04/08/2014 06:20 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

Why Population Dynamics Matter

Humanity truly benefited over the past century from technological innovations and societal changes that have allowed us to reduce infant mortality and live longer, healthier lives than ever before. But this is not without its consequences, as the planet and governments around the world struggle to deal with a rapidly growing global population.

While we are getting better at treating preventable illnesses, rampant pollution, food shortages, and conflict over increasingly scarce resources rises unabated. Our planet is a relatively fragile ecosystem with finite amounts of what's needed for life and a limited ability to withstand environmental degradation. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund, humankind is already overusing the renewable resource capacity of Earth's biosphere by 50%. As more of our children survive infancy, something that wasn't guaranteed less than a century ago, and develop into adults who drive vehicles, eat livestock and crops, and have large families of their own due to a lack of family planning resources, this planet will suffer. And we're finding that things like food, jobs, and education aren't guaranteed.

This is why it is so important to support the efforts of governments and private organizations who seek to promote family planning and to help people to cooperatively decide to reduce population growth and live sustainable lifestyles. Programs that seek to educate women, or prevent food waste, or distribute contraception, are all helping to combat environmental degradation, which is extremely important if we want our children to live in a world and society that can support them. The United Nations recognized this need for action in a recent report, which stated that "we must act now to halt the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity."

Humanists hold a strong conviction that every human being is born with inherent dignity and the right to a life free from unnecessary pain and suffering. That sense of humanitarianism, combined with humanism's emphasis on scientifically accurate information and the role of technology in improving our quality of life, leads to a powerful support for family planning and other efforts meant to address the problems we face today.

A key aspect of family planning, contraception, is vitally important in poor countries, as such families often struggle to feed, cloth, and shelter their children and experience great difficulty extending that to an additional child. Education must play a central role in these programs to ensure their overall effectiveness, and there's a special need to educate young girls and women as several studies correlate such education with decreasing unwanted pregnancies as well as decreasing the rate of poverty. While some religious groups refuse to participate in comprehensive family planning efforts and even claim that the distribution of contraception is an immoral or even evil act, humanists see it as a means by which individuals can plan their own lives and gain autonomy over their bodies.

Thankfully, some religious folks also appreciate the need to act as good stewards of what they see as creation, and it's a good thing they feel this way or we wouldn't have the critical mass to effect necessary change. That's why 1999 Humanist of the Year, E.O. Wilson was on the right track when he wrote The Creation: An Appeal to Save the Earth, where he calls for science and religious leaders and individuals to set aside their differences to save the environment. Only together can we address the challenges before us and support a framework that will allow generations to come to live and thrive.

At the end of the day, these population dynamics and their consequences impact everyone. But humanists are natural leaders in the effort because humanists understand that this is the only life we'll have, and this planet is the only place we have to live it, so we must take care of ourselves and our home. Unlike many religious organizations and those they support, humanists don't rely on a god to fix things, don't rely on an afterlife to improve our lot, and don't have ancient prohibitions about contraception, abortion, or other means of providing families planning options. That's why population dynamics matter so much to humanists--only humans have the ability to protect our planet.