Population Matters

Population and Ethics colloquium

Population and Ethics colloquium

‘Population and Ethics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Birth and Death’

Cumberland Lodge, Monday, 26 September 2016 — 9:00am to 9:00pm

Undoubtedly, many of the most pressing challenges of our age relate to changes in human population.

Yet these questions receive little attention from academics, and public debate is often led by unconsidered opinion and ideological divides about the ethics of birth and death.

Many of the most pressing challenges of our age relate to changes in human populationThis presents opportunities for interdisciplinary researchers to break new ground and make significant contributions to contemporary policy decisions.

A one-day colloquium taking place at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor, UK, this September will bring together scholars who can combine ethical analysis and scientific rigour to address these challenges head on, and to forge new lines of academic inquiry.

Researchers from philosophy and the social sciences, as well as practitioners and policy makers, will share their knowledge and concerns, learn from one another, and forge collaborative relationships.

This will not simply be a conference for the paper givers, but an opportunity for open and honest debate of challenging issues and fundamental questions.

Key themes of the colloquium will include:

  • The morality of birth: why do people decide to have children, and what role can, and should, morality play in such decisions?
  • The changing shape of society: how are large-scale demographic changes, such as growing life expectancy and shrinking family sizes, changing the dynamics of our lives, and how should society respond to this?
  • Human populations and the environment: how do growing human populations interact with other species and what challenges does this raise for our planet?
  • Optimum demographics: what role does population play in economic and social development, and is there such a thing as an optimum population?
Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta
Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta

The colloquium will close with a keynote public lecture entitled ‘Population Ethics and Earth’s Carrying Capacity’, from Population Matters patron Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Emeritus Professor, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Cambridge.

Day attendance at the colloquium is free, and prospective attendees can register online at www.eventbrite.co.uk. Overnight accommodation can be arranged at extra cost, if required.

For enquiries about the event, please contact populationethics@cumberlandlodge.ac.uk.

More information: http://www.cumberlandlodge.ac.uk/populationethics

This article first appeared on the Cumberland Lodge website.

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Population growth hinders Sustainable Development Goals

london_crowd copyWhile the fact that the UK played a leading role in the formulation of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is welcome, the UK Government has done little to establish how to implement the Goals since they came into force on 1 January 2016.

On 8 June, the International Development Committee (IDC) launched its report on the UK implementation of the SDGs.

Following this, the Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into their domestic implementation.

Our submission to this inquiry aims to draw attention to the fact that, regardless of which route is chosen to implement all SDGs successfully by 2030, population growth will make achieving this goal more difficult and more expensive.

The reason for this is simple: the SDGs must be delivered for each individual in society. The more people there are, the more will have to happen to achieve that.

The UK already faces serious population-related challenges, and these cannot be ignored.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals.
(Image source: UN)

Many challenges — housing scarcity, strain on education and health care facilities, and child poverty, for example — must be overcome in order to call the implementation of the SDGs a success. Yet, population growth will exacerbate these challenges.

Consequently, we believe that population growth should no longer be approached as a fixed premise.

This means that the Government should start promoting policies that aim at population stabilisation.

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WINGS for a better life

Fabiola and her son. (Photo credit: www.wingsguate.org)
Fabiola and her son. (Photo credit: WINGS)

Like many 21-year-old women in Guatemala, Fabiola was unaware of the existence and possibilities of birth control. Consequently, she had given birth to her first child at the tender age of 18.

A second child had followed a year later, and not long thereafter a third had been added to the family.

While Fabiola loves motherhood and her children, she is worried about the future.

“I can’t afford to provide my children with everything I’d like to give them, and when they get sick, I can’t sleep because I’m worried about their well-being.”

Having grown up in a family of seven children, Fabiola always had to help her mother to keep the household running. She was in charge of the house and took care of her siblings, even though she was a child herself at the time.

Despite a strong fear that her community would judge her for using birth control, Fabiola knew that she did not want a similar future for her sons.

WINGS enables women to take control of their own fertility
(Photo credit: WINGS)

WINGS, an organisation supported by Population Matters’ initiative ‘PopOffsets’, encourages women to use long-acting reversible contraceptives. They were there for Fabiola when she needed help and guidance in choosing the right anticonception method for her and her family.

After discussing all the options available to her, Fabiola picked a subdermal hormonal implant that will give her five years of protection.

