World Population Day
11 July 2021 is World Population Day, an important date globally but perhaps one that is not as well-known as it should be, given the gravity of the situation in terms of world population growth and its implication for all our lives on earth. In 1989, Five Billion Day acknowledged the rapid growth of the population to a number that was then considered unsustainable in terms of basic resources of food, water and shelter, never mind access to education and opportunities for growth. Subsequently, World Population Days have highlighted the scary rapidity of population expansion: it took hundreds of thousands of years for the world population to grow to one billion, then in just another 200 years, it grew to seven times that number. In 2011, the global population reached the seven billion mark and now it stands at about 7.7 billion. Although COVID-19 has caused a, presumably temporary, drop in the birth-rate in some countries, the speed of projected growth remains very challenging. The number of people on earth is expected to grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and 10.9 billion in 2100.
One of the key issues in addressing this growth is for all women and girls across the globe to be educated and to have clear reproductive rights. Sadly, many girls and young women in the affluent world as well as in developing countries do not have control of their own fertility. There are countries where fertility is coerced by the state and, at the other extreme, many situations where contraception is not available, or where its morality is questioned. In other circumstances, the pressure to have a large family is based on survival rates because of economic reality and the fact that access to health care is patchy or inadequate. Among other very important aspects, girls’ education correlates with family size. Boys’ understanding of reproductive rights and appropriate sexual behaviour is also key to success in these challenges.
Resource use is also a major factor in sustainability and becomes more and more important as the population increases. Some action can only be taken at global or government political levels. However, those of us who are in relatively fortunate circumstances could always do more to reduce the impact of our lifestyles. We can consider our use of transport and reduce our reliance on private car and air travel; we can reduce meat consumption; we can use less paper and also choose cloth over paper and canvas over plastic for bags and other longer-lasting items; we can recycle food waste into compost and keep leftovers to a minimum by using all the food we buy; we can join Carrie Johnson in renting rather than buying occasion wear; we can cut down on energy and water use. We can grow our own food to a greater or lesser extent depending on the size of our outdoor spaces (and for those of you who read my April blog, my beans are doing much better this year thank you).
The issues of climate expansion and diminishing resources as well as global warming are obvious examples of what we at Values and Visions mean by ’a volatile world’. In many cases young people are leading the way in addressing the climate emergency and population growth but they are understandably also scared by the lack of progress in these areas. Girls and young women especially are often not empowered to make decisions which are best for themselves in terms of sexual activity and reproductive health, and they are challenged by unhealthy representations of sexuality on social media in a way that it is hard for me as an older person to comprehend. They may also feel that they lack efficacy in the face of global issues.
So how can young people respond to these huge issues? Impressively, some, like Greta Thunberg find their own way and are a massive positive influence across the world. For many, though, there is a need for educational and spiritual guidance, which Values and Visions provides through accessible resources that are easy to use in the classroom but can make a significant difference. The whole handbook is relevant to this challenge but in particular the section on Values provides a good starting point. For example, you could try the activity ‘When You’re 85’. This gives young people a way to reflect on what they want to have achieved by the end of their lives and the positive qualities that will enable then to do that. Thus, they are empowered to think about how to live their values. To quote the summary from the book:
It is remarkable how in all groups there will be both a variety of values and some universal values common to all groups.
We are always interested to hear how you introduce major issues like world population in your schools and the ways in which our activities have provided a starting point. Do contact us if there is anything you would like to feed back to us.