Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Population and Nature Conservation: what do my readers think?

8 February, 2012 - 12:56 -- John Burton

I have started drafting a policy for the World Land Trust (WLT) on human populations. Our patron Sir David Attenborough has spoken about the subject and recently addressed the issue in a speech he gave on behalf of the WLT.

Population and consumption 

WLT recognises that past and projected human population growth, along with rising per capita consumption and prevailing production and consumption patterns, contributes to the pressure on natural ecosystems and biodiversity. 

Population growth does this in two ways: directly as growing numbers exploit their local environment and indirectly as a rising world population seeks additional resources. Resource extraction – hunting and fishing, the extension of agriculture and development, waste disposal and other pollution, and climate change – all contribute to this human impact.

The world population is projected to rise from seven billion today to 10 billion by the end of the century. The reasons are increasing longevity and a continuing high birth rate (caused by a lack of access to family planning and maternal and new born health), gender inequality and a vicious circle of large families, combined with a lack of economic opportunity. 

WLT’s stance

WLT endorses activities that aim to raise awareness of the consequences of human population growth and so helping to conserve our environment: specifically, efforts to improve voluntary access to reproductive health, encourage the education and empowerment of women, and reduce the extent of poverty.

It recognises that population growth in the economically developed world has major impacts, and that the problem is not confined to the poorer parts of the world.

The impact of population growth in the developed parts of the world has major impacts on resources in many other parts of the world, often in areas where the WLT network of conservation organisations is trying to conserve wildlife.

As yet the WLT does not have a written policy on human population issues, but we need to be able to adopt one, and comments and advice will be welcome.

Working with local communities

In closing I would like to emphasise that central to WLT’s work is direct involvement with local groups and communities; building capacity and helping empower them to take responsibility for the conservation of threatened land in their country. WLT has recently held a Symposium at which partner organisations attended workshops to discuss all aspects of working with local communities which has led to some very positive outcomes and recommendations. (Details to be posted on our website soon).

Without people our projects would not succeed. This draft document certainly does not wish to demean the importance of people for conservation but sets out to address the impact on the environment of unlimited population growth.

  • This draft policy was not adopted, for reasons given below in the comment by John Burton


Submitted by John Burton on

In fact, I presented a draft policy to the WLT Council, and after very careful consideration, they decided it was inapprpriate for the WLT to have a policy on this issue. The problem being that it is slightly 'off mission', and where would the WLT draw the line? We could end up having policies on all manner of issues that were not directly related to what we do. I agree with the decision, so population policy remains a personal issue as far as the WLT is concerned. But like Sir David Attenborough, I do believe that it is one of the key issues affecting the future of the world's wild places.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

This seems to me to be the right approach; I was thinking I'd leave off making a response until I'd seen others pitch in, and then see if I could add anything useful. The fact that no one else has come forward with comments shows that the trustees have got it precisely right.

Nonetheless..... I do wish someone somewhere would concede - OFFICIALLY - that above five or six or seven and rising, billion humans alive at one time ( while placing huge demands on all the life support capacities of this planet) is a recipe for disaster - epidemiologically speaking. How can we NOT expect another pandemic of some virus or other ('flu, pox, haemorrhagic etc) to occur some time soon?

A major, if not THE major, argument for population restraint has to be zoological not moral. Seven plus billion humans is not asking for trouble - it's getting down on your knees and begging for it. A bubble which can only burst.

It is for the self-proclaimed philanthropists, the Christian churches, opposers of birth control, er, "Pro" lifers, to make the case for business as usual i.e. How will we avoid mass mortality events like pandemics at the current population levels and the ensuing mayhem which will follow for the survivors? Not so very philanthropic really, when viewed through a population collapse perspective, to just hope it all muddles on through.

We should assume more adult responsibilities for our species and display more maturity about the future we wish to bequeath to our descendants by addressing our zoological realities.

There, that's what I think!

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