Last week, there was a flurry of media attention around a new study out of Australia that claimed the world’s growing population is just going to keep on growing, destroying the planet, and there’s nothing we can do about it.


The Washington Post’s Wonkblog was one of many outlets that missed the point in their coverage of the study.

That’s a vastly simplified and overstated description, but it’s not too far from the panicky headlines that accompanied the study’s release. The Washington Post scolded its readers: “Stop pretending we can fix the environment by curbing population growth.” The BBC proclaimed: “Population controls ‘will not solve environmental issues.’” And Britain’s Independent sounded the alarm: “Humanity’s ‘inexorable’ population growth is so rapid that even a global catastrophe would not stop it.”

Why all the fuss about this study? We don’t get it. Basically, it’s the same version of the fear-mongering, doom-and-gloom scenario that we’ve heard countless times before, except with a new, “don’t bother” attitude.

The projections the United Nations Population Division releases every two years tell us that yes, our population is growing. And environmental problems aren’t anything new, either. But the idea of controlling one in order to fix the other completely misses the point. The study, and resulting news coverage, treat providing family planning as a means to an end – with the implication that if it doesn’t change world population numbers significantly, then it’s not worth doing.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whether we’re 7 billion, 10 billion, or 12 billion, every woman deserves access to quality contraception and reproductive health care, and the right to make her own choices about childbearing. Because it’s her right. Period.

The number of people on the Earth 100 years from now doesn’t change that.

The study’s authors ultimately make the point that people should work on living more sustainably and protecting the environment now.  We agree 100 percent. That’s an ongoing story, and it would be great if the media paid more attention to it. But there’s no need to devalue family planning in the process.