Saturday 30 October, 6.15pm until 7.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery
Contemporary fears about climate change have brought historical concerns about global population numbers back onto the agenda. There has been much discussion about the need for lifestyle change, particularly in the Western world, to reduce the amount we consume. But a growing number of voices argue that this skirts around an equally important consideration: the need to reduce the absolute number of ‘carbon footprints’ left on the planet. With the global population set to reach seven billion in a few years time, some argue we are heading for a crisis, as food supplies and energy sources wane in the face of increasing demand.
On the other hand, it is pointed out that similar arguments have been made throughout history – most notably by Thomas Malthus – and have been proven wrong, as development and human ingenuity have solved the problems posed by apparently natural limits. Critics object to the way more people are seen as a burden on the planet, rather than a source of creativity. Moreover, the world population is growing in the developing world rather than the richer countries, and there is a concern that population reduction arguments might be tainted with racist undertones.
The Optimum Population Trust produces calculations to show how reducing population levels will ameliorate the environmental and social crises provoked by growing numbers of people. Others argue controlling population has immediate benefits – to women, who in some parts of the world lack access to modern contraception; and to families on low incomes struggling to support the children they already have. Some family planning organisations have brought the environmental argument together with the arguments for reproductive choice, claiming the number of ‘births averted’ through abortion is a boon. But what – if any - is the link between individuals’ reproductive choices and the state of the natural environment? Is it irresponsible for people to have large numbers of children in the knowledge they will consume more resources? Is there anything wrong with promoting voluntary strategies for limiting family size?
Listen to session audio:
chairman, Optimum Population Trust
editor, spiked; author, Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas
chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service
In the years after Cairo, population issues essentially fell off the international agenda. Now that is beginning to changeCatholics for Choice, Conscience, 2010
The Chinese policy of birth control has reduced the number of children with some alarming consequences. State control of reproduction is both wrong and ineffectiveThe Times, 12 September 2010
We have met the enemy, and in our ever-growing, voracious multitudes, it is us! We have nine billion -- or is it 12? -- things to start talking about, asap.David Katz, Huffington Post, 1 September 2010
Politicians of western countries avoid talking about population control, but if we invest in family planning we might just save our planet.Mary Fitzgerald, New Statesman, 31 August 2010
The Royal Society’s two-year study of population seems to have already decided that there are ‘too many people’.Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 19 July 2010
There are too many humans and disease may restore the balance, the actor claimsAmy Turner, The Times, 24 May 2010
Brendan O’Neill says that the state’s cruel and antiquated one-child policy is being propped up by British environmentalists with an agenda — but the Chinese are striking backBrendan O'Neill, Spectator, 20 May 2010
Since 200 AD, scaremongers have been describing human beings as ‘burdensome to the world’. They were wrong then, and they’re still wrong today.Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 20 November 2009
‘Can you name a single environmental problem that would not be easier to solve with fewer people, and doesn’t get harder –- and ultimately impossible –- to solve with ever more?’Roger Martin, Reuters, 17 October 2009
An Optimum Population Trust BriefingCarter Dillard, Optimum Population Trust, 2 July 2008
The most ominous reality of 21st-century life may be the fall in human birth rates almost everywhere in the worldJeff Jacoby, International Herald Tribune, 23 June 2008
World population growth—and how to slow it—continues to be a subject of great controversy. The planet's poorest nations have yet to find effective ways to check their population increase—at least without restricting citizens' rights and violating such traditions as the custom of having large families as insurance in old age.Time, 25 October 1977
The art of criticism: judgement in crisis?
"As ever, the Battle of Ideas is full of stimulating and lively argument. It's fun to be able to clash robustly in a good-humoured atmosphere."
Martin Wright, Editor in chief, Green Futures