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Slowing Down the “Hyper-Anthropocene”

July 31, 2015

By Suzanne York.

Global Population Speak Out has been going full steam ahead all year. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve turned the corner and talking about population issues is becoming more acceptable. We certainly hope so.

A quick scan of the news reflects the urgency of our global situation:

  • Hottest year – 2015 is breaking global temperature records. In the northern hemisphere, the first half of 2015 is a remarkable 36°F warmer than the first half of any year since records started being kept 135 years ago;
  • Extinction – Every 14 minutes an African elephant is killed; in a recent study in Science, biologists found that the Earth is losing mammal species 20 to 100 times the rate of the past;
  • Droughts/water – according to a study from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, nearly one-third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted;
  • War/conflict – in Nigeria, Boko Haram continues acts of violence, abducting girls and forcing them to join their cause.

To underscore the need to engage on the topic of stabilizing human population numbers, the United Nations released World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. In its key findings, the UN reported that the world’s current population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, slightly more than the 9.6 billion forecast two years ago. The planet may reach 11.2 billion by the end of the century.

(Map source: U.N. World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision)

(Map source: U.N. World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision)

If human population numbers weren’t still rapidly increasing, many of today’s problems could be more manageable.

In the words of Tom Butler, editor of the Speak Out campaign’s flagship publication Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER), “I would like to see people talk about this issue, this radical upward trajectory in our numbers.  I’d love to see people discuss that, and then not forget about it the next day when there are 200,000 more people at the breakfast table. I don’t want it to just last for one news cycle.”

As many people look toward the global climate talks later this year in Paris, with climate impacts accelerating, it is still a challenge to get population growth on the radar. Just recently though, scientist James Hansen said the world is in the era “Hyper-Anthropocene … initiated by explosive 20th century growth of fossil fuel use.”

But real change happens on the ground and in our own communities, and that is the beauty of the Global Population Speak Out campaign and what it represents. Much of what we should be doing to ease climate change, protect the environment and recognize human rights are things we should be doing anyway, and a way forward to stabilizing population growth.

There are positive examples all over the world of communities addressing population, health, environment, and rights.

For example, Ethiopia has had a rapidly growing population and has suffered much environmental degradation due to massive deforestation. The country is supporting the population, health, and environment development model, or PHE, to address environmental and health concerns, and it is making a difference. The Ethiopian government has also invested in health extension workers who work in rural communities to improve the health of its citizens.

Watch the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program recently released video – Paving the Way: Ethiopia’s Youth on the Road to Sustainability – on a successful PHE project in rural Ethiopia that is changing lives:



Population Media Center has been working in Ethiopia for nearly fifteen years. PMC’s radio serial dramas and other media projects have contributed to increased knowledge of family planning, contraceptives, and HIV/AIDS.

In the U.S., the state of Colorado saw pregnancy rates among teens and low-income women plummet, due to a pioneering family planning program providing long-acting birth control for free. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the teen birthrate across the state decreased by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent.

Funding for this successful program is in jeopardy. Watch a video from the PBS NewsHour here on what’s at stake.

We may be in the midst of the “Hyper-Anthropocene” but it doesn’t mean we can’t change the direction. UN projections aren’t set in stone, and if we make the right investments and choices, we can begin to stabilize human population numbers. The Speak Out campaign believes that with activists promoting and sharing OVER, we can move forward toward this goal and a more positive future.



Suzanne York — Suzanne York is a Speak Out Advocacy Associate with Global Population Speak Out

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