Population and Environment

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 275–289 | Cite as

Policy review: thoughts on addressing population and climate change in a just and ethical manner

  • Suzanne PetroniEmail author
Policy Essay


Many believe that linking population growth to the issue of climate change will help to place family planning back into the political realm as an urgent matter of national and environmental security. Others worry, however, that focusing on the environmental impacts of demographic change places at risk the hard-fought and long-developed global consensus that individual rights and empowerment are what matters most in fostering sustainable development and stabilizing population growth. This paper focuses on United States population policy. It presents a brief historical background and summarizes the state of scientific evidence regarding the impacts of population growth on climate change. It then analyzes some of the underlying ethical issues involved in advancing an advocacy argument around increasing family planning as a way to slow population growth and mitigating climate change. Finally, it recommends a way in which advocates can frame the connections between population growth and climate change in a just and ethical manner.


Population growth Climate change Ethical considerations Population-environment Linkages 


  1. Barker, T., Bashmakov, I., Bernstein, L., Bogner, J. E., Bosch, P. R., Dave, R., et al. (2007). Technical summary. climate change 2007: Mitigation. contribution of working group III. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bayles, M. D. (1980). Morality and population policy. University, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  3. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. (1972). Population and the American future: The report of the commission on population growth and the American future. Washington, DC: Commission on Population Growth and the American Future.Google Scholar
  4. Dowbiggin, I. R. (2008). The sterilization movement and global fertility in the twentieth century. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Ehrlich, P. (1968). The population bomb. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  6. Energy Information Association (EIA). (2007). International carbon dioxide emissions and carbon intensity (International energy annual 2005 No. 2007). Washington, DC: EIA.Google Scholar
  7. Engelman, R. (2008). More: Population, nature, and what women want. Washington, D.C.: Island Press. Retrieved from;
  8. Feeney, J. (2009). Population: The elephant in the room. BBC News.
  9. Gillespie, D., Maguire, E., Neuse, M., Sinding, S., & Speidel, J. J. (2009). Making the case for U.S. international family planning assistance. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University.Google Scholar
  10. Guillebaud, J., Martin D. (2008). Curbing population must contribute to solving the climate crisis. Message posted to
  11. Guillebaud, J., & Pip, H. (2008). Population growth and climate change. BMJ, 337, a576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hartmann, B. (2009, Fall). The ‘New’ population control craze: Retro, racist, wrong way to go. On the Issues.
  14. Hedges, C. (2009). Are we breeding ourselves to extinction? Alternet.
  15. Institute of Society, Ethics, the Life Sciences. (1971). Ethics, population and the American tradition: A study prepared for the commission on population growth and the American future. Hasting-on-Hudson, New York: The Institute.Google Scholar
  16. Lindahl-Kiessling, K., & Landberg, H. (1994). Population, economic development, and the environment. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Mazur, L. (2009). A pivotal moment: Population, justice, and the environmental challenge. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  18. McKie, R. (2007). Science chief: Cut birthrate to save earth. The Observer,
  19. Meyerson, F. (2008). Stabilize global population and tax carbon to reduce per-capita emissions. Message posted to
  20. Nugent, R., & Seligman, B. (2008). How demographic change affects development demographics and development in the 21st century initiative. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.Google Scholar
  21. O’Neill, B. (2008). Population and climate change: Relationships, research, and responses. Washington, DC: Presentation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
  22. Passel, J., & Cohn, D’. V. (2008). U.S. population projections: 2005–2050. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.Google Scholar
  23. Schultz, T. P. (2005). Fertility and income. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  24. Sen, A. (1996a). Fertility and coercion. The University of Chicago Law Review, 63(3), 1035-1061. Retrieved from
  25. Sen, A. (1996b). Population policy: Authoritarianism versus cooperation. New Delhi: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.Google Scholar
  26. Sen, G., Germain, A., & Chen, L. C. (1994). Population policies reconsidered: Health, empowerment, and rights. Boston, Mass. and New York. Harvard University Press: International Women’s Health Coalition and Dept of Population and International Health.Google Scholar
  27. Singh, S., et al. (2009). Adding it up: The costs and benefits of investing in family planning and maternal and newborn health. New York: Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund.Google Scholar
  28. Smith, K. (2008). The population problem. Nature Reports Climate Change, 2, 72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. UNFPA. (1994). Programme of action of the international conference on population and development (No. A/CONF.171/13/Rev.1). New York: UNFPA.Google Scholar
  30. UNFPA. (1999). Key actions for the further implementation of the programme of action of the ICPD. NY: New York.Google Scholar
  31. UNFPA. (2009). The state of the world population 2009: Facing a changing world. New York: UNFPA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Summit FoundationWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations