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Toward a Small Family Ethic

How Overpopulation and Climate Change Are Affecting the Morality of Procreation

  • Book
  • © 2016


  • Examines the interaction between population, environment, and disease
  • Provides a framework for thinking about how overpopulation affects each person's individual moral burden
  • Systematically evaluates widely-held moral principles to examine the individual moral repercussions of global population issues

Part of the book series: SpringerBriefs in Public Health (BRIEFSPUBLIC)

Part of the book sub series: SpringerBriefs in Public Health Ethics (BRIEFSPUHEAET)

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Table of contents (5 chapters)


About this book

This thought-provoking treatise argues that current human fertility rates are fueling a public health crisis that is at once local and global. Its analysis and data summarize the ecological costs of having children, presenting ethical dilemmas for prospective parents in an era of competition for scarce resources, huge disparities of wealth and poverty, and unsustainable practices putting irreparable stress on the planet. Questions of individual responsibility and integrity as well as personal moral and procreative issues are examined carefully against larger and more long-range concerns. The author’s assertion that even modest efforts toward reducing global fertility rates would help curb carbon emissions, slow rising global temperatures, and forestall large-scale climate disaster is well reasoned and more than plausible.

Among the topics covered: 

·         The multiplier effect: food, water, energy, and climate.

·         The role of population in mitigating climate change.

·         The carbon legacy of procreation.

·         Obligations to our possible children.

·         Rights, what is right, and the right to do wrong.

·         The moral burden to have small families.

Toward a Small Family Ethic sounds a clarion call for bioethics students and working bioethicists. This brief, thought-rich volume steers readers toward challenges that need to be met, and consequences that will need to be addressed if they are not.


“This book remains essential reading for those working on moral issues tied to population growth. Toward a Small Family Ethic presents novel arguments on a vital and underexplored moral issue. Problems tied to population growth will only get worse as the 21st century progresses, so we are fortunate that philosophers like Rieder are getting us started in thinking about this subject.” (Trevor Hedberg, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal,, April, 2018)

“Travis Rieder’s Toward a Small Family Ethic is a concise and significant contribution to a series on critical dilemmas in population health. It is primarily aimed at scholars in public health programs but has relevance to other disciplines such as demography, environmental sciences, ethics, biology, geography, and international studies. … book might even be helpful for those who want to weigh their decision about procreation most thoughtfully, not just intellectually but personally ‘Family’ is a serious decision at every scale.” (Johanne Sanschagrin, Canadian Studies in Population, Vol. 44 (1-2), 2017) 

“This book delves into our moral obligations regarding population growth in the ongoing environmental crisis of climate change. … This book is written from the perspective of philosophy for educated readers interested in public health, the environment, and morality. Students and practitioners of public health would find this book enlightening.” (Jaime Konerman-Sease, Doody's Book Reviews, November, 2016)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA

    Travis N. Rieder

About the author

Travis N. Rieder, PhD, is a research scholar at Johns Hopkins' Berman Institute of Bioethics, where he also directs the Master of Bioethics program.  Much of Travis's research is in the general area of procreative ethics, particularly concerning the morality of procreating in the era of climate change.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Toward a Small Family Ethic

  • Book Subtitle: How Overpopulation and Climate Change Are Affecting the Morality of Procreation

  • Authors: Travis N. Rieder

  • Series Title: SpringerBriefs in Public Health

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Springer Cham

  • eBook Packages: Medicine, Medicine (R0)

  • Copyright Information: Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2016

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-319-33869-9Published: 01 July 2016

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-319-33871-2Published: 23 June 2016

  • Series ISSN: 2192-3698

  • Series E-ISSN: 2192-3701

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: X, 68

  • Topics: Public Health, Theory of Medicine/Bioethics, Ethics, Demography

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