“And baby makes seven. Tori Spelling is expanding her family once again,” begins a People magazine article published in October. The article goes on to say the star of the 1990s TV drama “Beverly Hills 90210” admits her impending fifth child with husband Dean McDermott “was a total surprise. But we always wanted a big family.”
Unfortunately, Spelling is not alone in her shock about bringing another child into the world. By the best estimates, some 80 million pregnancies around the world are unintended annually. The unintended pregnancy rate in the United States is significantly higher than in many other developed countries.
Currently about half of the 6.6 million pregnancies in the United States each year are unintended. While the number of unintended pregnancies among adolescents is down overall in the United States, the disparity among some states remains high due to factors such as the availability of comprehensive sex education, knowledge about and availability of contraceptive services and cultural attitudes.
If you look at popular culture, it seems to reflect a collective attitude about what people see as their birthright — to reproduce with impunity. Over the summer, media outlets celebrated Mick Jagger, at age 73, becoming a father again—to his eighth child, and touted hip hop artist DMX becoming a dad again for the 15th time. Should we celebrate, or cry?
Evolutionary biology says that multiplying is programmed into our DNA—we have a biological “need” to reproduce. But, today, in 2016, when the world’s population has reached 7.3 billion, we have to start asking ourselves: How many people is too many?
There’s no denying that Americans are obsessed with lurid reality shows about outlandishly large families: Jon and Kate Plus 8 once ruled the airwaves; there’s the infamous Duggar family from 19 Kids and Counting. Millions of people tune in to these shows to be entertained; many even admire these overgrown families.
At Friends of Animals, we are concerned that these celebrity stories and TV shows are reflections of our reckless and irresponsible attitude about what it means to be human on a planet with finite resources.They represent our insistence on occupying and conquering every square inch of this planet, with complete disregard for the billions of nonhuman animals we share this planet with; that’s not to mention diminishing resources like access to clean water,which is already a burden for millions across the globe.
If it seems strange for an animal advocacy group to bring up the topic of overpopulation, it must be said that it could easily be argued that most problems animals face are the result of humans; and more to the point, human overpopulation is the biggest threat because of habitat loss.
As humans expand and continue to devour land and other natural resources, we must remember that our ecosystem is complex and dynamic. Animals—both human and nonhuman— depend on one another.
That’s why it is critical humans start considering the animals with which we share the planet and start changing our course of action if we are to ensure there is room for all of us.
While it may not be obvious to most people why human overpopulation is an issue, in our work at Friends of Animals, we are all too familiar with non-human animals being accused of overpopulation—from wild horses on America’s public lands in the West and black bears in the Northeast and deer everywhere...to mute swans along the East coast and barred owls in the Pacific Northwest. Humans have become fixated with “managing” animals and controlling their populations—such as attacking bird species through egg addling and forcibly drugging all other wildlife who dare to exist with fertility control— which is ironic since we are all but ignoring our own.
We don’t think it’s helpful to be unrealistic and put out the message that the definitive answer is “stop having children.” We are not anti-child; we are pro family planning; pro-contraception for humans and pro taking a rational approach to leading a fulfilling life, which we believe can be found whether we choose to have children or not. However we do hope to see a future where all people who have children did so by choice.
FoA has been educating the public about human population growth and how it’s the single largest threat to animal life since our founding in 1957. The good news is others are beginning to break the silence on population control too, and it’s getting mainstream media attention in publications like Scientific American and the New York Times. Oregon State University’s 2009 study “Family planning: A major environmental emphasis” put the consequences to having children on the table by calculating the extra carbon emissions a person helps generate by choosing to have children. The study was meant to draw attention to the overwhelming importance of reproductive choice and its effect on the environment and it did! It revealed:
The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives—things like driving a high mileage car, recycling or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
While most of the world’s population growth is taking place throughout Africa and India, industrialized countries’ energy consumption levels take a larger toll on the environment.The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S.—along with all of its descendants—is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
The long-term impact of a child born to a family in China is less than one fifth the impact of a child born in the U.S.
As the U.S.’s human population reaches further and further into remote areas in search of room to build cities and houses and takes up more land for animal agriculture, wetlands are being destroyed and water supplies are being stretched to the breaking point. We are squeezing wildlife into ever small habitat refuges. Of course, wildlife isn’t aware of invisible boundaries we’ve put in place for them, and human wildlife encounters/conflicts increase, and wild animals end up paying with their lives.
Unfortunately we have had a bird’s eye view of how the U.S.’s unchecked population growth and overconsumption is already having devastating consequences with the deaths and displacement of animals through misguided wildlife management plans.
Here are some recent examples that we’ve been protesting and taking legal action against:
In 2010, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection approved a Comprehensive Bear Management Policy that included the first black bear hunt since 2005. The hunt has been taking place for the last five years (at press time the 2016 hunt kicked off) and we have been protesting it ever since. The agency claimed that the northwestern New Jersey bear population had grown from 500 bears in 1992 to 3,400 bears in 2010, and that overall the population has been increasing and expanding southward and eastward from the forested areas of the northwestern New Jersey. But guess what? New Jersey’s human population increased by 1,044,144 people from 1990 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census. And northern New Jersey, along with New York and Long Island tied for the most populous metropolitan areas in 2000 and in 2010. Sadly, 2,941 New Jersey bears have paid the price of human overpopulation with their lives since the hunts began in 2010.
Overconsumption of resources has led to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempting to kill 3,600 barred owls in the Pacific Northwest. In approving the Barred Owl Removal Plan, the agency identified the barred owl as a new threat to the Northern spotted owl. But the plan only scapegoats barred owls instead of recognizing the primary threat to Northern spotted owls, habitat destruction, primarily from human logging of old growth forest in California, Oregon and Washington. We filed a lawsuit against the plan and the District Court ruled against us, however we filed an appeal and continue our legal case in the courts. We recognize the significance of this case, as it legally cuts a massive exception to the stringent protections once provided under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
FoA persevered and stopped the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s 2013 plan to eradicate all wild mute swans in the state by 2025 and declare them a “prohibited species.” (see complete story page 5) DEC’s flimsy attempt to blame the state’s 2,200 mute swans for causing significant environmental damage lacks scientific evidence. While the diet of mute swans consists of sub aquatic vegetation, studies have shown that runoff from fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste from animal agriculture contribute significantly to the loss of SAV in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, for instance. Compared to stable population of 2,200 mute swans in New York State, in 2012 there were 494,109 doomed cattle, 579,216 poultry, 19,082 swine and 34,286 sheep in animal agriculture in NY State. About 23 percent of the state’s land area, or 7 million acres, are used by 36,000 farms. Animal agriculture accounts for 25 percent of NY State’s Bay watershed land use and according to a 2009 study delivers approximately 42%, 55% and 40% respectively of the total nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment loads from NY State to the Bay watershed.
The Environmental Protection agency reported in June of 2016 that all states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have collectively fallen behind in implementing a plan to reduce nitrogen pollution in the country's largest estuary. And don’t forget that New York’s human population grew from 18,976,457 in 2000 to 19,378,102 in 2010.