Population Change and Its Impact on the Environment, Society and Economy

A special issue of World (ISSN 2673-4060).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 May 2023) | Viewed by 119377

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia 4072, Australia
Interests: demographic change; environment and development interactions

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Guest Editor
Population Institute, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Interests: reproductive rights; population dynamics; environmental sustainability; climate change adaptation and mitigation

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

A world with eight billion humans is an unprecedented global phenomenon with profound implications for environmental stability, biodiversity, human societies, and political economies. Yet, the nature and extent of these implications is highly contentious, both in public debate and the scientific literature. Even more contentious is the question of what, if anything, should be done in response. The false assumption that interventions are inherently antagonistic rather than synergistic for enhancing the reproductive health and rights of women has rendered the topic almost taboo in the ecological and development literature. Some demographers are already focused on population contraction and ageing as emerging challenges for this century. Yet, the anticipation of peak humanity might seem premature as the many challenges of accommodating eight to twelve billion people while enduring climate change, resource depletion, and biodiversity loss remain daunting.

What is at stake for high-fertility countries whose future population might be between two and five times its current level, depending on the steps taken in the next decade? Should low-fertility countries seek to boost birth rates or is an older age profile a small price to pay for lessening future resource constraints and greenhouse gas emissions? In both situations, economic, political and environmental considerations are too rarely considered in tandem.

This Special Issue aims to collate perspectives from a range of disciplines and geographic zones on the interactions between environmental, social, and economic impacts of population change. The volume particularly aims to examine potential policies that might be implemented to address population change and their likely impacts, seeking to build a more holistic understanding of policy options.

In this Special Issue, we encourage the submission of original research articles, reviews, case studies, conceptual papers, and short communications targeting any of the above areas. Topics may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • The relationship between population growth and challenges to development, including food and water security, economic betterment, social stability, and governance;
  • The contribution of population growth to the deterioration of any environmental attribute or planetary boundary, at a local, regional, or global scale;
  • Analysing causal influences between demographic change and its potential drivers and/or impacts;
  • Effects of population policy interventions on demographic change and/or other areas of impact such as health, gender equity, fiscal sustainability or political stability;
  • Challenges and benefits of population decline;
  • Resource depletion and/or pollution and the implications for Earth's carrying capacity.

We look forward to receiving your contributions.

Dr. Jane Nancy O'Sullivan
Dr. Céline Delacroix
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. World is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • population growth
  • demographic change
  • family planning
  • reproductive health
  • contraception
  • demographic dividend
  • resource limits
  • overpopulation
  • earth overshoot
  • biodiversity
  • food security
  • water security
  • energy security
  • planetary boundaries
  • ecological footprint
  • climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • environmental sustainability

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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18 pages, 422 KiB  
Article
Documenting the Perspectives of Sub-Saharan African Policy Makers, Researchers, and Activists on the Reproductive Rights, Population Dynamics, and Environmental Sustainability Nexus
by Céline Delacroix and Nkechi S. Owoo
World 2023, 4(4), 758-775; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4040048 - 20 Nov 2023
Viewed by 1446
Abstract
While high fertility levels in sub-Saharan Africa pose multiple challenges for economic, social, and environmental prospects, the perspectives of actors from this region have not been well documented. We offer a selection of viewpoints from 42 countries in sub-Saharan Africa along four main [...] Read more.
While high fertility levels in sub-Saharan Africa pose multiple challenges for economic, social, and environmental prospects, the perspectives of actors from this region have not been well documented. We offer a selection of viewpoints from 42 countries in sub-Saharan Africa along four main dimensions: perceptions of the role of population growth for broader societal implications; the representation of sub-Saharan Africa in discussions of population growth; the integration of population dynamics and reproductive health and rights in environmental considerations and instruments; and the sensitive nature of the topic of population growth. A mixed-methods qualitative project was conducted, using an online survey of 402 participants followed by 18 in-depth interviews, to collect the views of policy makers, researchers, and activists in sub-Saharan Africa. We find overwhelming agreement that population growth has negative implications for environmental sustainability and other social welfare outcomes. We find broad support for the integration of population dynamics and reproductive health and rights dimensions at international environmental meetings and in environmental sustainability instruments. Participants also stressed the under-representation of sub-Saharan Africa in discussions of population dynamics and in international environmental governance. Overall, this paper contributes to a better understanding of sub-Saharan African perspectives and attitudes on the interconnectedness of reproductive health, population dynamics, and environmental sustainability. Full article
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12 pages, 1771 KiB  
Article
Where Are the Demographic Dividends in Sub-Saharan Africa?
by Michel Garenne
World 2023, 4(3), 612-623; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4030038 - 20 Sep 2023
Viewed by 1528
Abstract
This paper reviews the concept of the demographic dividend and the empirical evidence therefor. The demographic dividend is mainly the result of fertility decline (lower number of births, lower population growth) which translates into a population age structure with a larger work force [...] Read more.
This paper reviews the concept of the demographic dividend and the empirical evidence therefor. The demographic dividend is mainly the result of fertility decline (lower number of births, lower population growth) which translates into a population age structure with a larger work force (age 15–64) and a smaller proportion of children (age 0–14), together with initially few elderly persons (age 65+). In turn, this favors economic growth, but it also has many consequences for households and for state budgets, as well as long-term consequences for population size and the environment. The first part of this paper shows the small correlations at the national macro-economic level between dependency ratios and economic growth. The second part shows the strong correlations at the household level between levels of fertility, child mortality and modern education. The third part discusses the many other correlates of the demographic dividend. The often-cited and controversial focus of the demographic dividend on economic growth hides many other positive effects of fertility control on households, on state budgets, and, in the long-run, on societies and the environment. Full article
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24 pages, 4521 KiB  
Article
Demographic Delusions: World Population Growth Is Exceeding Most Projections and Jeopardising Scenarios for Sustainable Futures
by Jane N. O’Sullivan
World 2023, 4(3), 545-568; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4030034 - 06 Sep 2023
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 7881
Abstract
The size of the world’s population has profound implications for demand for food, energy and resources, land use change and greenhouse gas emissions. This study examines why most population projections have underestimated world population growth, and the implications for actions required to achieve [...] Read more.
