This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Shout-Out to the UC Planetary Health Center of Expertise

I spent this morning in the company of people who have organized the University of California Global Health Institute's Center of Excellence on Planetary Health. One of its two Co-Directors is my long-time friend and colleague David Lopez-Carr, who is Professor Geography at UC Santa Barbara. Here is their overall statement of purpose:
Planetary health is an emerging field that recognizes a balance is needed among the global systems of land, air, water and life. It raises awareness about our looming crisis of rapidly growing populations juxtaposed against limited food and natural resources. Climate change adds more unpredictability and extreme events into the mix. Planetary health identifies solutions that will help populations, both human and animal, to foster resilience in the face of changing environments.
The other Center of Excellence funded by the UC Global Health Institute is Women's Health, Gender and Empowerment:
As we approach 2020, women and girls continue to struggle for equal rights and opportunities. The oppression of women and girls is a pervasive human rights violation with profound effects on their health and wellbeing. 
The Center of Expertise on Women's Health, Gender and Empowerment (WHGE) envisions a world in which equitable gender norms lead to healthy and empowered women — including UC students. The Center promotes research, education and community engagement both globally and locally to reduce gender and health inequities.
One of the things strongly emphasized today was that these two themes go together. Planetary health is very dependent on the actions of women, and the planet's future rests heavily on the education of women (along with men, of course) on how to best use our resources in a sustainable manner.

This morning's meeting followed yesterday's UC Global Health Day at UC San Diego, sponsored by the UC Global Health Institute. Now, I have to tell you that even though I am affiliated with UCSD as a Clinical Professor of Global Public Health, by the time I heard about Global Health Day it was all sold out! No seats available, don't even show up! I'm guessing that they were not necessarily thinking in these terms, but it was a great metaphor for where we are in terms of planetary health. Are we, for all intents and purposes, sold out?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Earth Day 2018

This is Earth Day 2018, although as I've said many times over the years, every day really is Earth Day, because we don't have any alternative place to live if we ruin our home here. And, of course, we are very much in the process of ruining it. The important issue is whether or not we change course quickly enough to sustain our global population indefinitely. The Earth Day Network has suggested that this year we focus on ending plastic pollution, which is affecting water-borne plants and animals in ways that are hard to see directly, but are nonetheless incredibly destructive.

I remind you every year that I have participated in each of the 48 Earth Days that have so far been celebrated. Back in 1970 I was just finishing my doctorate in demography at UC Berkeley and I accepted the invitation to drive down to Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) for their Earth Day festivities (and it was a very nice celebration). At the time the world's population was estimated to be 3.7 billion--a bit less than half of what it is today--but the growth rate was the highest the world had ever recorded. My message to the audience 48 years ago was not much different than it would be today:
It seems likely that if we don't change our ways the ultimate creditors of the world--our food resources, our water, our air, the quality of human life--all those things from which we have been so heavily borrowing, may just foreclose on us. Frankly, there are just too many people around, and if you don't think so now, you can wait another 30 years when there may well be twice as many people on this planet.
Fortunately, the birth rate did drop somewhat faster than we were expecting at that time and so 30 years later, in 2000, the population had increased "only" to 6.1 billion--not a doubling, but still a significant increase creating even more issues in terms of environmental impacts and questions of sustainability. Of course, we now do have more than twice as many people on the planet as we did on the first Earth Day. The good news about that is that the average person in the world is better off now than then. The bad news is that the probability is extremely low that we can keep this up. Maybe some miracle will pop up to save us (and many people obviously live with that expectation in mind), but in my view we have a key list of things that must be done if we are to sustain life on the planet:

  1. Make sure that the birth rate stays low in places that it is already low, and keeps coming down everywhere else;
  2. Move to diets that are more plant-based, reversing the extraordinarily harmful environmental consequences of growing food to animals that we intend to kill instead of growing it to directly feed humans.
  3. Dramatically lower our pollution of the land, the air, and the water.
These things don't require miracles--just a lot of ingenuity and hard work.