Dr. Jeffrey McKee’s research on population and biodiversity was published in Human Ecology in June 2013. He joined other experts in a recent webinar to describe his research and its implications. “When it comes to addressing population growth,” Jeff said, “we need to do a better job with three pillars: education, the empowerment of women, and the availability of contraception.” His book, Sparing Nature, was published by Rutgers University Press.
I hold a position as Professor of Anthropology at The Ohio State University. My research interests in the subfield of biological anthropology range from evolutionary genetics to human ecology, with a lot of fossil analysis in between. The long-term and current conflicts between human population growth and the sustainability of other life forms has been a recent focus of mine.
Did you have a “light-bulb” moment when you first understood how issues of sustainability and family planning/reproductive health/population were linked?
I can’t remember an epiphany on these subjects, with one great exception: I was astonished at how little population issues are discussed. I know that they can be difficult issues for many reasons, but that we are not having more active conversations in academia, politics, and social arenas is worrisome. These will be the defining issues of this century, and probably should have been more on the forefront in the past century.
How do these links relate to your current work?
I have recently found a mathematical relationship between human population density and the number of mammal and bird species threatened with extinction. Moreover, as the population has grown, so has the threat to biodiversity.
What has surprised you in the work you have done in this area?
Most surprising was the high degree of correlation between biodiversity threats and human population density. Mathematical models are often statistically significant, but hold limited explanatory power. The correlations found by my team have been quite profound, showing a very close relationship between our population growth and the demise of other species.
What is one thing that researchers, advocates, or policymakers could do to better recognize or respond to these links?
Like it or not, it is time … past time … to openly discuss the difficult issues regarding reproductive responsibility, and get the human population trajectory off the path of unsustainable growth to one of stability.