Population Matters





Population Control & Environmentalist Group


David Willey


London, UK


Jonathan Porritt

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Population Matters (PM) is a London-based think tank seeking to reduce the number of live births globally in an effort to reduce human impact on the environment. Population Matters (formerly Optimum Population Trust) strongly leans upon left-progressive social ideology, positing that overpopulation is a result of sexism and that the education of women is the most effective method of reducing the number of live births.

The organization promotes widespread abortion, contraception, and sterilization (styled “family planning”) in poorer countries and encourages smaller family sizes in developed nations. 1


The Independent reported in 2010 that Population Matters’ stated goal was to reduce population growth by 1.3 billion. 2 Population Matters criticized the Trump administration’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, a rule initially instituted by the Reagan administration that “stipulates that no US overseas aid money will be given to any organization providing abortions or information about abortion.” The rule had been withdrawn by President Barack Obama, resulting in USAID giving over $600 million annually for global promotion of abortion and contraception. 3

Population Matters does not advocate for forced population control policies, although this stance is sometimes muddled by the stark language of its leadership and spokespersons, who have presented population reduction policies as an absolute imperative. In an article in which she criticized China and India’s coercive policies as “heavy-handed,” Chairwoman Sara Parkin wrote “…as the soaring demand for food, water and energy is exacerbated by climate change, it is no longer legitimate to leave policies for lowering birth rates off the policy agenda.” 4

Patron Paul Ehrlich infamously stated in a 2015 interview “The idea that every woman should have as many babies as she wants is to me exactly the same kind of idea as everybody ought to be permitted to throw as much garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.” 5

In a response to the interim report of the UK’s Dasgupta Review on Biodiversity and Economics, Population Matters asked the paper to “mitigate against the upsurge in pro-natalist policies” as practiced by France, Italy, and Hungary, all of which have implemented programs to encourage young couples to have larger families.  In the same response, Population Matters distanced itself from forced population control methods, asking the authors for “an explicit statement repudiating and condemning any population solutions which infringe people’s human rights.” 6


Sara Parkin, Chairwoman of the Board, is a former nurse, politician, and environmentalist activist. She is also the co-founder and director for Forum for the Future, an environmentalist NGO. Parkin is a former member of the British Green Party and helped found the European Greens coalition. She is the author of Green Parties: An International Guide, and a board member of Scotland’s Carnegie Trust and Higher Education Academy. 7   In a debate on the urgency of population growth with Professor Mohan Rao of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Parkin boasted that in 1972 she signed a pledge only to have two children, following the publication of  the model study “Limits to Growth.” 8

Jonathan Porritt, president of Population Matters, is co-founder and director of Forum for the Future. He is the former co-chair of the British Green Party, and former director of global environmentalist group Friends of the Earth. He is also a non-executive director of the UK-based construction firm Willmott Dixon Holdings. 9


Population Matters names a number of prominent environmentalist activists as “patrons” who “give [Population Matters] their endorsement and bring greater authority and a higher profile to the issue of population concern.” 10

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University-associated entomologist, is best known for writing with his wife Anne Ehrlich The Population Bomb, a 1968 book making dire, unrealized predictions of humanity’s collapse under the weight of overpopulation, for example “England will not exist in the year 2000.” 11

In a 1974 New York Times article, Ehrlich wrote:

In the first edition of our book The Population Bomb, it was suggested that the United States try to use its food aid as a lever to get recalcitrant governments moving on population control programs…Yes, send food—but insist that population control measures be instituted. 12

in a 1978 textbook he co-authored with Anne Ehrlich and future Obama administration advisor John Holdren titled Ecoscience:  Population, Resources, Environment. In a section on policy entitled “Involuntary Fertility Control,” the authors discussed programs to vasectomize men who fathered three or more children in India, to require implantation of in-utero contraception, to issue a “marketable license” to women dictating the number of allowed children, and to sterilize women immediately following the birth of their second or third child. About this last proposal the authors wrote, “This would only be feasible in countries where the majority of births are medically assisted. Unfortunately, such a program is therefore not practical for most less developed countries.” 13

The authors also touch on the idea of adding a sterilizing agent to drinking water, acknowledging that this “would pose some very difficult political, legal, and social questions, to say nothing of the technical problems.” They then cite possible solutions to the technical problems as proposed by a physiologist from Tufts University. 14

Although Ehrlich et al considered these ideas “unpalatable,” they go on to say that they may be less “horrifying” than the effects of overpopulation, and in consequence may be eventually be demanded by the populace. 15

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall is a British primatologist famed for her work with chimpanzees and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, an environmentalist group. She has also worked with other environmentalist causes, including the Humane Society of the United States and Disneynature. 16 17 In the January 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Goodall said “All these things we talk about, they wouldn’t be a problem if there were a size of population that there was 500 years ago.” The population at that time is estimated to have been between 400 and 600 million people, a reduction of nearly 90% from present estimates of approximately 7 billion. 18

