Overpopulation Seen as Much Bigger Threat Than Y2K Glitch

Annette Mills noticed the cryptic advertisement on the side of a
city bus. Although the slogan ‘Y6B: Coming October 12’ had the ring
of a millennium horror movie promotion, Mills, who runs the
recycling program in Falls Church, Va., instantly grasped the
sign’s message.

On Oct. 12, the world’s population will reach 6 billion.

Computer glitches that may occur at the turn of the century have
received plenty of attention in recent months, but groups like Zero
Population Growth, which came up with the ‘Why 6 Billion?’
campaign, and the Population Coalition, a group for which Mills
volunteers as a discussion organizer, say overpopulation is a far
greater challenge.

Suburban sprawl, species extinction, overcrowded schools and
traffic congestion are directly related to runaway population
growth, these groups say. By calling attention to the Oct. 12
global population watershed, they hope to broaden public awareness
about the need for increased family planning, contraceptive
research, the importance of population education in the schools and
the need for a national population policy.

The United States, with a population of 273 million, is the
third most populous country in the world, after China and India.
Immigration and a low mortality rate contribute to an annual growth
rate of 2.9 percent, putting it sixth in population growth behind
India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia and Nigeria. By 2050, its
population will be 349 million, the United Nations estimates.

Surging population also threatens to increase unemployment,
according to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization, which
estimates that by 2050 the global work force will increase by 235
percent in the world’s 50 poorest countries, if population growth
continues at its current rate.

While many people relegate population problems to the developing
world, the issues are palpable in the United States, too, analysts
point out. But it’s hard to get people to make the connection
between population growth and clogged highways, overflowing
classrooms and disappearing green space, said Marilyn Hempel,
executive director of the Population Coalition in Redlands,

‘An awful lot of people are talking about those problems without
talking about population,’ she said.

The coalition, working primarily through local League of Women
Voters chapters, hopes to change that with two projects. The first,
Building Sustainable Communities, gathers citizens together to talk
about the social, economic and environmental prerequisites of a
healthy community. Mills is planning one in Falls Church in October
to stimulate discussion about the effects on neighborhoods of lots
of people consuming lots of natural resources.

The second coalition project is meant to encourage the
formulation of a national population policy. Hempel is putting
together a workbook for citizens interested in formulating a
cohesive national plan.

‘We have an immigration policy but most people don’t know the
numbers,’ she said. ‘We also have a teen pregnancy prevention
program under the Department of Health and Human Services, but it’s
not identified as a population program. We have tax credits — $500
per child. That’s population policy.

‘We are trying to get Americans to understand that we need a
national population policy that isn’t haphazard.’

The Izaak Walton League of America’s ‘Day of Six Billion’ action
project also encourages neighborhood groups to explore the links
between population pressure and personal issues like traffic
snarls, sprawl and pollution. The project’s ‘Shallow Footprint’ web
site, http://www.ilwa.org, lets users measure the environmental
impact of their own daily buying patterns and activities.

Involving young people is tops on the agendas of many population
groups, including Population Action International. While the policy
research and advocacy group generally reaches out to legislators,
PAI recently initiated an awareness program — at the behest of
young staff members — aimed at drawing youth into the population

‘Roughly half of the six billion are under age 25,’ said Sally
Ethelston, PAI vice president of communications. ‘One billion 15-
to 24-year-olds are going into their reproductive years. They are
the key and the challenge.’

Under the banner, ‘One neighborhood, six billion neighbors,’ the
Washington-D.C. group plans to blanket the classrooms of 6,000
middle and high school social science teachers with posters and
fact sheets and postcards for friends starting this week. A web
site (www.dayofsixbillion.org) is full of practical information
about learning the issues and getting involved with local
population and environmental groups.

Population International is cited in a PBS documentary, ‘Six
Billion and Beyond’ scheduled to air on Oct. 8.

Contacts: Marilyn Hempel, executive director, the
Population Coalition, Redlands, Calif., 909-307-6597; e-mail:
web site: www.popco.org.

Annette Mills, League of Women Voters of Falls Church, Va.,
703-532-0884; e-mail: annettemills@hotmail.com. Sally Ethelston, vice
president of communications, Population Action International,
Washington, D.C., 202-659-1833; e-mail:
web site: www.pai.org;

Background: Mark Daley, spokesman, Zero Population
Growth, Washington, 202-745-3179; web site:
www.zpg.org. Izaak
Walton League of America, Sustainability Education Project,
publishers of ‘Day of Six Billion Grassroots Action Guide,’
Gaithersburg,, Md., 301-548-0150, web site:
www.iwla.org Mary
Caron, press director, World Watch Institute, 202-452-1992, web
site: www.worldwatch.org. For series of online
reports on population issues leading up to Day of Six Billion:
www.worldwatch.org/alerts/pop2.html. United
Nations Population Information Network web site:
www.undp.org/popin. Public Broadcasting service
(PBS) web site: www.pbs.org.

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