Grateful for the support, she noted that she can now dedicate her time to raising her children without having to worry about extra mouths to feed. As she does not have enough money to pay for the implant, the project managed to help her free of charge.

We are delighted to see that funding of small-scale family planning projects has the power to transform lives for the better. What seems like a small change for some, is a huge step for others.

PopOffsets helps to support the work of WINGS and many other similar initiativesCurrently, more than 225 million women worldwide wish to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern family planning methods. Initiatives like PopOffsets can do much to reduce that number.

This is why we invite you to visit the project’s web-page, and to consider supporting it.

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New clothing range

New Population Matters organic clothing rangeWe are incredibly excited to announce the launch of our new clothing range and online store, powered by Teemill. We offer a wide variety of great printed t-shirts, sweats and accessories.

All of our items are ethically made from certified 100 per cent organic cotton — more comfortable and better for the environment than non-organic cotton. They are made sustainably in a wind-powered factory, further minimising environmental impact.

We offer next day UK delivery with free delivery on orders over £50.

You can see the new range at populationmatters.teemill.co.uk.

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Population growth drives migration

Sometimes a person has no choice but to leave home and seek a more bearable life elsewhereMigration is a global phenomenon of increasing scale and concern, and is addressed in our latest briefing.

The ongoing “migration crisis” in the European Union and the United Kingdom has affected every corner of society, raising a number of uncomfortable issues.

Migration is defined as the movement of people that involves change of residence from one place to another and impacts the structure, composition and growth of a country. About one in seven people worldwide are identified as international or internal migrants, a record level.

People leave their home for diverse reasons, and sometimes have little choice — for example, as a consequence of disease, conflict or natural disasters. These are, in turn, a result of pressure on the environment from high human population growth or density, and from overconsumption of natural resources, leading to poverty and low living standards.

To alleviate poverty and improve people’s living standards, which will in turn reduce migratory pressure, Population Matters promotes moderating population growth.

Population Matters believes that improving living standards through limiting population growth will enhance opportunities for every individual.

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Universal basic income could improve sustainability

UBI could be significantly more sustainable than current welfare systems (Photo credit: Bank of England)Universal basic income (UBI) means replacing means-tested benefits with an unconditional regular payment that everyone, rich or poor, receives. While there are risks, UBI has the potential to be significantly more sustainable than current welfare systems, largely due to its ability to combat poverty.

This is the conclusion of our new briefing paper, which looks at the sustainability of implementing UBI in the UK.

While there are obvious important moral reasons to address poverty, poverty is also a significant problem from a sustainability perspective. There are three reasons for this: the first is that poverty tends to cause increased population growth. The second is that even though those in poverty consume less, a great deal of resources are often required to cover the costs of poverty; child poverty in the UK, for instance, is estimated to have cost the government £29 billion. The third reason is that poverty motivates governments to pursue an unsustainable perpetual economic growth as a tool to fight poverty, resulting in long-term environmental degradation.

The main strength of UBI is its ability to combat poverty more effectively than conditional welfare. For instance, conditional welfare perversely incentivises some on welfare to not seek work, because working more would mean benefit withdrawal. UBI, by contrast, allows workers to keep all of their basic income no matter what they earn.

UBI can combat poverty more effectively than conditional welfareFurthermore, UBI would significantly increase the bargaining position of low-paid workers: instead of being forced to take the first job they can find, they could look around for better-paid work.

In one of the few basic income pilots that has been performed, in Manitoba, Canada, it has indeed been found that UBI appeared to have a significant effect in reducing poverty.

Some worry that UBI will be prohibitively expensive to implement on the required scale. While this is a concern, the RSA has published a basic income plan for the UK that would have a net cost of only one per cent of GDP — a cost which is not at all unprecedented for social spending.

UBI is no panacea, however — it does have its problems: many worry that UBI will lead to a significant decrease in the amount people are willing to work, and it is difficult to know the seriousness of this concern based on current evidence. Others worry that UBI may precipitate dangerous flows of migration, and hence it is crucial that if UBI is implemented, it is done so in conjunction with well-constructed migration policies.

These concerns are valid, and there is certainly a need for more evidence. Hopefully some of this will come from the upcoming basic income experiment in Finland.

Nonetheless, UBI may be an invaluable tool for combatting poverty and moving towards a more sustainable society.

