. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that 237,211 more people are added to the planet every day as every second worldwide, five people are born and two people die, leaving three more humans to inhabit the earth.
So where does wildlife stand today in relation to 7.3 billion people? According to the Center for Biological Diversity, worldwide, 12 percent of mammals, 12 percent of birds, 31 percent of reptiles, 30 percent of amphibians and 37 percent of fish are threatened with extinction.
While it may not be obvious to most people in their daily lives, human overpopulation is an issue that affects every living being.
In our work at Friends of Animals, we are all too familiar with non-human animals in America being accused of overpopulation—from wild horses on public lands in the West and black bears in the Northeast and deer everywhere to mute swans along the East coast and barred owls in the Pacific Northwest.
An example that represents what is happening to wildlife everywhere is the black bear population in New Jersey. In 2010, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection approved a Comprehensive Bear Management Policy that included the first sanctioned black bear hunt since 2005. The agency claimed that the northwestern New Jersey bear population had grown from 500 bears in 1992 to 3,400 bears in 2010, and that overall the population has been increasing and expanding southward and eastward from the forested areas of the northwestern New Jersey. But guess what? New Jersey’s human population increased by 1,044,144 people from 1990 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census. And northern New Jersey, along with New York and Long Island tied for the most populous metropolitan areas in 2000 and in 2010.
Sadly, 2,379 New Jersey bears have paid the price of human overpopulation with their lives since the hunts began in 2010.
Environmental consequences of our reproductive choices
Oregon State University’s 2009 study “Family planning: A major environmental emphasis,” put the consequences to having children on the table by calculating the extra carbon emissions a person helps generate by choosing to have children. It revealed:
- The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
- While most of the world’s population growth is taking place throughout Africa and India, industrialized countries’ energy consumption levels take a larger toll on the environment. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
- The long-term impact of a child born to a family in China is less than one fifth the impact of a child born in the U.S.
How you can help save animals and the environment
Critical factors to slowing population growth are improving access to family planning, better education and health care, and improving the status of and options available to women.
In Iran, the fertility rate dropped from 7 children per family in 1980 to 1.7 children in 2010. The country attributed its success to education for girls, along with free access to birth control, and media and government mobilization around advertising the importance of contraception.
Please consider these other ideas:
- Together, we can make the biggest difference by reducing the number of children we have— voluntarily. If everyone strives to have no more than two children, the overall fertility rate would drop to 1.5. Also, consider alternatives to childbirth, such as adoption, foster parenting or sharing the responsibility of friends’ and relatives’ children.
- Get involved in national and worldwide efforts to halt population growth through ensuring that women everywhere gain access to affordable birth control, reproductive health care and literacy. Groups such as Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth), Planned Parenthood Federation and Engenderhealth work on these specific issues.
- Adopt a vegan lifestyle. While adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle is not a cure for all of our planet’s woes, it remains an effective way to combat climate change and most atrocities that are waged against animal populations all over the world. Nearly half of earth’s entire land mass is used for farming—with a staggering 30 percent of Earth’s land surface used for doomed livestock. And of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 80 percent is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them—that’s almost half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. And all lands used for “free-range” cattle and sheep farming decimates habitat that belongs to wild horses, bison, wolves, coyotes, foxes and other animals who are often killed to benefit ranchers.
- Elect leaders who are not afraid to address the urban sprawl issue. Case in point: Paul Danish, a journalist who ran for City Council in Boulder, CO in 1975 and won, mounted a citywide referendum fight for a 2 percent growth limit. Boulder voters approved a 2% growth limitation referendum, known as the Danish Plan. It expired in 1982 but has been succeeded by a series of similar measures, bolstered by a 55-foot height limit on all buildings, an aggressive, voter-approved sales tax-financed open space purchase program, and a master plan agreement with Boulder County that essentially gives the city veto power over most new development in the area.
- Support leaders who protect women’s access to birth control and reproductive health care and don’t attack vital Title X funding for family planning providers here in the U.S. Low-income American women face the real threat of having crucial family planning programs defunded. We also need leaders who support U.S. aid to the United Nations Population Fund. UNFPA is a critical partner in the effort to expand access to contraceptives and to provide women with basic reproductive health care. It cannot be overstated how important it is to defend and protect a women’s right to choose.
- If you are an educator, introduce curriculum that increases students’ awareness of population and consumption habits and inspires them to consider their personal lifestyle choices that influence the environment. In Oregon, for example, a high school education program called Living Within Limits has been designed by Alternatives to Growth Oregon. Population Connection offers curricula and teacher training workshops as well.
A version of this article will appear in the Winter ActionLine at the Friends of Animals website. The winter issue will be released the week of December 20, 2016.
Priscilla Feral has presided over Friends of Animals, an international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She also serves as president of the San Antonio sanctuary Primarily Primates since 2007, which operates as a subsidiary of Friends of Animals. As an organic food activist, she has authored three vegan cookbooks for Friends of Animals.