The elephant in the conservationist's room: human population

Today is Earth Day - a time to take a step back and celebrate how awesome the world is and the fabulous things that environmentalists are doing to help save the planet.  It's a day filled with happiness, inspiration and compassion towards other living things. So what better day for our article to be released on conservationists' incessant failure to talk about the devastating effects of human population growth, density and size than on Earth Day?!

Laura Kehoe and I write in the latest Journal of Population and Sustainability (pages 53-67) about the curious lack of research conducted on how human population size, growth and density can affect biodiversity.  We note that the topic of human population and its adverse effects is not shunned by economics, politics or health researchers, so we find it strange that conservationists would avoid studying this crucial area.

We suggest that possibly one reason for this dearth of research by conservationists is because they still find the subject taboo to even talk about, let alone study.   From personal experience, I have certainly found this to be the case whenever I've raised the issue.  Behind closed doors, some conservationists do admit that, of course, our population size, density and/or growth, combined with our consumption are the two main underlying drivers of all environmental destruction.  But some are not sure how to tackle the population issue, given that it is so politically, culturally, sociologically and psychologically sensitive.

We're not saying it's going to be easy.  But the first step to overcoming a problem is to realise there is one in the first place. Hopefully our article will start to break down the barriers for conservationists to begin to think about this issue (even if it is just in the comfort of their own homes).  We are in no way advocating for authoritarian birth control policies or - god forbid - culling operations.  What we want is female empowerment, including putting emphasis on girls staying in school longer, and being able to decide on how many children they have.  And who could argue with that?


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