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The Planet

December 1997, Volume 4, number 10

The Birds and the Bees of Population

    The Sierra Club supports family planning: Does that mean we run birth-control clinics and distribute condoms here in the United States?

    No, the Club does not run such clinics, but we lobby decision-makers to support Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which grants federal funds to organizations that provide family planning information and services for low-income Americans. Title X helps to prevent unintended pregnancies because it offers services to women and teens before they become pregnant -- unlike Medicaid which provides family planning services only after pregnancy has occurred.

    How does the Sierra Club work for population stabilization in other countries?

    Club volunteers and staff advocate for Congressional funding for clinics and other programs that make family planning services available to those in need. U.S. funds allocated for this purpose go to the United Nations Family Planning Assistance program and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The funds then go to programs such as a pilot project in Morocco to reduce maternal deaths. The project includes training in emergency obstetric care, family planning methods and recognition of pregnancy complications.

    Doesn't the Sierra Club emphasis on international programs show that we're only concerned about too many poor people on the planet?

    A: No -- it's a matter of putting our efforts in an arena where there are fewer advocates. There is a larger constituency domestically to support the funding of Title X than there is for international funding for family planning.

    Q: What are the obstacles to family planning programs abroad?

    A: The big one is funding, which is why the Sierra Club"s emphasis for the past six years has been lobbying for increases in funding levels.

    Two other obstacles are the Mexico City policy and a funding allocation method called "metering."

    Foreign-assistance money that is authorized by Congress is restricted so it can't be used for abortions. But the Mexico City policy, which conservatives attempt to attach to spending bills year after year -- it was in effect from 1984 to 1992 -- would bar U.S. funding from going to family planning even if they use their own money for abortion. This means that hospitals in Russia, for instance, would be ineligible for family planning funds from the United States because in Russia, where family planning services are not widely available to the average citizen, abortion is used as a birth control method.

    "Metering," which conservatives in the House did succeed in attaching to the funding bill, means that family planning funds will be distributed to clinics and other programs in monthly installments instead of an annual lump sum. This makes it difficult -- or impossible -- for some organizations to operate. In Mozambique, CARE and Pathfinder, which support family planning services to districts with a combined population of more than 700,000, may have to lay off staff and possibly shut down these programs because of metering.

    What does excessive consumption have to do with population stabilization?

    The impact of humans on the planet is a combination of how many people there are and how much those people consume. For instance, one person using 30 gallons of gas has roughly the same impact as 30 people using one gallon of gas each. High rates of individual consumption are as much of a threat to the environment as population growth.

    The Sierra Club has worked to reduce consumption levels in the United States through many of its major campaigns. Particularly relevant to consumption are the campaign for higher fuel efficiency in vehicles and the campaign against suburban sprawl. The Population Committee has a project to promote "voluntary simplicity" by individuals.

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