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Will the Proposed Solutions Achieve Sustainable Scale regarding the Human Population

[add fig re decline in fertility rates – ]

Will the Proposed Solutions Achieve Sustainable Scale Regarding the Human Population?
International agencies dealing with the population issue have had some success in reducing global fertility rates from [ xx  to  ee  over the last  dd ] years. The dominant approach currently focuses on economic development as the primary means of reducing human fertility. This approach rests on a positive correlation between higher income and lower fertility [Erica, can we get the actual r value so we know how much it accounts for – my guess is not much]  Higher income levels provide greater opportunities for educating and empowering women, and making contraception available.

However, very modest increases in income can lead to reduce fertility if the higher income levels are used to educate and empower women and provide contraception. Broad-based economic development is a very crude and inefficient means of reducing fertility. By definition economic development involves increased per capita consumption. Higher consumption or throughput levels further degrade ecosystem functioning upon which the human population depends for its well being.

There is an inherent contradiction in the now dominant approach to human fertility: broad-based economic development has some impact on lowering fertility, but it also increases the total consumption level of the human population.

Misplaced Emphasis: Missed Opportunities
At the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, the international community affirmed that
“[e]fforts to slow down population growth, to reduce poverty, to achieve economic progress, to improve environmental protection, and to reduce unsustainable consumption and production patterns are mutually reinforcing. Slower population growth has in many countries bought more time to adjust to future population increases. This has increased those countries' ability to attack poverty, protect and repair the environment, and build the base for future sustainable development.” (paragraph 3.14, ICPD…REFERENCE).
Despite the mutually reinforcing nature of the actions sited, international efforts have primarily been directed “to achieve economic progress” rather than “to reduce unsustainable consumption and production patterns.” The results involve some decline in fertility rates, but also include an increase in total consumption. Policies which do not result in reductions in total consumption levels are a failure from a sustainable scale perspective.  

Lack of Targets Ensure Lack of Success
Population policy has evolved over the decades, originally focusing on “population control” and more recently making “reproductive rights” a key feature of programs.  Sensitivity to the individual rights aspects of the population issue, along with the concerns of some religious and cultural groups to use of contraception and/or limiting family size, have lead to an avoidance of the issue of global population targets.

Earlier programs were primarily concerned with the impact of a growing population on resource depletion[1]. Later approaches recognized population’s connection to poverty reduction and economic development. This led some nations to adopt mandatory or coercive measures to curb fertility (e.g China’s “one child policy”, and India’s forced sterilization programs).

At the ?Cairo ? Nairobi? Conference (19??) there was strong objection from some religious groups (primarily the Catholic Church and various Muslim leaders –[can we be more specific here?] ) to programs which supported contraception. This left international agencies concerned about the population issue without a consensus about the necessity for either a global target or even the need to reduce global population. This lack of consensus continues to hamper the development of policies to establish a target for some sustainable combination of per capita consumption and population.

Twin Taboos
Population policy is hampered by a decided avoidance of the two factors essential to achieving sustainable scale: total consumption level within the biophysical limits imposed by ecosystems, and human population size.  Population size or targets are not discussed because of the religious and cultural sensitivities involved, and the sometimes coercive and draconian measures made in earlier efforts at population control.  Total consumption levels are not discussed because of the assumption that economic growth can continue indefinitely unencumbered by biophysical limits ( ).

Achieving some sustainable combination of per capita consumption and population obviously requires that these twin taboos be addressed.  The sensitivities of the issues involved should not be obstacles to the dialogue required for the current generation to fulfill its moral obligations to all future generations.

In summary, current policy solutions to the population issue are unlikely to achieve some sustainable combination of population and per capita consumption that remains within the biophysical limits of ecosystem functioning.

[1] [1] Ehrlich, P.R. The Population Bomb. Ballantine Books, New York, 1968.

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