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The great population debate: too many carbon footprints?

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Uploaded on Mar 18, 2011

Battle of Ideas 2010, Royal College of Art, London

Speakers:

Roger Martin, chairman, Optimum Population Trust

Brendan O'Neill, editor, spiked; author, Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas

Chair: Ann Furedi, chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Blurb:

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?

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