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Population and food security

‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.’ The world set itself a considerable challenge in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Population stabilisation is a key component of improving food securityCurrently, one in nine of the world’s population is chronically undernourished and, given that population is projected to grow significantly in upcoming years, much must change before hunger can be successfully and sustainably eradicated.

Our new briefing examines food demand and food security. The UK is affluent enough to guarantee food security for its population for now, yet it will not be able to do this indefinitely, due to its reliance on other countries for much of its food. The problem of food security is, by definition, a global problem. Global challenges, including climate change, environmental degradation and water scarcity, will affect the UK.

Though there are, in theory, many opportunities to improve food security across the globe, not all of these are viable in practice. Many opportunities, such as the expansion of crop land, intensify other challenges such as climate change or environmental degradation.

Moreover, it may be impossible to realise such opportunities in densely populated areas, due to a lack of space and competition with the building sector. Population growth will make these conflicts more prevalent, and consequently it is necessary that governments across the globe consider population stabilisation as a key component of improving food security.

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Why family size varies

Our new briefing examines the factors that influence family sizeThe main factors which influence disparity in family size in England and Wales are societal views on parenthood, gender relations, government policy, stereotypes about only children, the cost of raising children, social class/deprivation and mother’s country of birth.

This is the conclusion of Population Matters’ latest briefing paper, which examines family size in England and Wales and the reasons why family size differs.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 82 per cent of women who have completed their families in England and Wales have children, the majority have two or more, women are now as likely to be childless as to have three children, and one in every ten women has four or more children.

The briefing paper finds that culture and societal views on the importance of parenthood, including cultural views from parents’ countries of birth, seem to be the key drivers which encourage families to have children. Government failure to provide adequate family planning and SRE also plays an important role in why only one in five women in England and Wales do not have children, as this leads to unintended pregnancies, which make up one in six of all pregnancies in England and Wales.

Remarkably persistent negative stereotypes about the harmful effects of being an only child are an important reason why so many parents have more than one child. Religion and culture also tend to encourage people to have as many children as they can afford. However, considering the currently-staggering costs of raising children, which can now be over a quarter of million pounds, this is unlikely to be more than two children for most families. Government policy on child benefit affects how affordable children are, and thus also affects family size.

More women are pursuing higher education and entering the labour forceGender relations are another key factor in women’s decisions about how many children to have. Improving gender equality in England and Wales means that more women are pursuing higher education and entering the labour force, which means they are increasingly delaying childbirth, or indeed forgoing having children altogether, which leads to smaller families.

Overall, the total fertility rate in England and Wales has been falling, and continues to do so, driven by changing gender relations, perceptions on parenthood and, to a lesser extent, cost. More people are choosing to be childfree or to have only one child, and the number of people with larger families of three or more children is in decline.

Despite this, population in the UK as a whole is still increasing and is expected to rise by approximately 12 million people by 2050. In order to reduce this population growth, society must address the outlined factors that encourage people to have large families.

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Population & the world, 1991-2006

Population Matters was founded in 1991 to inform and educate about the dangers of unsustainable population growthThe Optimum Population Trust, now known as Population Matters, was founded in 1991 with the goal of informing and educating about the dangers posed by unsustainable population growth.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the organization, Population Matters has published a briefing paper which examines the changes that have occurred in the world since 1991 in terms of technology, demography, resource consumption and biodiversity.

There have been many societal changes in the 25 years since the organization’s inception, with rapid technological advancements, such as the development of the internet, the uptake in use of mobile phones and the rise of social media, dramatically altering the way we live.

Over the same time period, global population levels have increased by approximately two billion people, driven by high fertility rates and longer life expectancy.

Unfortunately, this increase in population levels has been accompanied by significant environmental damage. Consumption of natural resources has increased correspondingly, leading to deforestation, loss of arable land, significant declines in animal, plant and fish species, and huge increases in carbon emissions.

More people need more space and resources, meaning ever-more devastation for the planetThe briefing concludes that, given that global population levels are expected to increase by one billion to eight billion by 2030, and to 11 billion by 2100, demand for resources will continue to increase, likely causing even greater environmental damage.

To prevent this from happening, policymakers must learn from their mistakes and commit to confronting rapid population growth by making family planning services available to all, ensuring that girls around the world receive an education, and promoting smaller families.

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