“Population growth and human consumption are the major factors in our ongoing environmental crisis.”
We’ve reached the unfortunate state in America of polarization on most issues. Polls conducted on many topics bear that out. The issue of overpopulation certainly fits in this category – if it’s talked about at all. Add to this that it’s nearly impossible to talk about overpopulation without also discussing immigration, since immigration drives most of the population growth in the United States. And immigration has been nothing but super-polarized.
So it’s most refreshing to see the topic of overpopulation addressed in a very accessible, very human manner with an extreme amount of pathos in a way that offers a positive, hopeful message. That’s what the documentary film, “Mother – Caring for 7 Billion,” does.
The filmmakers, who have made other environmental films, said they made “Mother” because they couldn’t “make another film on sustainability without dealing with the subject of human population. Too much is at stake to keep ignoring that issue.
“It’s misunderstood and highly stigmatized, and we felt the need to produce a comprehensive film to help bring the issue back into the public conversation. It doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room anymore.”
“Mother” does an excellent job of telling the story of population growth. In a visually and verbally impactful manner at the film opening, we see that for hundreds of thousands of years, women probably had four to six children, with half dying before they could reproduce. Which means that, for most of history, most women had two children who lived – or we’d have had a population explosion before now.
With the advent of fixed agriculture and, more recently, proper sanitation, vaccination, famine relief, basic levels of health care and the addition of fossil fuels to agricultural processes to increase yield have come the “unintended consequence of our best intentions” – vast human population. Just even from the first Earth Day in 1970, when world population was 3.7 billion, growth has rocketed on to the current population of more than 7 billion.
The creators of the film make terrific use of numerous experts respected in their fields. Among the many great voices are environmental writer John Feeney; Paul Ehrlich, the population studies professor at Stanford University who early sounded the overpopulation alarm; Mathis Wackernagel, economist and co-creator of the environmental footprint; Lyuba Zarsky, economist and associate professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and Bill Ryerson, president of the Population Media Center.
Enhancing the narrative are the very personal and moving stories of two women. One is an American, Beth Osnes, who comes from a family of ten children. She shares her parents’ story, and how she and her husband, who had strong views on family size, chose to have two children and adopt one child. The other story is that of Zinet, the oldest girl in an Ethiopian family of 12 living in poverty. At an early age, she refused to marry; instead choosing school, which helped break a cycle of poverty and early pregnancy. In the film, Osnes travels to Ethiopia and meets Zinet, learning her story first-hand.
The information, presented so brilliantly in “Mother,” is so clear on how empowering women can make all the difference in how our world evolves. According to the United Nations Population Fund, if women’s needs were met for family planning, population growth would be reduced by 28 percent, plus lives would be saved and advances would be made in human rights.
Dr. Martha Campbell, an international public health and reproductive rights policy expert, says in the film, “It’s difficult or impossible to achieve economic development as long as birth rates are very high in the least developed countries – education and health cannot keep up, and poverty goes right along with this.”
And Esraa Bani of Population Action International says, “If you think that this is an isolated problem, and it’s only Africa’s problem, think again.” (Africa has one of the highest fertility rates in the world.) The loss of land around the world to commercial interests (thus pushing out local farmers), increasing food prices due to growing markets and increasing demand, and climate change are just three reasons (three very big reasons) the filmmakers cite for why everyone should be concerned about overpopulation.
One of the most powerful commentaries in the film comes from Rev. Peter S. Sawtell, executive director for Eco-Justice Ministries. He says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. It’s time for us to recognize that that be one Biblical commandment where you can say, ‘Check, we’ve done that … what else should we do?’ I don’t see how we can look at the devastation that’s happening to the planet and the poor quality of life that many people have and still say that basic levels of birth control and family planning are inappropriate. I find that a morally very confusing stance.”
If there’s a film that can break through the polarization on the topic of overpopulation, “Mother” may be it!
I think this documentary should have the level of attention that Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” received! Thus far, it’s been a winner at the Boulder International Film Festival and Docufest Atlanta … spread the word about this important film and help extend the discussion about a hopeful future!
Stream the documentary through the rest of March for only 99¢ in recognition of International Women’s Month. Buy a copy and give it to a friend for Earth Day. Further help build awareness of the overpopulation issue by way of the film by rating it at IMDb and activating “like” on Facebook. Get the shorter, 45-minute version of the film to show in classrooms.