David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough is a British television personality well-known for his zoological documentary series The Trials of Life, Blue Planet, and Planet Earth. In 2019, Attenborough narrated a new series on Netflix entitled “Our Planet” which focused on the negative effects of humans on the environment and wildlife populations. 19 Population Matters quotes Attenborough as saying, “The human population can no longer be allowed to grow in the same old uncontrolled way. 20



Ghettoh Clean Youth Group is a project to raise money for hands-free washing facilities in the Kibra district of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. The project (which has already exceeded its fundraising goal of £2,500 or $3,200 as of July 2020) also plans to hand out free condoms “until normalcy returns.” 21

Komb Green Solutions is described as a project to “fight Covid-19, restore the environment, and prevent unwanted pregnancies in Kenya’s 4th largest slum.” Population Matters does not clarify how these seemingly disparate aims tie into each other. The project originally began as an environmental endeavor, planting trees, cleaning the Nairobi River, and implementing an “eco-friendly toilet that uses sawdust for flushing.” 22

UN Advocacy

Population Matters has drafted a petition to urge the United Nations to act on population control, citing an ostensible need to encourage smaller families, to make population control a priority in already-existing UN organizations, and to create an “international multilateral framework” to address population concerns. 23 Their website also includes a form letter that can be forwarded to local environmental ministers, encouraging the U.N. to include language on population control in its revised Post-2020 Biological Framework document. 24

“World Scientists’ Warning”

In 1992, a group of 5,000 scientists published the “World Scientists’ Warning,” a dire prediction warning of the mass destruction of humanity and wildlife due to its lax environmental practices. The Warning stated, “No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.” 25 Population Matters promoted a renewal of the Warning on its website and asking for more signatories to the document, which has garnered more than 20,000 signatures. 26


  1. Population Matters. “The Most Powerful Action to Save the Planet is the Most Neglected One.” Population Matters Website. September 3, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  2. AFP. “Population Growth Should Be Curbed: British Expert Goodall.” Independent. March 28, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  3. Population Matters. “President Trump Reinstates Global Gag Rule.” Population Matters Website. January 27,2017. Accessed July 13, 2020
  4. Parkin, Sara. “Peak Population.” Website. September 3, 2010. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  5. Stephens, Bret. “The Tyranny of a Big Idea.” The Wall Street Journal. November 2, 205. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  6. Population Matters. “Response to the Dasgupta Review.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020
  7.    Parkin, Sara. “About Me.” Sara Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  8. New Internationalist. “Is Concern About Population Growth Exaggerated?” Website. November 13, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  9. Wilmott-Dixon. “Jonathan Porritt.” Wilmott-Dixon Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  10. “Our Patrons.” Population Matters, May 20, 2020.
  11. Haberman, Clyde. “The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion.” The New York Times. May 31, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  12. Ehrlic, Paul and Anne. “Peasants Know Perfectly Well Where Babies Come From.” The New York Times. June 16, 1974. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  13. Ehrlic, Paul and Anne, Holdren, John. 1977. “Ecoscience:  Population, Resources, Environment.” W.H. Freeman & Co. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  14. Ehrlic, Paul and Anne, Holdren, John. 1977. “Ecoscience:  Population, Resources, Environment.” W.H. Freeman & Co. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  15. Ehrlic, Paul and Anne, Holdren, John. 1977. “Ecoscience:  Population, Resources, Environment.” W.H. Freeman & Co. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  16. Higgins, Bill. “Disneynature and Jane Goodall Team Up for Chimpanzee Program.” Hollywood Reporter. May 11, 2012. Accessed July 13, 2020. 
  17. Humane Society. “Their Greatest Ambassador.” Humane Website. Undated. Accessed. July 13, 2020.
  18. Alberro, Heather. “Why We Should Be Wary of Blaming Overpopulation for the Climate Crisis.” Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  19. Stewart, Dan. “David Attenborough Isn’t Sure We Can Save the Natural World, but at 92 He’s Not Giving Up Trying.” Time. March 28, 2019. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  20.  Population Matters. “Our Patrons.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020. 
  21. Population Matters. “Ghettoh Clean.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  22. Population Matters. “Komb Green Solutions.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  23. Population Matters. “Urge the U.N. to Act on Overpopulation.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.  
  24. Population Matters. “Call on Governments to Include Overpopulation in Biodiversity Agreement.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  25. USCUSA. “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” Website. April 1997. Accessed July 13, 2020.
  26. Population Matters. “Scientists’ Warning: Time to Take Action.” Population Matters Website. Undated. Accessed July 13, 2020.

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