Smoky skies

Fueling the Fires

From Stephanie Feldstein, Population & Sustainability Program Director


Millions of acres are burning on the West Coast, displacing tens of thousands of people and filling the air with hazardous smoke. At least 30 people have died. These fires are fueled by climate change, with unprecedented droughts and heat waves turning the region into a tinderbox. Development in fire-prone areas has increased the risk of more human-caused ignitions that put people in danger, particularly low-income and minority communities.

These devastating wildfires — along with the hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast — show the deadly relationship between the climate crisis and human population pressure. And they're a reminder that we have no time to waste in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fighting for environmental justice, and advancing reproductive rights and equity. We can still avoid the worst impacts of climate change and build more resilient communities. Read on for opportunities to join the fight.

Burnt stop sign

Wildfire smoke has been smothering the West Coast in toxic air, increasing health risks for people and wildlife. Read The Revelator's account of living under the haze of record-breaking fires. And if you're on the West Coast, check out Ask Dr. Donley, the latest installment of Center scientist Nate Donley's column, for ways to stay safe from wildfire smoke.

Population fact

Food Film Fest

Food Justice Film Festival

Join us for a free virtual Food Justice Film Festival Sept. 24-27, featuring four powerful and inspiring documentaries highlighting community activists fighting for a just, sustainable food system.

The films featured will be "Gather," "Invisible Vegan," "Dolores" and "Urban Roots." The films explore the links between environmental justice, climate change, food insecurity and white supremacy, and will be accompanied by a national speaker panel of activists, organizers and directors discussing topics including urban gardens, farmworkers' rights and plant-based food movements.

The Food Justice Film Festival is free and open to the public. Sign up now to receive a link unlocking access to each film for 24 hours on the day of its screening.

Mountain lion

Population 101

This fall the Center is launching a four-part series on how to advocate for people and the planet. Each webinar will cover a different aspect of the Center's population work and ways you can get involved. Space is limited, so register today and save the date.

Human Impacts on Wildlife (Tuesday, Sept. 22, 4 p.m. ET): We'll dive into specific examples of human population pressure on endangered species and the morality of preventing extinctions. Registration required.

How to Write an Op-ed or LTE (Tuesday, Oct. 27, 4 p.m. ET): Our media specialist will host this workshop on how to write an op-ed or letter to the editor, including looking for opportunities, identifying outlets, creating local appeal, and addressing common challenges associated with discussing population. Registration required.

Voluntary Family Planning and Gender Empowerment (Tuesday, Nov. 17, 4 p.m. ET): It's every individual's right to have children or not have children and to raise their families in healthy environments. We'll talk about how to support solutions that are good for people and the planet. Registration coming soon.

How to Talk About Population Pressure (Tuesday, Dec. 15, 4 p.m. ET): We'll discuss how to approach population work using an inclusive, culturally responsive lens by addressing common misconceptions and advocating for ethical human-rights based solutions. Registration coming soon.

Cow grazing near sage grouse

Can Beef Really Save Birds?

If the claim that livestock are the key to bird conservation sounds too wild to be true, that's because it is. Beef advocates have latched onto the success of regenerative plant agriculture, which benefits soil health and promotes biodiversity, to push theories that cutting down trees and grazing cattle can save birds. But the devastating effects of cattle on wildlife and wild places is well-documented.

The trees and grasslands destroyed for grazing are the very habitat birds need to survive. From trampling eggs and nestlings to destroying vegetation needed for cover, cattle are rarely compatible with abundant wildlife, especially in the arid West. Read Jennifer Molidor's op-ed on how grazing increases threats to grassland birds such as sage grouse.

Here's one thing you can do: Replace 90% of the beef in your diet with plant-based proteins to help reduce pressure from grazing cattle on sensitive habitats.

Birth-control pills

Study: The Most Effective Way to Slow Population Growth

Voluntary family planning, education and empowerment are important parts of sustainable development. One of the side effects of advancing reproductive health, human rights and equity is slower population growth. To better understand this relationship, researchers from the University of Washington set out to determine which of these factors was most effective in lowering fertility rates.

The researchers looked at the percentage of women using contraception (contraceptive prevalence), the percentage of women who say they'd like to avoid pregnancy but aren't using contraception (unmet need), school enrollment for girls, and the highest level of education attained by girls in high-fertility countries. They found that the greatest factor for a country's fertility rate was contraceptive prevalence. But family planning and education also work together to improve outcomes for people and the planet.

Here's one thing you can do: Learn more about the latest research on population growth and the environment by visiting our Crowded Planet resource library.

Burrowing owls

Report: Wildlife Populations Down 68%

In the past 50 years, human population has more than doubled, while reckless expansion of industry, agriculture and development has altered nearly every part of the planet. This enormous pressure is crowding out wildlife. According to the World Wildlife Fund's latest Living Planet report, wild populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish plummeted by an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. The crisis is even greater in the Caribbean and Latin America, where more than 90% of wildlife populations have been lost.

This extinction crisis is being driven by human activity, including habitat destruction and exploitation. According to the report, one of the biggest threats to biodiversity is land-use change for food production, most of which happens to accommodate grazing cattle or feed crops for meat and dairy production.

Here's one thing you can do: Spread the word to your wildlife-loving friends about why it's so important to take extinction off your plate.

Joshua tree

Wildlife Spotlight: Joshua Tree

Standing out in the Mojave Desert, the twisty, spiky limbs of Joshua trees look as if they could've been planted by Dr. Seuss. These iconic trees of California are hardy plants with tough leaves and low water needs. But though they're well adapted to desert life, the extreme heat and drought caused by climate change are making it harder for them to reproduce. Other threats to Joshua trees include urban sprawl and wildfires. In response to a petition from the Center, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recently recommended protection for western Joshua trees under the state's Endangered Species Act.

Tell state officials to follow through and protect Joshua trees. Then watch our Saving Life on Earth discussion to learn more about our work to save this tree and other endangered plants.

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Photo credits: Smoky orange sky by Milkovi/Unsplash; burnt stop sign from forest fire courtesy Oregon Department of Transporation; mountain lion outside Los Angeles courtesy NPS; cow grazing next to greater sage grouse by K. Theule/USFWS; birth-control pills by GabiSanda/Pixabay; burrowing owls by Wendy Miller/Flickr; Joshua tree by Christopher Michel/Flickr.

Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 710
Tucson, AZ 85702
United States