As Todd Ballantine's column in the adjacent space points out, environmental activism is a losing battle unless world population growth is brought under control. People, wherever they live, consume natural resources. More people mean that more and more resources will be necessary simply to keep most of the world at subsistence levels. Thus, it is pointless to address environmental problems without also taking into account the need to control the number of people the planet must support.
But the link between population and the environment is not the only connection we must learn to make. Writing in World Watch magazine, Jodi L. Jacobson notes the overlooked link between high birthrates and the low economic and social status of women in much of the world. As she notes in an excerpt on this page, governments like that of India have done little to address the social factors that make large numbers of children necessary for so many poor women. Not only do large families provide one of the few ways for women to gain recognition and status in their communities, they also are needed to help women complete their grueling, daily regimen.
The environment is inextricably linked to the number of people it must support. Likewise, in poor countries -- most of the world -- soaring birthrates are a product of poverty and economic inequity. Experience around the world shows that education for women and girls is the single most important factor in bringing birthrates down. Until that lesson sinks in, overpopulation will continue -- as will one environmental crisis after another.