Experts Reflect on the State and Future of Research on Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability

Experts Reflect on the State and Future of Research on Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability

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Laying the foundation for the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment in 2014 and early 2015, we contacted experts with some experience in both fields for guidance — and their takes on the state of research connecting family planning, population, and environmental sustainability.

There aren’t many such experts, but they can be found. Defying the disciplinary walls that separate reproductive health from the environmental sciences, a small group of researchers has delved over the past few decades into possible connections between these two fields. Many of those we interviewed contributed significantly to the design of our search for scientific evidence on the linkages.

Logic and research suggest that growing populations tend to contribute to various environmental stresses. So, by extension, if wider use of family planning slows population growth, it should generally produce some benefits in slowing the pace of human-caused environmental change. Experts agreed, however, that this relationship is complex, under-researched, and not well or uniformly documented.

Reproductive health, family planning, population, and the state of the environment interact in individual human lives—sometimes intensively, especially in low-income communities where livelihoods are closely linked to local natural resources. However, research (and the funders behind it) rarely examines this integrated dynamic. In the professional development community, demography, health, and individual environmental topics typically fall into silos, reflecting the disciplinary specialty of researchers or the focus of funders.

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We need to establish this as a new field of research study … because you can’t solve new problems with old ways of thinking.”

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In developing countries, some community-based programs work to improve family planning access and natural resource conservation at the same time. But experts noted that even where there are evaluations of such population, health, and environment (PHE) programs, they may not be widely published or otherwise communicated, especially in peer-reviewed journals. This results in lost opportunities for information sharing in research communities that are potentially interested in the connection between family planning and environmental sustainability (FP-ES)—as well as in policy and advocacy circles and in the PHE program community itself.

There is a natural tension between research and community well-being when documenting the effectiveness of PHE programs. The urgency of addressing problems on the ground—such as poor management of natural resources or limited access to reproductive health services—calls for near-term results, with less attention to longer-term efforts to improve scientific understanding of what works, how, and why. Undergoing peer review becomes even less likely under such funding and under time pressure to “just do it,” with or without documentation and evaluation.

“If I had to identify a gap in attention to population-environment and FP-ES issues universally, the need for more peer-reviewed research on these integrated topics would be it,” noted Dr. Mark Montgomery, a senior associate at the Population Council and professor of economics at Stony Brook University in New York.

Several experts suggested that the integrated character of FP-ES connections is a hindrance to research, requiring as it does holistic observation and data collection that few experts receive training to do and that few funders are accustomed to supporting. Data points add up differently, and units of analysis differ, complicating measurement and assessment of their interactions.

“The community working on FP-ES is mainly advocates, policy specialists, campaigners, and journalists—but not researchers,” noted Dr. Lynne Gaffikin, a medicine and public health associate professor at Stanford University. “We need to cultivate researchers and provide the money [to support their work]. We need to establish this as a new field of research study, a new way of thinking, because you can’t solve new problems with old ways of thinking.”

Continued on next page.

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This article is excerpted from the upcoming report of the findings of the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment. A list of experts the author interviewed and their affiliations will be included in the report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LANIAR, SENEGAL - AUGUST 14: A mobile clinical outreach team from Marie Stopes International, a specialized sexual reproductive health and family planning organization on a site visit to Laniar health center, a rural area, where they offer many sexual reproductive health services and counseling, including the full range of family planning options, emergency contraception, pre- and post natal care, and cervical cancer screening and treatment. August 14, 2014 in Laniar Senegal. (Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images)..
A mobile clinical outreach team from Marie Stopes International, a specialized sexual reproductive health and family planning organization, on a site visit. August 14, 2014 in Laniar Senegal. (Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images).

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8 Responses

  1. […] Logic and research suggest that growing populations tend to contribute to various environmental stresses. So, by extension, if wider use of family planning slows population growth, it should generally produce some benefits in slowing the pace of human-caused environmental change. Experts agreed, however, that this relationship is complex, under-researched, and not well or uniformly documented … Continue reading on Worldwatch’s Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (… […]

  2. Leona D'Agnes

    World Watch is doing a stellar job of keeping PHE alive! I’m Looking forward to reading the full assessment report by the diverse team of experts that you pulled together for this project.

  3. Carol J. Pierce Colfer

    I’d like to be included on a listserve about this organization, if possible. I agree very much with these observations, and though I probably won’t be able to do research myself on this vital subject (at age 70), I can review papers, discuss, consider options, etc. Would enjoy meeting like-minded folks on line.

  4. Admiring the hard work you put into your website and detailed information you provide.

    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while
    that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material. Excellent read!
    I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  5. Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  6. The facts talked about within the report are some of the ideal obtainable.

  7. An interesting dialogue is worth comment. I think that it is best to write more on this subject, it might not be a taboo topic but typically persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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