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rdharding2 comments on Open Thread #39 - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: rdharding2 03 December 2017 07:06:41AM 0 points [-]

Thanks Will Pearson for creating this open thread!

Hi EA Community,

I recently heard about this forum and would like to share a pitch for your consideration. It relates to our need as a global community to address human population growth by tasking every nation with the responsibility to stabilize their population at a sustainable level.

Feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thank you.

THE PITCH

Goal To catalyze an international campaign that leads to the UN establishing a Framework Convention on Population Growth. Further, the goal I have in mind is to present a joint international position statement with signatory organizations and/or individuals representing countries from every inhabited continent to the UN in 2018 prior to COP24 and UNEA-4.

Note: I would like to attend the 2018 meeting of the UN's Commission on Population and Development in April and am seeking fellow supporters to join me.

Context Several environment-related international treaties exist today, yet none of them address the root cause of our oversized demands on the planet: human overpopulation. Every country deserves a voice at the table and this would provide them that opportunity.

We as a global community can't view the UN's population growth projections as destiny -- 9.8 billion people in the year 2050 should be viewed as wholly unacceptable if we're keeping future generations and other species as well as our own livelihoods in mind. The earth simply can't support this. We are choosing short-term aggregate economic growth over long-term environmental, economic, political, social, and cultural stability, putting the future habitability of the entire planet in jeopardy. We know this is true and such knowledge demands action.

My thought is, if we can get human overpopulation + continued growth to be formally recognized by the UN as a global issue that must be addressed via national population policies (like the NDCs for the Paris Agreement), then people around the world will become more amenable to openly discussing local population matters, such as unintended pregnancy rates, sexuality education programs, access to family planning information and services, and migration, as well as foreign aid and economic justice.

Vision My vision for the UN treaty is that it would formally recognize existing human overpopulation + continued growth -- within the context of the IPAT formula -- as a significant environmental issue and existential threat to the survival of humanity (one of several, to be sure). It would also promote a 3-pronged solution at national and international levels to achieve the goal of sustainable populations in every country.

3-pronged solution (1) Emphasize education about the issue of existing human overpopulation + continued growth, including why it poses an existential threat and why embracing small families to achieve a global TFR below 2.0 for the foreseeable future is an essential component of the solution. (2) Prioritize the "ease of access" model of fertility decline, which appears to fit every country's situation and addresses the goals of rapid fertility decline followed by sustained sub-replacement fertility rates by way of freedom to make informed family size choices, not coercion. (3) Promote smaller "normal" family sizes -- we need to establish a new normal for the Anthropocene.

Underlying this 3-pronged solution are the 5 principles presented in a paper written by Population Matters Director Robin Maynard. The 5 principles are (1) Universality, (2) Proportionality, (3) Equity, (4) Equality, and (5) Choice. [http://robinmaynard.com/portfolio/population-matters/]

For solution (2) above, the keynote address by Martha Campbell from Population & Sustainability Network's first annual meeting in 2005 provides helpful context.

For all 3 elements of the solution, Population Media Center President Bill Ryerson's essay from the 2010 Post Carbon Reader Series provides excellent context. [http://mahb.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2010_Ryerson_TheMultiplierofEverythingElse_PostCarbonReaderSeries.pdf]

Top reasons for pursuing a treaty through the UN (1) To tell the story, the "whole truth" about human overpopulation

Great opportunity to tell the human overpopulation story, to share the story with a global audience including world leaders and members of the general public, and to publicly and formally assert that human overpopulation is solvable by embracing small families* for the foreseeable future.

(2) To bring the term "overpopulation" and the existing reality of human overpopulation into the mainstream

The UN is recognized globally as a lawful, mainstream international governing body. Formal UN recognition of existing human overpopulation and the solution of embracing small families* could help legitimize the issue and the solution in the eyes of world leaders as well as members of the general public.

(3) To make national population policies necessary and politically expedient

The Paris Agreement has helped apply pressure on governments and the private sector to "act on climate change". Efforts to date have been somewhat misguided since they are focused on "downstream" issues, and that's precisely why our cause could benefit from having a similar international accord -- hopefully one that is universally ratified -- that prioritizes action specifically on human overpopulation and highlights the clear, compassionate solution: embracing small families*. As our colleague Karen Shragg likes to say, if we don't act on overpopulation then all of our other efforts will never be enough.

  • It's worth noting that I don't believe this treaty should be overly prescriptive about particular family sizes. I'm including a "1 child, on average" clarification to describe what constitutes a small family as an unofficial, prudent guideline given the depth of overshoot we're already in. While I'm envisioning this as a non legally binding international accord, it seems like it's high time that we explicitly encourage those family size decisions that will most benefit our shared cause within a reasonable time horizon given the other existential threats we currently face. The "1 child, on average" clarification takes into account the (at least narrowly) accepted notion that 0 children is fine, 1 child is good, and 2 children is enough.

Language The specific language used in the treaty (and even preliminary documents as the campaign grows) will likely make or break this initiative. Population size and growth are understandably sensitive issues, and to ignore this is likely to accept failure. Fortunately, I don't have any deep ties to particular terms (e.g. overpopulation) and have no issue challenging those that do. I want big results (as we all do), and the language that will best allow us to get there with a mutual understanding among all member states is the language we should use. Winning some "battles" should not be misinterpreted as winning the "war". Winning the "war" is the focus of this initiative, which I believe will be achieved by breaking the mainstream silence on human overpopulation and the resultant overshoot compassionately.