Protect the Planet on World Population Day

Earth needs us to fight for family planning freedom.

A crowded planet isn’t just a hassle, it’s also a threat to the environment.

When Americans envision holidays in July, they’re often thinking about fireworks and freedom. But there’s another day this month that should be marked on your calendar, especially if you care about wildlife and the environment. Today, July 11, is World Population Day.

The day was created by the United Nations in 1989 to highlight the massive effect our growing population has on people and the environment.

Back then there were 5 billion people on the planet. Now there are more than 7.6 billion, and we add 227,000 more each day. The UN predicts that human population will surpass 11 billion by the end of the century.

More people doesn’t just mean bigger cities and sprawling subdivisions. As the world’s population grows, so do our demands for water, land, trees and fossil fuels — all of which come at a steep price for already endangered plants and animals.

As our demands grow, habitats shrink or get divided, freshwater resources diminish and diets heavy in meat and dairy eat away at natural resources and push us toward a climate crisis. These changes put immense stress on wildlife, making it harder for them to survive.

A recent study showed just how much humans and our animal agriculture are crowding out other animals. Wild animals account for only 4 percent of the biomass of all mammals on earth, with humans accounting for 36 percent and domesticated animals — mostly cows and pigs raised for food — taking up the remaining 60 percent.

In fact, while human population doubled over the past 50 years, wildlife populations have been cut in half. Many scientists believe we’ve entered our planet’s sixth mass extinction.

World Population Day shines a global spotlight on the pressure our rising population and ballooning consumption put on the planet. It gives us the chance to think about our own contributions — from the everyday choices, like what we put on our plates, to the bigger decisions, like if and when to have children, and how many.

If we’re going to reduce our environmental footprint and stop crowding out other species, we need to address both our unsustainable overconsumption and population growth.

The most just and commonsense way to tackle unsustainable human population growth is to ensure that everyone has access to contraception and reproductive health services to prevent unintended pregnancies.

But for that to happen, we need policies that give everyone the ability to determine the number of children they have and the spacing of their pregnancies.

In developing countries, 214 million women who want to avoid getting pregnant are not using modern family planning. And here in the United States, where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the current administration has been attacking access to contraception and reproductive healthcare since its first day in office.

And the extremist politicians undermining reproductive freedom also threaten immigrants, people of color, clean air, safe water, a livable climate and imperiled wildlife. Perhaps that’s why the focus of this year’s World Population Day is “family planning is a human right.”

So this World Population Day, let’s take a stand for the freedom of everyone to determine their own reproductive future and the impact of their family on the environment.

Support policies and programs that provide universal access to birth control and family planning, guarantee education and empower women and girls. Reproductive freedom is a human right that’s critical to the future of healthy families and a healthy planet for everyone.

Catherine Thomasson is a senior population campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.