Consumption: the other side of population for development

February 13, 2012 • Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Bill Ryerson for pointing out this recently published article, which appears in the January issue of Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics. Below is the abstract, and you can download the full paper here:

ABSTRACT: World population is growing at an alarming rate, and thus population has become a major topic in sustainable development fora. In these debates, it is often asserted that developing countries with large populations pose a greater world environmental threat than developed countries with smaller populations. Because of this view, developed countries often appeal to developing countries to reduce their population growth. However, it is well known that developed countries have higher levels of consumption than developing countries and that consumption also exerts pressure on the environment. Although awareness of the importance of consumption for development and the recognition of the relationship between population and consumption are increasing, population still takes precedence over consumption as a major concern for sustainability.

Our objective here is to present the importance of consumption vis-à-vis population for development and to discuss their direct linkages. We draw on the work by Vallentyne (1978: Verh Int Verein Limnol 20:1-12; and 1982: Biol Int 5:10-12), and use his ‘demotechnic’ index to combine and inter-relate population and consumption. By doing so, we are able to adjust population by consumption, obtaining estimates that allow fair comparisons of countries in terms of their global environmental stress. The conclusions obtained from the estimates of population adjusted by consumption seriously question the assumption that countries with larger populations pose a greater environmental risk. Sustainable development is premised on a balance between population and consumption within the overall limits imposed by nature. Therefore, it becomes clear that not only population but also consumption have to be reduced if sustainability is to be achieved.

Current World Population


Net Growth During Your Visit