A population explosion, a drought, and a draining aquifer. No, I'm not talking about the American West. Add uncaring leadership, and this is the tragedy of Syria, from which refugees flee into a reluctant Europe, the latest example of how ever more people and extreme weather are creating resource conflicts and refugees worldwide.
The need to act on climate and create sustainable populations grows daily, and there's a relatively cheap way to do both: forge a global campaign to prevent unintended pregnancies humanely, giving free universal access to family planning materials. This would slow population growth, critical towards slowing climate change.
Crops Once Grew Here but under climate change, deserts are replacing croplands worldwide as droughts increase. Source www.wwf.org.uk
Our growing populations contribute to growing consumption, which is having major impacts on natural resources, and driving resource depletion and pollution. This is altering global climate, threatening water and food supplies, harming human health and economies, producing millions of refugees, decreasing basic human rights worldwide, and fueling conflicts and wars.
Consumption falls into two broad patterns: too many people in rich countries are consuming at high, unsustainable levels, while many more people in poor countries are understandably seeking higher levels of material consumption.
This is where preventing unintended pregnancies could be a real game changer. In 2012, an estimated 40% of pregnancies worldwide - about 85 million - were unintended, 90% of them in developing countries, mostly among poor people lacking access to contraceptives.
Half of unintended pregnancies end in abortion and some in miscarriage, but nearly 40% of unintended pregnancies result in babies, which adds to the increase of the hungry and undernourished, numbering in billions.
Unintended new people stress already strained local economies in all countries, including the U.S., which has an unintended, relatively high birth rate. In poorer, fast-growing countries, such as Nigeria, leaders already recognize that their economy can no longer support its population either in jobs, food, or basic infrastructures. This feeds violent conflicts, threatening national security.
Having a child is a highly emotional choice - and often not a choice at all. That, and differing cultural perspectives prevent a global average family size needed to create sustainable populations.
Family Planning Empowers Women these ladies learned, when they received sex education giving them a voice and insight into better futures beyond cultural restrictions that had led to poverty and overpopulation in Bihar, India. Source pathfinder.org
Roughly 16% fewer people would be born annually, if people wanting to prevent pregnancies were given the means to do so.
That this works was demonstrated dramatically in Colorado recently. By offering free long-term reversible contraceptives to teenage girls and poor women, the 4-year program reduced teen pregnancies (40%) and abortions (42%), with similar results among young unwed women. Fewer unintended pregnancies also means fewer abortions.
Preventing unintended pregnancies worldwide among the 225 million women desiring this would cost an estimated US$1-5 billion to distribute materials and educate family decision makers through cultural channels. The latter has been successful at both national and cultural levels for family planning education and practice.
Sound expensive? Actually, contraceptives create 50% more in savings over costs, obviating the costs of raising an unintended child. Social and environmental savings accrue as well. Meanwhile, the costs of inaction are large and increasing daily.
Up until now, some institutions have helped improve reproductive health, but this is not enough. Melinda Gates found this out from Meena, a poor woman the Gates Foundation had helped to bear a healthy baby. Meena wished she had had access to planning her pregnancies instead, and delivered a dramatic punch of reality, asking Melinda to adopt her children, children she could not feed.
It's Not Just Foreign Religious Extremists whose short-sightedness both restricts women and adds to global climate change through too many people. Credo Mobile gets it, but when will others? That's why a global campaign to prevent unintended pregnancies is needed.
Effective action is needed that transcends the vagaries of local and national politics, as recent US Republican attacks on family planning highlight. Major philanthropies could fill that role by collaborating internationally on a worldwide campaign for free universal access to family planning information and contraceptives. Its impact could far outpace previous successful historic campaigns, such as the eradication of polio.
This is a truly historic opportunity. Will the world's major philanthropies step up to that challenge?