WASHINGTON — While birth control stirs up election-year conversation in the U.S., environmental activists are also talking about contraception. But for a different reason — to tackle overpopulation at the impending United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The U.N. conference, planned for July in Rio de Janeiro, will bring together government representatives from around the world in a bid to renew commitment towards sustainability. This is the first time since 1992 that the U.N. has held such an event.
While the conference is set to address issues such as a green economy and renewable energy, a panel of activists met Wednesday in downtown Washington to push for more discussion on population growth and access to contraception.
“Contraceptive access is not just an issue for women. It’s not just an issue for young people. It’s an issue for everyone,” said Kim Lovell of the Sierra Club “As environmentalists, we have a stake in this as well, and really care about access to these services.”
A recent survey by Americans for the United Nations Population Fund showed that population growth is not a primary issue to many environmentalists.
Of 869 adults who reported donating time or money to an environmental organization in the past year, 26 percent considered slowing population growth as their first priority. However, 47 percent prioritized improving living conditions for women and ensuring they have options for contraception.
Nancy Belden, founder of the research group Belden Russonello Strategists, argued that Rio is an opportune time to bring overpopulation to the frontline.
In the past, according to Belden, population growth has been seen as a “toxic idea,” a topic we can’t talk about “even if we think it’s an issue.” By framing population growth with contraception and women’s empowerment, more environmentalists may engage in an issue that is often brushed aside.
Mother Jones environmental reporter Kate Sheppard said in the panel discussion that it is important to address the broader aspects of population growth and contraception, most importantly women’s health.
“It’s about making sure that maternal health is better, that women who, if they don’t want to have kids they don’t have to,” Sheppard said. “And if they want to have kids they can do it in a safe way, and that they have access to things that will make sure that they themselves are healthy and that they have healthy children.”
Lovell said that she hopes for family planning to initiate dialogue among environmentalists at the Rio conference in order to create long-term solutions.
“Rio is about sustainability. Rio is about moving forward on a sustainable path and looking at nutrition, agriculture, sustainable cities and all of these different components that make up creating a better future for our planet.”