The size of the world’s population has profound implications for demand for food, energy and resources, land use change and greenhouse gas emissions. This study examines why most population projections have underestimated world population growth, and the implications for actions required to achieve sustainable societies. The main determinant of future population is family size choices. Population projections by different research groups embed different assumptions about drivers of fertility decline. The common assumptions that fertility decline is driven by economic betterment, urbanisation or education levels are not well supported in historical evidence. In contrast, voluntary family planning provision and promotion achieved rapid fertility decline, even in poor, rural and illiterate communities. Projections based on education and income as drivers of fertility decline ignore the reverse causation, that lowering fertility through family planning interventions enabled economic advancement and improved women’s education access. In recent decades, support for family planning has waned, and global fertility decline has decelerated as a result. Projections calibrated across the decades of strong family planning support have not acknowledged this change and are consequently underestimating global population growth. Scenarios used to model sustainable futures have used overly optimistic population projections while inferring these outcomes will happen without targeted measures to bring them about. Unless political will is rapidly restored for voluntary family planning programs, the global population will almost certainly exceed 10 billion, rendering sustainable food security and a safe climate unachievable. Full article
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19 pages, 797 KiB  
Article
The Human Ecology of Overshoot: Why a Major ‘Population Correction’ Is Inevitable
by William E. Rees
World 2023, 4(3), 509-527; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4030032 - 11 Aug 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 82951
Abstract
Homo sapiens has evolved to reproduce exponentially, expand geographically, and consume all available resources. For most of humanity’s evolutionary history, such expansionist tendencies have been countered by negative feedback. However, the scientific revolution and the use of fossil fuels reduced many forms of [...] Read more.
Homo sapiens has evolved to reproduce exponentially, expand geographically, and consume all available resources. For most of humanity’s evolutionary history, such expansionist tendencies have been countered by negative feedback. However, the scientific revolution and the use of fossil fuels reduced many forms of negative feedback, enabling us to realize our full potential for exponential growth. This natural capacity is being reinforced by growth-oriented neoliberal economics—nurture complements nature. Problem: the human enterprise is a ‘dissipative structure’ and sub-system of the ecosphere—it can grow and maintain itself only by consuming and dissipating available energy and resources extracted from its host system, the ecosphere, and discharging waste back into its host. The population increase from one to eight billion, and >100-fold expansion of real GWP in just two centuries on a finite planet, has thus propelled modern techno-industrial society into a state of advanced overshoot. We are consuming and polluting the biophysical basis of our own existence. Climate change is the best-known symptom of overshoot, but mainstream ‘solutions’ will actually accelerate climate disruption and worsen overshoot. Humanity is exhibiting the characteristic dynamics of a one-off population boom–bust cycle. The global economy will inevitably contract and humanity will suffer a major population ‘correction’ in this century. Full article
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10 pages, 240 KiB  
Article
How 21st Century Population Issues and Policies Differ from Those of the 20th Century
by Jack A. Goldstone and John F. May
World 2023, 4(3), 467-476; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4030029 - 26 Jul 2023
Viewed by 2586
Abstract
Population issues and population policies have evolved considerably between the 20th and the 21st centuries. In the 1970s, most countries confronted rapid population growth, and this situation was particularly severe in Asia. Today, on the contrary, more than half of the world population [...] Read more.
Population issues and population policies have evolved considerably between the 20th and the 21st centuries. In the 1970s, most countries confronted rapid population growth, and this situation was particularly severe in Asia. Today, on the contrary, more than half of the world population is experiencing low fertility and population aging, and several countries with very low fertility are facing the prospect of depopulation. Only one region, i.e., sub-Saharan Africa, still experiences high fertility levels. Similarly, the discussions about whether and how to intervene on population trends have also evolved over the past 70 years. Demographically focused approaches to family planning provision were dominant views in the second half of the 20th century. However, since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, international population policy paradigms have been reframed to stress the freedom of couples and the reproductive rights of individuals. Consequently, policy interventions have favored client-focused and gender-sensitive approaches. Finally, to help chart the way forward, population policies will need to consider several key elements, broadening from a focus on support for family planning to an array of policy instruments including health, education, and culture, all of which shape future populations. This new policy framework includes the prioritization of interventions, policy consensus building, the selection of priority constituencies, the institutionalization and funding of policies, and the promotion of evidence-based and research-driven policies. In addition, in order to adapt their interventions to local contexts, population policies will need to be holistic, to promote integrated interventions, and to align with international development frameworks. Full article

