The Sierra Club's Global Population and Environment Program recognizes that protecting the world's environmental resources requires addressing human needs. The combination of rapid population growth in developing countries, with unsustainable consumption in developed countries, is threatening the health and well-being of families, communities, and our planet.
Reducing consumption while globally ensuring access to voluntary family planning services improves community health, lowers carbon pollution, and increases resilience to the effects of climate disruption. Some common sense solutions include:
- ensuring that all families have the ability to plan the timing and spacing of their births
- educating women and girls
- promoting energy and resource-efficient lifestyles
- empowering young people in the United States and around the world
Read more about how the Global Population and Environment Program is working towards these solutions, and more, by clicking on the links above.
Increased access to voluntary family planning -- the ability to choose if, when, and how many children to have -- is one of the most effective ways to address population growth and to achieve global sustainable development. Women and men who choose the number and spacing of their children tend to have smaller, healthier families. This has a ripple effect that benefits communities socially, economically, and environmentally. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 222 million women in developing countries have expressed a desire to prevent or delay pregnancy, but are not currently using a modern method of family planning.
Expensive or inaccessible contraceptives, lack of power to make decisions about childbearing, religious beliefs, family or partner demands, limited education on reproductive options, and the limited availability of choice in method can all contribute to this unmet need. In the past two decades, the global use of modern contraceptive methods has only risen by 3 percent, from 54 percent in 1990 to 57 percent in 2012.
Access to family planning also has positive environmental impacts, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing the rate of biodiversity loss. Research suggests that increased access to already desired family planning services could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of stopping all tropical deforestation.
Our work to address this unmet need is influenced by the Cairo Consensus, an international document agreed upon by 179 countries, which recognizes the links between reproductive health, sustainable development and the environment. The 20-year plan stated that each participating country would work toward:
- universal access to family planning
- access to reproductive health services
- education for women and girls
Although by far the wealthiest nation in the world, the U.S. falls behind other developed nations in support for programs that break down barriers to support women and families to make choices about childbearing. In support of these international goals, we strive to increase U.S. funding for voluntary international and domestic family planning programs, without restrictions. These programs include assistance for clinics, reproductive health services and education, contraceptives, and maternal and child health care. We also support integrated Population, Health and Environment (PHE) Projects around the world, which acknowledge and address the complex connections between humans, their health, and the surrounding environment.
The Sierra Club promotes sustainable development initiatives that address the root causes of environmental degradation and improve individual and community health and well-being. Poverty, limited educational opportunities, and lack of access to basic health care are three areas that we specifically work to address. Of the world's more than 7 billion people, two thirds live in poverty (on less than $2 a day), and one third live in extreme poverty (on less than $1 a day). Because an estimated 70% of the world's poor rely on the land for income and subsistence, environmental crises like water scarcity, deforestation, and climate disruption have the greatest impact on the poor in developing countries.
Women make up two thirds of the world's poorest people, and are more likely than men to be poor, malnourished and illiterate. Women typically have less access to medical care, property ownership, and employment, and are far less likely than men to be politically active. And given that women are household resource managers in most parts of the world, they are directly impacted by climate disruption that affects agricultural yield and the availability of water and fuel. In addition, women are also less mobile during natural disasters and more at risk than men of dying during extreme weather events. Over 83 percent of low-income, single mothers in the Gulf Coast were displaced after Hurricane Katrina, to take an example from the United States. As the primary family care-givers, women are tasked with ensuring the safety of their children and other family members before securing their own. This increased vulnerability to climate disruption must be addressed and mitigated.
Advancing sustainable development policies, reducing global poverty and supporting the trend toward slower population growth must therefore include women, especially at the local level. When women are healthy, they are better able to care for the needs of their families and local environments. And when girls have access to education, they are more likely to delay marriage and childbearing, and instead acquire skills to improve economic prospects for themselves and their families. This reduces poverty, maternal and infant mortality, and child malnutrition rates, and is a win-win solution for individuals, communities, and the planet. Women's voices are essential to the development of climate mitigation and adaptation solutions that protect our natural world and improve lives.
The ever-accelerating human consumption of natural resources lies at the root of many of our global environmental crises. Current consumption patterns stress limited natural resources, contribute to climate disruption, and create wasteful and even toxic byproducts that affect the quality of life and the health of communities around the world. In a world that is increasingly affected by globalization, the impacts of consumption and waste-production in the U.S. are far-reaching, putting a strain on environmental and human health locally and globally.
As consumers in a nation full of choices, we have an opportunity to invest in a more sustainable future, rather than perpetuate consumption patterns that exacerbate social inequalities around the world and the destruction of the environment. Making smart consumer choices and investing in clean, alternative energy are two of the best ways to curb our consumption and move toward a greener way of life. The Global Population and Environment Program supports Sierra Club initiatives to curb unsustainable consumption among individuals and corporations, invest in alternative energy sources, and confront the dominance of coal, natural gas and oil in the U.S. and around the world.
In addition to being more sustainable, curbing consumption and moving toward clean energy will have positive repercussions for reproductive health. Fossil fuels are both carcinogenic and toxicogenic, most detrimentally harming pregnant women and fetal development. Specifically, toxic chemicals in the byproduct of coal production have been shown to cause fetal abnormalities, developmental delays, and a variety of other health problems in women, babies, and young children. As with all the solutions we promote, what's good for the planet is also good for people. Working toward access to clean air and water, fuel, and family planning for healthy, thriving communities will mean a better world for all.
Almost half of the world's population is under the age of 25. Youth are in a unique position to advocate for better policies, programs, and standards with regards to sexual and reproductive health and environmental sustainability. And they should be -- the reproductive health decisions that young people make today affect our world for generations to come.
Now is the time for students and youth leaders here and around the world to stand up and demand that lawmakers respect their rights and ensure access to voluntary family planning services, clean air and water, renewable energy, and safe and accurate information about sex. Our program works to develop an empowered youth movement to advocate for sustainable development solutions that take a holistic approach to global challenges like climate disruption, poverty, environmental degradation, and gender inequity.
We work to promote youth leadership through:
- Campus initiatives including tabling and speaking events, tours with international youth leaders, and collaboration with the Sierra Student Coalition
- We provide the resources necessary to publicize these events, including interactive tabling materials, posters, fact-sheets and toolkits
- A bi-annual fellowship and youth organizing trainings
- Advocating for sexual and reproductive health services and information
- Encouraging youth to integrate reproductive health and the environment into their own local organizing