Concerned about population growth’s toll on global climate and ecosystems, the Center for Biological Diversity launched a path-breaking campaign in 2009 to address human overpopulation. Two years later, the Center’s campaign grew into 7 Billion and Counting as the United Nations announced the likely birth of the seven billionth human in October of 2011 – just thirteen years after the arrival of baby number six billion .
The Argosy Foundation has partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity in support of the non-profit’s 7 Billion and Counting: The Human Overpopulation Campaign. Combining robust media education with innovative outreach strategies, this campaign aims to breathe new life into the public discourse regarding overpopulation – a topic avoided over the years by many individuals and environmental groups.
“Around the time Earth Day started [in the 1970s] and our bedrock environmental laws were being put on the books, environmentalists and politicians were more aware of the importance of considering human population growth in discussions about environmental threats” explained Sarah Bergman, Assistant Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. She notes, however, that the subject became shrouded in controversy in the 1980s, as many organizations began perceiving overpopulation as a politically charged topic.
With that in mind, the Center developed its campaign with a multifaceted purpose of demonstrating that overpopulation is a safe, popular, and essential issue to take on; educating Americans about the threats overpopulation poses to biodiversity; encouraging national leadership in funding efforts to reduce global fertility; and advocating for free and accessible birth control.
As part of this bold campaign, in October 2011 the Center brought its message to the Population Strategy Meeting in Washington, DC. They also presented on overpopulation and the extinction crisis at the Public Interest Environment Law Conference in March of 2012 (a national gathering of environmental groups) in order to reintroduce this important topic to environmental leaders and policy makers.
The discussion, however, spilled well beyond the walls of conferences and meetings. One of the more provocative aspects of this project was the Center’s Endangered Species Condoms, launched in 2009 and updated for Earth Day 2012. These condoms continuously receive media coverage as they make the connection between human population growth and the species extinction crisis. “Cover your tweedle – save the burying beetle” and “In the sack? Save the leatherback” are some of the witty slogans gracing the colorful packages of these condoms, featuring related information on human population impacts on each species inside. After being widely publicized in articles on The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many other media channels, demand grew rapidly for these conversation starters, which to date have been freely handed out through a network of 30,000 volunteers in all 50 states and several countries – totaling about 450,000 condoms distributed from 2009 to 2012.
Another approach devised to reignite the conversation was the New Year’s Eve “Hump Smarter Hotline,” a humorous way the Center found to call attention to the consequences of adding each new person to the planet. The Hotline was a toll-free phone service designed to remind randy revelers about overpopulation and endangered species before “taking an unprotected roll in the sheets” on New Year’s Eve. The Center was pleased with the media attention and social media support garnered through this irreverent Hotline. “We got out of it what we were looking for,” Bergman notes. “We received thousands of calls; some people called in from parties where they made everyone listen to the messages… We wanted young people who haven’t yet made their family planning choices to think and talk about this issue. It worked.”
The Center’s strategy also includes increasing web visibility of this issue. As part of this campaign, they established the new website, 7 Billion and Counting, which explains in accessible language the problems created by unsustainable population growth, complete with a live population clock as well as an interactive map feature that allows users to track endangered species in their area. In just six months, the website had received more than 30,000 page views.
Moreover, Argosy’s support went further as it enabled the Center to launch a public service advertisement on a 520-square-foot screen on Times Square running messages about the impact of overpopulation on the environment through the month of October 2011. Bergman and her colleagues were impressed with the responses the Center got as a result of these ads. “There were countless e-mails from people expressing surprise at how serious the issue actually is, or just saying how happy they were that someone was finally talking about it!” she said. She added that members of many environmental groups have been approaching the Center as a result of its campaign with a renewed sense of enthusiasm in tackling overpopulation, indicating that this is once again a safe and necessary issue to include in conversations and education about the environment.
The main idea, she said, is to get people to “speak out and speak up.” "Overpopulation is a global problem that cuts across continents and countries. It's an issue we all need to deal with."
The Argosy Foundation is pleased to support the Center for Biological Diversity and this far-reaching campaign.
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 United Nations, UN News Service. (2011). As world passes 7 billion milestone, UN urges action to meet key challenges.