Voices from Planet 21

Posted: 13 August 2012

In the past 20 years People & the Planet magazine and its website have published thousands of news reports and feature articles.  We have also reflected the opinions of some of the world’s most progressive thinkers. Here founder/editor John Rowley selects a few of these thoughts that still resonate today.

Human numbers

'The demographic transition in the developed countries took place over a long period. It is therefore unrealistic to expect rapid reduction in total fertility in Africa in a record time. It will certainly require more than an increase in contraceptive prevalence rates, important though that is.'

Prof. George Benneh People & the Planet Vol. 8 No 1 1999.

Madagascar - mouths to feed
Children in Madagascar - many mouths to feed. Photo: Christina Corbett/IRIN

'In an increasingly integrated world, eradicating poverty and stabilizing population are national security issues. Slowing population growth helps eradicate poverty and its distressing symptoms, and eradicating poverty helps slow population growth. With time running out, the urgency of moving simultaneously on both fronts is clear.'

Lester Brown peopleandplanet website 4 April 2007.


'We now realise that the disasters that continue increasingly to afflict the natural world have one element that connects them all - the unprecedented increase in the number of human beings on the planet.'

Sir David Attenborough from a People and Planet address in March 10, 2011, reported in peopleandplanet website.


'There is no excuse for getting this wrong. Of all the species on Earth, we are the one that has the ability to think beyond the present, to communicate and to plan. Surely we have the nous to put our affairs in order and avoid the vast human tragedy of population boom and bust?'

Sir John Sulston, Nobel prize-winning biologist, peopleandplanet website 26 October 2011.

People and Climate Change

'I think that it [climate change] is the biggest problem facing us in the 21st century. It is the biggest challenge our civilisation has ever had to face up to.'

Sir David King, UK Chief Scientific Officer, in an interview with the Ecologist reproduced by arrangement in peopleandplanet website 24 February 2007


'I spent a week at the climate change conference in Poznan, and realised the world is in deep trouble and deeper denial. Worse, the denial is now entirely on the side of action. It is well accepted that climate change is a reality. Scientists say we need to cap temperature increases at 2°C to avoid catastrophe, which means capping emissions at 450 ppm. We know global average temperatures have already increased by 0.8°C and there is enough greenhouse gas in the atmosphere to lead to another 0.8°C increase. There is still a window of opportunity, a tiny one, to tackle the crisis. But where's the action'

Sunita Narain peopleandplanet website 14 January 2009.

Migrant, Ganges Delta
In the Ganges Delta, living with varying water levels is a way of life. Migration, particularly towards coastal urban centres, has emerged as a coping mechanism when extreme events endanger life and livelihoods. With projected sea level rise, combined with the possibility of more intense flooding and storm surges, migration may become a necessity for many communities, at least for parts of the year. Photo © UNHCR

'However serious the present situation, it is surely a pale shadow of what awaits us when climate change impacts start to bite and today's tens of millions of environmental refugees become hundreds of millions. Those who consider this prognosis alarmist should recall that our environmental situation today is worse than it has ever been and is demonstrably deteriorating rapidly.'

Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent peopleandplanet website 1 December 2009


'Even if Western countries and China act now to reduce their carbon emissions, it is too late to stop some climate change. But if the big emitting countries now switch to a serious way to low-carbon economies, it could help to head off a catastrophe.'

John Madeley peopleandplanet website 28 November 2011


Coasts and Oceans

'According to the International Marine Alliance over 6,000 divers squirt some 50,000 kilograms of dissolved poison onto some 33 million coral heads in the Philippines alone each year...Fortunately some local communities are discovering that they can defend their own resources and bring the reef back to productive life.'

People & the Planet editorial. Vol. 6 No 2 1997.


'The oceans remain the great frontiers of the Earth, offering scientific mysteries and compelling opportunities in superabundance. But the end of a long era of mythical limitlessness and ideological freedom in the seas is upon us. This may seem a tragedy of sorts, but coming to grips with reality is always liberating in the end.'

Contributing Editor Don Hinrichsen, People & the Planet Vol.7 No 2



'The subject of poor people in crowded settlements is bedevilled by a profound lack of interest. Yet, unless a major investment is made to ensure that all human beings are able to obtain the necessities of a decent life ‘health for all’ may remain no more than a slogan'

Greg Goldstein co-ordinator WHO healthy cities programme, People & the Planet Vol. 6 No 3 1997.


