People’s Rights Planet’s Rights

Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population

By Suzanne York, Institute for Population Studies, December 2012

PeopleAndPlanetRightsThis report will cover: the rights of women, youth, and nature, and the need to look at economic growth in a different light.


Human population numbers have been fodder for discussion since ancient times. Aristotle, Confucius, Machiavelli and many others expressed concern about increases in population.

In more contemporary times, the Reverend Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth would be checked by world hunger, famine, and malnutrition. However, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of fossil fuels usage proved many of his theories wrong.

More recently, in the late 1960s, Dr. Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb echoed similar concerns, though the Green Revolution put off the day of reckoning that Ehrlich feared. Interestingly, Norman Borlaug, the “father” of the Green Revolution, noted that this effort would only buy humanity a little bit of time.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won in 1970, Borlaug said “Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the ‘Population Monster’.” The  New York Times wrote that he was frustrated throughout his life that governments did not do more to tackle population growth by lowering birth rates, and at one point said “If the world population continues to increase at the same rate, we will destroy the species.”

Today the number of humans on Earth number over 7 billion. The mid-range United Nations population projection is for 9.3 billion people by 2050. However, just an average of one half fewer children per woman would reduce that number to 8 billion, with positive effects on health, education, food, water and resource availability.

UN Population

There are approaches we can take – all grounded in fairness, equality, and rights – that can make a difference in balancing population growth and the health of the planet. It goes beyond numbers and requires a holistic, rights-based approach to talking about population and producing positive changes. Calling it the ‘Population Monster’ or population control won’t direct the conversation where it needs to be.

The bottom line is there will remain billions of people on the planet, barring any major catastrophes, for the rest of this century and far beyond.  Finger pointing, denying rights, myopic thinking, and the like will not improve lives or the environment. Global society is confronted by a range of serious ecological, economic, and social issues that require a systemic and holistic path. We are all in this together; let’s take an inclusive approach, look closely at how lives may
be improved, and put the political and moral will behind doing so.

Read full report at:  People’s Rights Planet’s Rights – Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population