World Population Day is Wednesday. Why should you care? Unlike Slurpee Day (also Wednesday) or National Hot Dog Day (July 21), population growth has a direct effect on you, your children and our planet.
Let's put population growth into terms any Minnesota Twins fan can understand. Every hour, the world population increases by about 9,100 people. At that rate, it would take four hours to fill Target Field. It would be loud. It would be crowded. A lot of Slurpees and hot dogs would be needed to feed everyone.
While crowded stadiums can be great fun, a crowded world isn't.
Adding 80 million people a year to the Earth's population puts incredible strain on our natural resources. Experts say that in less than 50 years, we might add another 2 billion to 4 billion people. They will need food, water, clean air, space and other necessities that are already running low in many areas.
Lester Brown gives a great example in his book "Plan B 4.0." Beginning in the 1970s, Saudi Arabia extracted water from an aquifer deep under the desert to grow its own grain. But these ancient aquifers are running dry. By 2016, Saudi Arabia will end wheat production. Food for 30 million people will have to come from somewhere else. So what's the world to do? Access to voluntary family planning is a great start. The Guttmacher Institute finds that 222 million women around the globe want to avoid pregnancy but have no modern contraception. Providing the current level of contraceptive use in the developing world costs $4 billion each year, while saving $5.6 billion. If the world invested $8.1 billion per year, we'd see 54 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 26 million fewer abortions, 21 million fewer unplanned births, 79,000 fewer pregnancy-related deaths and 1.1 million fewer infant deaths -- and we'd save an additional $5.7 billion. Contraception pays for itself.
Giving women the power to control their own futures is the solution, but powerful interests stand in the way. House Republicans have fought at every turn to prevent access to contraception. And at the Rio + 20 United Nations Conference, the Vatican was successful in removing references to gender equality and reproductive rights from the final document.
So go ahead and enjoy that Slurpee and celebrate National Hot Dog Day. But don't forget to mark World Population Day. Because when it comes to a healthy planet, the quality of our lives and the future of our children, population counts.
The writer is president of Population Connection, a grass-roots population organization.