Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Stop Worrying, Just Interact. (Population)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Stop Worrying, Just Interact. (Population)

Article excerpt

Remember the global population explosion? Not many people do. This month, World Population Day passed off, as usual, without incident (it was 11 July, in case you're interested), the UN recently revised its medium-term global forecast downwards, and in much of Europe the talk is of population decline. Larger families are back in fashion, particularly among the affluent middle classes--if the Blairs can have four children, why not the rest of us? Most seriously, perhaps, those who should act as our watchdogs are scuttling for cover.

Last year, the US group Zero Population Growth changed its name to the more donor-friendly but less informative Population Connection. This month, the UK charity Population Concern went one better, excising all references to "population". Henceforth, it will be known as Interact Worldwide, a title that nobody could take exception to -it emerged out of market research--but which will leave most of us groping for a sense of function.

The Pirandellian flavour of this should give pause for thought. Population Concern has ploughed a valiant but largely solitary furrow since it began as an offshoot of the Family Planning Association three decades ago. In those days, population was taken quite seriously, partly because of doomy tracts such as Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, and the group's original name, Population Countdown (itself changed in the 1 980s to incorporate the more emollient "concern"), reflected this. But neither government nor civil society took up the issue and it was slowly pushed off the agenda.

The reason population has become the issue that dare not speak its name is the same reason that few would dare to comment on the Blairs', or any similar-sized, family. They'd tell you to mind your own business. For governments or charities, this translates into a fear of alienating voters or donors. …

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