I imagine what I’m about to write will be met with a mixed response, but I wanted to talk about it anyway. I read an interesting article last week, and found myself agreeing with some significant aspects of what the author (David Roberts) said. Basically Roberts’ message is that population is, rightly or wrongly, simply too “hot” a topic to broach without alienating one’s audience. People who have been involved in discussing population for any length of time would have to accept that this is infuriatingly true.
Roberts goes on to assert that the solution to population growth – which as we know is driven, at the global level, by high fertility – is the education and empowerment of women. And talking about these things, he says, is not met with the same degree of alienation and disdain as discussing “overpopulation”. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find any decent person who would oppose advocacy for greater rights for women, nor the economic benefits – at all scales – that flow from reduced birth rates. He concludes that we should simply avoid the “P” word altogether, thus sidestepping the taboo and allowing agreement and action on the things that actually help to solve the problem.
When I voiced support (on the SPA Facebook discussion page) for what Roberts was saying, others understandably disagreed with me. Some argued that the problem is the fault of the people listening, and we should not have to change our message to suit them. While I agree in principle, the fact is we may simply have no choice but revising the way we talk about population; it does not help us achieve our aims (of raising awareness) to remain technically correct if people refuse to listen. Moreover, the increasing use of social media means more and more people now receive information via algorithms that pre-select articles based on their previous likes and dislikes; this in turn means the longer our message fails to resonate with the public, the less likely it is that our articles / links / posts will even appear on the screen of their computer / mobile / tablet – and even if it does, it can be rejected with the swipe of a thumb.
In short, it has become almost impossible to deliver a message to people who do not agree with us. I accept that the answer cannot be to abandon the core tenets of our message, but we ignore this fact at our own peril.
Until next time,