S. J. Beard, Partha Dasgupta and Natalie Jones have co-edited a special section in The Journal of Development Studies on population ethics and 21st-century demography. The papers in this section seek to break out of stale debates and false dichotomies in the field of population ethics by bringing together demographic and philosophical perspectives on population change and its relationship to global risk.
Below are the individual papers in the special section:
The Toxification of Population Discourse. A Genealogical Study by Diana Coole
During the 1960s and 70s, reducing human numbers was embraced as integral to radical social transformation. Subsequently such neoMalthusian prescriptions became so toxic, they disappeared from the political agenda. Only recently has the issue resurfaced. This article suggests it is worthwhile revisiting the population question but recognises that the reasons for its becoming taboo need first to be understood and reassessed. This is the aim of the critical analysis undertaken here. It identifies 1974–1994 as the crucial period when hostility to population policies developed. It asks why progressive thinkers turned against policies for reducing fertility rates and how a goal of stabilising human numbers became internationally reviled. Its approach is genealogical; that is, it focuses on changing ideological and geopolitical contexts and on shifting power relations that determined whose voices and interests were heard or silenced. Specifically, the analysis examines paradigm changes associated with the three intergovernmental population and development conferences: at Bucharest (1974), Mexico City (1984) and Cairo (1994), paying particular attention to the rise of neoliberalism, the influence of the cold war, postcolonial tensions and the impact of the Women’s Movement. The article ends by asking whether the prevailing `Cairo consensus’ established in 1994 remains fit for purpose.
Population Ethics for an Imperfect World: Basic Justice, Reasonable Disagreement, and Unavoidable Value Judgements by Elizabeth Cripps
Our collective impact on the environment results from a combination of population, affluence and technology. Human population, 2.6bn in 1950, is predicted to reach 10.9bn by 2100. So much we know. But beyond this starting point questions of population are presented in several ways in normative debate, often with problematic underlying moral assumptions. This paper clarifies and critiques four interconnected claims: (1) the Current Carrying Capacity Claim; (2) the Basic Justice Carrying Capacity Claim; (3) the Optimum Population Claim; and (4) the Population Variable Claim. A moral framework for population policy evaluation is then sketched which promises to avoid the most troubling of these moral critiques, whilst maintaining the valuable elements of (2) and (4). This prioritises the ‘morally basic’ at two levels: in terms of specific policy implications and the broader-level need to remain within the circumstances of global and intergenerational justice. However, it faces up to unavoidable trade-offs between other morally significant criteria. Three significant challenges to filling out the model are outlined, and the need acknowledged, however, problematically, for some global-level judgment call.
Government Transfers to Parents and Population Policy in a Global Perspective: An Economic Demographic Perspective by Martin Kolk
The world is rapidly converging towards lower fertility: in 2020, countries with a total fertility rate of less than 2.25 will encompass more than three-quarters of the world population. This implies that the determinants of childbearing will be increasingly similar in high-income and middle-income regions of the world. In this article, I discuss economic demography in relation to levels of childbearing. How do different societies distribute resources across the life course and between generations, and to what extent is this done through governmental transfers? The extent of such transfers varies considerably between low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries, which I explored through data from the National Transfers Account project. I argue that in low-fertility societies, the extent to which the costs of childrearing are socialised is important for fertility. The extent to which childrearing is socialised will be an important determinant of future fertility levels and, if used as a population policy, offers a straightforward pathway to achieve a desirable population size. As the global fertility decline continues, such policies will be relevant to most societies and a tool for governments to affect fertility levels across many contexts.
Population Ethics and the Prospects for Fertility Policy as Climate Mitigation Policy by Mark Budolfson and Dean Spears
What are the prospects for using population policy as tool to reduce carbon emissions? In this paper, we review evidence from population science, in order to inform debates in population ethics that, so far, have largely taken place within the academic philosophy literature. In particular, we ask whether fertility policy is likely to have a large effect on carbon emissions, and therefore on temperature change. Our answer is no. Prospects for a policy of fertility-reduction-as-climate-mitigation are limited by population momentum, a demographic factor that limits possible variation in the size of the population, even if fertility rates change very quickly. In particular, a hypothetical policy that instantaneously changed fertility and mortality rates to replacement levels would nevertheless result in a population of over 9 billion people in 2060. We use a leading climate-economy model to project the consequence of such a hypothetical policy for climate change. As a standalone mitigation policy, such a hypothetical change in the size of the future population – much too large to be implementable by any foreseeable government programme – would reduce peak temperature change only to 6.4°C, relative to 7.1°C under the most likely population path. Therefore, fertility reduction is unlikely to be an adequate core approach to climate mitigation.