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Lisa Hymas Headshot

8 Things You Can Do About Population

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As we zoom toward seven billion, population growth is looking ever more hairy and daunting. The big-picture solution is empowering women everywhere and making sure they have the tools, knowledge, and support to control the size of their families, but that's not something an average person can tackle on a lunch break. Of course you can (and you should) badger your congresspeople to fund family planning, both abroad and at home, and donate to nonprofits that work on these issues.

But what can we do ourselves, in our own lives and communities? Here are a few ideas. Add your own below in comments.

1. Push to improve sex ed in your local schools. The teen birthrate in the U.S., even though it's fallen recently, is still far higher than in other developed countries, and that's one reason the U.S. has a higher overall fertility rate than most wealthy nations. Schools need to be straight with kids about sex and contraception (unlike the coach in Mean Girls, who threatens: "Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant and die! ... OK, now everybody take some rubbers.").

2. Let the teenagers in your life know they can talk to you about sex. Whether you're a parent, stepparent, aunt, uncle, friend, or neighbor, make it known that you'll answer questions frankly and even help teens get birth control (and not just so they can make condom water bombs).

3. Support abortion rights and family-planning programs, and vote for candidates who do the same. Yep, I said the A word. Deal with it.

4. If you are a parent, don't pressure others to have kids. And hardest of all -- gulp -- don't push your own kids to give you grandkids. (Reverse psychology might work better than nagging anyway.)

5. If you know you want to become a parent, consider having just two kids, or one. Only kids get a bad rep, but the evidence points to onlies being no weirder or worse off than children from larger families, and by many measures better off. You could also consider having kids a little later in life (larger gaps between generations mean slower population growth), or adopting or becoming a foster parent. Whatever your inclinations, just don't pull a Duggar.

6. If you're undecided about whether to have a kid, give it some serious thought. Hound parents for their unvarnished opinions on the pluses and minuses. Hang out with kids and see whether you can't get enough or can't wait to get away. Maybe you could become a highly involved godparent or co-parent to others' kids -- much of the fun, fewer of the diapers.

7. If you think parenting isn't your thing, you could declare yourself a GINK (green inclinations, no kids). It might seem like a lonely choice, but more and more people are going childfree; nearly one in five women end up not having kids, according to the latest stats. And if you know parenting isn't your thing (or just have a mischievous sense of humor), join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

8. Talk about all of this out in the open -- while being respectful of everyone else's choices, natch. And get on board with the Global Population Speak Out in February.