Review

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14 pages, 956 KiB  
Review
World Population Growth: A Once and Future Global Concern
by Karl-Erik Norrman
World 2023, 4(4), 684-697; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4040043 - 24 Oct 2023
Viewed by 3412
Abstract
The challenge posed by global population growth has been clear to most scientists since at least the 1950s. In the 1970s, it became conventional wisdom that “the population explosion” constituted a threat to humanity and to sound social, economic and ecological development. This [...] Read more.
The challenge posed by global population growth has been clear to most scientists since at least the 1950s. In the 1970s, it became conventional wisdom that “the population explosion” constituted a threat to humanity and to sound social, economic and ecological development. This conviction was clearly demonstrated at UN conferences on the environment (1972) and population (1974). It was also confirmed in the important UN report Our Common Future, presented by the Brundtland Commission in 1987. Since the 1990s, international interest in population issues has decreased dramatically and has even become a taboo in certain academic and political discourses. This paper will try to analyze some of the reasons for these changes in attitudes and will present proposals on how to push the population issue back on to the international agenda. Full article
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9 pages, 249 KiB  
Review
Scientists’ Warning: Remove the Barriers to Contraception Access, for Health of Women and the Planet
by Jan Greguš and John Guillebaud
World 2023, 4(3), 589-597; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4030036 - 11 Sep 2023
Viewed by 3596
Abstract
The human population reached 8 billion in 2022 and is still growing, and will possibly peak at 10.4 billion in 2086. Environmental science mandates that continued growth of the human enterprise on a finite planet is unsustainable and already in overshoot. Indeed, 3 [...] Read more.
The human population reached 8 billion in 2022 and is still growing, and will possibly peak at 10.4 billion in 2086. Environmental science mandates that continued growth of the human enterprise on a finite planet is unsustainable and already in overshoot. Indeed, 3 billion is an evidence-based target number, for our species in competition with all non-human life-forms. We must achieve zero population growth and, ultimately, a massive decrease. Commonly, even among environmentalists who are not “population-deniers”, human numbers are seen as a given, to be adapted to rather than influenced or managed. Yet, just and appropriate interventions exist. The fundamental requirement is the empowerment of women, removing the barriers in many settings to their education (including environmental education, and the reproductive ethics of smaller families) and to realistic, voluntary access to contraception. Wherever “reproductive health” includes access to rights-based family planning, this not only promotes the health of the planet but also women’s health through, inter alia, their choice to have fewer and better-spaced children. This is ethical, pragmatic, and cost-effective—a prime example of preventive medicine. Politicians (mostly men) everywhere must embrace this long-term thinking and significantly increase the currently inadequate funding of contraceptive care. Herein is another Scientists’ Warning: there is just one planet for all life. Full article
29 pages, 2028 KiB  
Review
Advancing the Welfare of People and the Planet with a Common Agenda for Reproductive Justice, Population, and the Environment
by J. Joseph Speidel and Jane N. O’Sullivan
World 2023, 4(2), 259-287; https://doi.org/10.3390/world4020018 - 06 May 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 4225
Abstract
Driven by increasing consumption and population numbers, human demands are depleting natural resources essential to support human life, causing damage to crop lands, fresh water supplies, fisheries, and forests, and driving climate change. Within this century, world population could increase by as little [...] Read more.
Driven by increasing consumption and population numbers, human demands are depleting natural resources essential to support human life, causing damage to crop lands, fresh water supplies, fisheries, and forests, and driving climate change. Within this century, world population could increase by as little as 15% or by more than 50%, depending largely on how we respond. We must face the challenge of accommodating these additional people at the same time as virtually eliminating the use of fossil fuels and other activities that generate greenhouse gases, reversing environmental degradation and supporting improved living standards for billions of impoverished people. The response to this challenge is handicapped by a lack of common understanding and an integrated agenda among those contributing to the response. This report offers a strategy to protect natural systems and improve welfare through expansion of reproductive justice, a concept that includes family planning, reproductive health, and gender equity, and preservation of the environment and climate. Full article
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19 pages, 673 KiB  
Review
Discussing the Silence and Denial around Population Growth and Its Environmental Impact. How Do We Find Ways Forward?
by Haydn Washington and Helen Kopnina
World 2022, 3(4), 1009-1027; https://doi.org/10.3390/world3040057 - 02 Dec 2022
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 8905
Abstract
Academia and government often ignore or deny the impact of population growth on the environment. However, key scientific institutions and reports confirm that population growth is a major driver of climate disruption and other environmental crises. We review the environmental science of population [...] Read more.
Academia and government often ignore or deny the impact of population growth on the environment. However, key scientific institutions and reports confirm that population growth is a major driver of climate disruption and other environmental crises. We review the environmental science of population growth. Issues that block dialogue are discussed, such as growthism, anthropocentrism, denial, religious and cultural taboos, fear of being called a racist, the issue of rights claims, seeking political power through numbers, the framing of social justice issues, and sophistical claims regarding ‘racism’. We examine examples of denial about population in academia and government. We explore ways forward to gain dialogue, and we also consider success stories. We conclude that population growth, like overconsumption, must be foregrounded to create ecologocally sustainable economies and a sustainable future. Full article
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