Put a Face on Family Planning

Jennifer Seltzer Stitt

Recent reports confirm that global warming is caused by humans and their consumption. One answer to reduce global warming is voluntary family planning.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year warned that global warming is "unequivocal," and that human activity is "very likely" (at the 90 percent confidence level) the main cause of the rise in temperatures observed since 1950. Only a few weeks later, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a report, which echoed the IPCC, declaring global climate change to be a growing threat to society and attributing global warming to human activity. Human activity is a function of both numbers of people and their consumption behavior.

We know that rich countries account for much of the consumption. We know that environmental degradation is pervasive in the poor countries as increasing numbers of people struggle to survive. For example, population pressures have increased the amount of wood used for fuel, growth of fast-growing cash-crops that exhaust the land, and increased pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems.

There is an answer and it is not, despite what some in our Government appear to believe, to avert our eyes and pretend that global warming isn't happening. We must both radically alter consumption behavior and renew focus on slowing rapid population growth. The first is going to require behavioral shifts, new legislation and international cooperation to better manage existing resources, cut carbon emissions and promote new forms of energy. The second part of the answer is voluntary family planning.

An article published earlier this year in the prestigious British medical journal, the Lancet, "Family Planning: the unfinished agenda" (registration required), put it best: "(F)amily planning is unique in its benefits: reduction of poverty, and maternal and child mortality; empowerment of women by lightening the burden of excessive childbearing; and enhancement of environmental sustainability by stabilizing the population of the planet." Moreover, "no contradiction needs to exist between respect for reproductive rights and strong advocacy for smaller families and for mass adoption of effective contraceptive methods." In fact, we know that about 200 million woman would like to delay or avoid their next pregnancy but have an unmet need for modern contraception.

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The article continues, "family planning in countries with high birth rates has the potential to reduce poverty and hunger and avert 32% of all maternal deaths and nearly 10% of childhood deaths. It would also contribute substantially to women's empowerment, achievement of universal primary schooling, and long-term environmental sustainability."

This is why a coalition of environmental, health, human rights and faith-based organizations launched a new photo petition, American Families for Family Planning Worldwide. The photo petition is designed to encourage Congress to pass a bill, the Focus on Family Health Worldwide Act (HR 1225), authorizing gradual increases in funding for U.S. administered family planning programs.

The Focus on Family Health Worldwide Act proposes that the U.S. shore up funding and prioritize allocation of funds to those countries with acute family planning and maternal and child health needs, where contraceptive shortages are forecast; and where there is both rapid population growth and great biological diversity. This bill doesn't solve all our problems. What it does is take a first and very large step toward revitalizing U.S. commitment to these critical programs—programs that save lives, empower women and support environmental sustainability.

Those who support family planning are people like you and me. We may come from different faiths, different races or maybe even different perspectives, but we agree that we have an obligation to protect the dignity, rights and wellbeing of this generation and to promote the health, opportunity and success of the next. This means protecting and promoting policies that advance the health of the planet and its people.

Please, add your family photo and your support to this important cause. Share this campaign with your friends, colleagues and classmates. Happy Earth Day!

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