Global Population and Environment Program
The Sierra Club's Global Population and Environment Program recognizes that we cannot address the most pressing environmental issues of our time - like climate change, resource consumption, and biodiversity loss - without also addressing population. Rapid population growth in the developing world combined with unsustainable consumption in developed countries like the U.S. threatens the health and well-being of families, communities, and our planet. Yet working to reduce consumption while ensuring access to voluntary family planning services around the world improves community health, lowers carbon emissions, and increases resilience to the effects of climate change. See more.
Common sense solutions - like educating women and girls, empowering young people in the United States and around the world, and ensuring that all families have the ability to plan the timing and spacing of their births - are essential to protecting our global environment while simultaneously improving the lives of men, women, and children worldwide. Read more about how the Global Population and Environment Program is working towards these solutions below.
Promote Voluntary Family Planning
One of the most effective ways to address population growth and work to achieve global sustainable development goals is to increase access to voluntary family planning programs and services - at home and abroad. When women and men can choose the number and spacing of their children, they tend to have smaller, healthier families. This has a ripple effect that benefits communities socially, economically, and environmentally.
We support the goals of the Cairo Consensus, a plan of action that resulted from the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt in 1994. This was the first international document to recognize the links between reproductive health, sustainable development and the environment. The Cairo Consensus created a 20-year plan for the planet that encouraged each participating country to work toward goals such as universal access to family planning, reproductive health services, and education for women and girls. See more.
In line with these international goals, we support the highest levels of funding without restrictions for voluntary international and domestic family planning programs, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Family Planning Programs. 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 in the field, which acknowledge and address the complex connections between humans, their health, and the surrounding environment.
All of these programs address unmet need for desired, cost-effective and voluntary public health services that save women's lives. There are 215 million women worldwide with an unmet need for family planning, who want to make decisions about their childbearing but lack access to contraceptives or choice of method. Although by far the wealthiest nation in the world, the U.S. falls behind other developed nations in support for these programs.
We also support a comprehensive approach to sex education for young people in the United States and around the world. One of the best ways we can slow population growth and advance sound public health policies here in the U.S. is to advocate for policies and programs that work to prevent the occurrence of teenage pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education programs can help reduce teen pregnancy rates; yet, abstinence-only programs that demonize condom use and fail to provide information on STD/STI and pregnancy prevention are still common and well-funded. The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world.
Advance Sustainable Development Solutions that Address Poverty and Gender Inequity, Empower Women and Girls
The Sierra Club promotes sustainable development initiatives that address the root causes of environmental degradation, including global poverty and lack of access to basic healthcare. Of the world's almost 7 billion people, one third live in extreme poverty (on less than $1 a day), and two thirds live in poverty (on less than $2 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 change have the greatest impact on the poor in developing countries.
Advancing sustainable development policies, alleviating the worst of poverty, and supporting the trend toward slower population growth cannot happen without interventions directed at those most affected by - and most able to affect - environmental degradation and poverty at the local level: women. Women make up two thirds of the world's poorest people, are more likely than men to be poor, malnourished and illiterate, usually have less access to medical care, property ownership, and employment, and are far less likely than men to be politically active. See more.
In developing nations, women are most affected by ecological stress, because they must walk farther to get wood for cooking and heating, to search for clean water and to find new sources of food. Because mothers tend to be responsible for rearing children and ensuring sufficient resources to meet their needs for nutrition, health care and schooling, women's lives are often inextricably linked to natural resource use.
Therefore, advancing women and girls' access to quality health care, education and economic opportunity is crucial to alleviating poverty and advancing sustainable development. 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 ecosystems.
Work to Reduce Resource Consumption
Ever-accelerating human consumption of natural resources lies at the root of many of our global environmental problems. Current consumption patterns stress limited natural resources, contribute to climate change, and create wasteful and even toxic byproducts that affect the quality of life and the health of communities around the world. Add global population growth to the mix, and it becomes increasingly clear how the health of the ecosystems we depend on for survival is being compromised.
In a world that is increasingly impacted by the effects of globalization, consumption and waste production patterns in the U.S. are far-reaching, affecting environmental and human health locally and globally. Our unsustainable practices, whether it be water use, deforestation, or greenhouse gas emissions, impact many of our world neighbors. See more.
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 the destruction of the environment and the social inequalities around the world. Making smart consumer choices and investing in clean, alternative energy are two of the best ways to curb our consumption and move towards a greener way of life. The Global Population and Environment Program supports Sierra Club initiatives to curb unsustainable consumption amongst individuals and corporations, invest in alternative energy sources, and confront the dominance of coal and oil in the US and around the world.
Promote Youth Leadership
Over half of the world's population is under the age of 25. Not only will the reproductive health decisions that young people make today affect our world for generations to come, but youth are in a unique position to advocate for better policies, programs, and standards with regards to sexual and reproductive health and environmental sustainability. Now is the time for students and youth leaders here and around the world to stand up and demand that their rights be respected, and that they have 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 change, poverty, environmental degradation, and gender inequity.
Through our campus initiatives, fellowship program, and youth organizing work, we advocate for sexual and reproductive health services and information for young people and encourage youth to integrate reproductive health and the environment into their own local organizing. Through our annual One Voice Summit in Washington D.C., bi-annual fellowship trainings, campus tours with international youth leaders, and collaboration with the Sierra Student Coalition, we work with a variety of coalition partners to recruit student leaders and train them with the information and skills necessary to advance integrated, justice-based initiatives centered on population and the environment. By providing campuses with the resources necessary to publicize these events - including interactive tabling materials, posters, fact-sheets and tool-kits - we help students to truly make a difference on their campuses and in their communities.