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SUSTAINABILITY FORUM on the Population Factor

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs | September 19, 2011

CREDIT: Christian Guthier (CC).

As part of our third annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs presents the second of three roundtables.

Forum Editor, Zornitsa Stoyanova-Yerburgh


Environmental sustainability is inextricably linked with population growth and human activity. According to UN projections, our world will be home to more than 9 billion people by 2050 and more than 10 billion by 2100.

The planet is set to become a place of increased competition for livable space, critical resources such as water, and prospects for economic development. The biggest population increases will occur in the Global South, further exacerbating inequities in the distribution of resources and opportunities across states. Many fear that population growth and consumption will also gravely jeopardize our efforts to fight climate change.

Yet population policy is a fraught subject, not least because of coercive family control policies in the past. And focusing on numbers only often obscures the fact that population policy is fundamentally about the rights of women.

What ethical standards should guide the debate about reproduction and sustainability? How should current demographic trends inform our thinking about sustainability? Should we focus our efforts on controlling reproduction or, alternatively, over-consumption? Can technology keep developing apace to address the needs of future populations? What policies should be put in place to counteract trends that exacerbate the situation of the most vulnerable populations?


A Non-Growing Population Is Necessary for True Sustainability
Robert Engelman

The answer to population and sustainability lies in allowing women the autonomy and the means to achieve their own reproductive intentions without external interference.

Family Planning Can Succeed Even in Very Traditional Societies
John Bongaarts and Steven Sinding

Experiments in the Matlab district of Bangladesh demonstrate that access to high-quality contraception and family planning is successful even in very traditional societies, bringing widespread benefit.

Women's Rights Are Key
Laurie Mazur

Women's rights are key to achieving a sustainable population. Fertility rates remain high where women's status is low.

Millions of Poor Women are Still Waiting to Reap the Benefits of Cairo
Barbara Crossette

The 1994 Cairo conference put reproductive choice in the hands of women, but women living in poverty need more than empty pledges so that they too can take part in saving the Earth.

Population Alarmism Is Dangerous
Betsy Hartmann

Focusing on women's fertility diverts our attention from the role of industrial agriculture, extractive industries, luxury consumption, and militarism in causing environmental degradation.

Sustainability and Population: By the Numbers
Lisa Hymas

The world population will hit 7 billion this year. Here are some facts about the world's people that you might not know.

New Reproductive Technologies Are Not a Panacea
Mara Hvistendahl

Investing in the future of women would have been more expensive than providing methods for reducing their numbers, and it would have taken longer to yield results, but it would have been a good in itself.

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