Population control or population justice?

June 25, 2012

Over at the National Radio Project, another amazing example of independent media with a social conscience, there is a fascinating audio segment on the question of population control within the context of environmental sustainability (Population Control or Population Justice?).

It is (one hopes) becoming increasingly clear that limitless economic expansion is not possible on a planet of finite resources and that if environmental catastrophe is to be avoided human societies need to radically overhaul their economies and abandon the fixation on economic growth. Hence the increasing interest in the concept of de-growth among ecologically oriented economists, people like Herman Daly and Tim Jackson, who search for the ways in which societies can achieve prosperity without growth.

However, any serious attempts to achieve sustainability through  de-growth must confront the question of the exploding human population (currently about 7 billion and projected to reach 10 – 16 billion by the end of the century). It’s hard to imagine much de-growth taking place even given a stable population, especially with an enormous and relatively affluent middle class just beginning to emerge in countries like China and India. However, with a human population that could very well double in size in the course of this century, de-growth is virtually impossible. Hence the need to take seriously the idea of controlling and perhaps reducing the human population.

But how should one balance the urgent environmental need for population control against women’s reproductive rights? And does the focus on reducing the fertility of women of color deflect attention away from the real engines of environmental destruction? This Radio Project broadcast provides an excellent overview of some of the perspectives and debates on this issue.  

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