Green Energy

'What people forget is that China has already started to invest huge amounts of money in a whole host of clean-tech innovations - in wind, solar and hydrogen in particular. This may take a while to work its way through the system, but China has an eye as much on future export markets as on sorting out its own domestic problems. Many now believe that some of the most exciting potential breakthroughs on photovoltaics and hydrogen-powered vehicles will be coming out of China any time soon - and not out of the US.'

Jonathon Porritt peopleandplanet website 23 October 2007

Wind farms in the northern Helanshan region of China
Wind farm in the northern Helanshan region of China. Credit: Nordex GMBH


'We have a brief window of opportunity to start down the path to a more sustainable world - one in which rising demand for energy is met without sacrificing the needs of current and future generations and the natural environment. If the world is to achieve this goal - which it must - countries need to begin today to make the transition to a renewable, sustainable energy future.'

Janet Sawin peopleandplanet website (renewable energy Overview).


People and Forests

'The biggest calculation remains unassessed. If, in fifty years time, the Earth is largely bereft of its forests, how shall we respond to those descendants who ask how we could afford to watch the terminal reduction of what has been the dominant type of vegetation on the Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Will they not rather ask: “How could you not afford to save the forests in the light of all that has been ultimately and irretrievable lost?”'

Norman Myers, Contributing Editor, People & the Planet, Vol. 5 No 4 1996.


Health and Pollution

'In the 25 years I have studied and written about environmental issues, none has saddened me more than the human disaster taking place in the Arctic...How can we tolerate creating a situation where the bodies of the Greenland Inuit contain the highest level of industrial contamination on planet Earth? How can we tolerate the fact that the breast milk of these people would be classified as hazardous waste?'

Jackie Alan Giuliano peopleandplanet website19 April 2004


People and Mountains

'We need a Himalaya policy...we need to use our resources for local self sufficiency... It’s nonsense to export the resources, and keep the people as paupers.'

Sunderlal Bahaguna, People & the Planet, Vol 7 No 1, 1996. 


Reproductive Health

'Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race.'

James Grant, Director General of UNICEF, reported in Vol. 2 No 2, 1993.


People and Waste

'Until recently, waste and waste management were mere problems. But on a bounded and finite planet, the destiny of every sheet of paper on my desk is linked to my own destiny. It is within the toughening circle of concern.'

Dr Peter Timmerman, on the ‘addiction of consumerism’. People & the Planet, Vol. 4 No 1 1995.


People and Water

'Water, the most precious and vital of all resources, need not lead to war. Rather than being corrupted into a causus belli, it may well quench the fires of enmity and serve the cause of peace. Indeed peace and water are inseparable and mutually conditional.'

Daniel Hillel People & the Planet Vol. 5 No 3, 1996.


Women in the village of North Chandrapura, Tripura, fetching tap water
Women in the village of North Chandrapura, Tripura, fetching tap water. Even until two years ago clean water was a luxury in the village. Photo credit: Soma Mitra/WFS

'There is no reason to install flush toilets in parts of the world suffering water shortages. Instead, we will have to make dry alternatives attractive. It must become prestigious to sit on a dry toilet.'

Dr Paul Harremoes reported in People & the Planet Vol.2 No 4, 1994.

Women and the Planet

'Thankfully, the imperatives of our time are on the women’s side. If we are to feed tomorrow’s world, women farmers must be given the rights to land, credit and extension services. If we are to balance population with resources, women must be educated and empowered to earn and to nurture small healthy families.'

People & the Planet editorial Vol. 4 No 1, 1995.


'Women cannot bring about the demographic transition alone. The extent of women’s autonomy and men’s family responsibility will likely dictate the pace at which economic and social change as well as population policy are able to affect demographic behaviour.'

Judith Bruce People & the Planet, Vol. 3 No 1, 1994.


Last word

'The next two decades will see population and consumption increasing faster than ever before in history. And technology is not changing anywhere near fast enough to compensate. The global environmental crisis is only just beginning.'

Contributing Editor Paul Harrison Vol.1 No 1 1992


'A world in the second half of this century where the largest single block of the global population is poor and sometimes destitute; hungry and sometimes starving: uneducated, unemployed and often radicalized: and where tens of millions of women are treated in loathsome ways, is indeed, a global problem and it needs a global understanding and a global response.'

Malcom Potts peopleandplanet website 23 January 2012


'For all the darkness that presently confronts us and our descendants, there is no reason to give up. There is every reason to take up the fight because we have within our grasp the power of the people to force the right decisions. The more people [join in], the more power, the more hope.'

Jacques Cousteau speaking in 1978 and quoted in People & the Planet Vol.7, No 2, 1998.