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For Love of Nature: Declining human fertility helps natural world
For Love of Nature

For Love of Nature: Declining human fertility helps natural world

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Many media outlets are reporting declining fertility rates in the U.S., Japan and much of the world as a crisis.

Let’s be clear: there is no shortage of human beings.

When I was born in 1958, there were fewer than 3 billion humans. In 2011, we hit 7 billion. By 2023, in just two years, there will be more than 8 billion.

A slowdown in our population growth is not only good, it’s absolutely necessary to keep us from destroying the world that sustains us.

Human beings have been degrading the world since we stopped being hunters and gatherers, and became farmers.

Agriculture allowed humans to expand our population far beyond the carrying capacity of the ecosystems that give us life.

Indeed, feeding people is largely responsible for habitat destruction, extinction, pollution and climate change.

Humans have continued to chop down rainforests, plow under prairies, fill in wetlands and strip the oceans to feed, house and employ our ever-growing population.

Sunday was World Population Day, established by the United Nations in 1989. With the global population growing by more than 80 million each year, World Population Day shines a light on the need for family planning, maternal and child health, gender equality and human rights.

Rights-based family planning still is unavailable to some 218 million women who don’t want to get pregnant, but have no access to modern contraception.

About 130 million girls are not in school. Generally, the more education a woman has, the fewer children she wants.

The number of people on the planet is connected to everything else.

Lowering our population creates less demand for food, housing, electricity, clothing — everything. That means we can leave more of the planet intact for other life.

We need to be intentional about preserving open spaces.

We have all seen forests and farmland bulldozed to create vast subdivisions and shopping centers. And the houses just keep getting bigger as families get smaller.

This is the opposite of what we should be doing.

Our insatiable appetite for more is wreaking havoc on most every other species. An estimated 3 billion birds have vanished from North America since 1970.

Monitored population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Living Planet Report 2020.

The disappearance of insects is as clear as the windshields of our cars, which rarely collide with once-abundant bugs.

Voluntarily slowing the rate of human population is the best solution to a lot of problems, but we can’t keep being scared to say so.

Our capitalist model requires endless growth as if there were Earth-like planets next door that we could occupy after this one is used up. There is no Planet B.

As fertility rates decline, we can take the opportunity to create more equitable and sustainable communities.

We must finally acknowledge that endless growth is impossible and that a healthy world is the only one that will allow us to survive.

Shannon Brennan can be reached at


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