Why is Achieving Zero Population Growth so Important?
Zero Population Growth, Prosperity and Biodiversity
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In Biodiversity Conservation and the Eradication of Poverty[1], one obvious win-win-win solution in eradicating poverty and conserving biodiversity seems to have been overlooked. 

Family planning and contraception, if funded and encouraged with the goal of eventually achieving Zero Population Growth [ZPG] worldwide, will do much in ending poverty and at the same time lessen the demands placed upon natural resources by our species.  Eradicating poverty and creating even larger and more numerous quasi-reserves worldwide can go hand in hand, in at least certain locals.[2] 

          If one studies the success stories of the 20th century from an economic perspective, lower population growth rates [PGRs] tend to complement economic prosperity.[3]  Japan, Korea, Taiwan, just to name a few, are all living examples of how lower birth rates allowed most of the economic expansion taking place over the last few decades to be redistributed among their respective populations, rather than being squandered on a burgeoning population.[4]   

          Should not knowledgeable ecologists and economists openly advocate the wealthiest nations fund and ensure contraception is available to all in need worldwide?   How can one honestly argue that this is not a simple and elegant solution and the one most needed in all too many of the cases of wretched poverty scattered across our homeworld?  Infanticide is also rampant where contraception is unavailable and will remain so until all women have access to birth control.[5]

          By achieving ZPG worldwide, we can end situations such as these. We can end most infanticide, eliminate the source of much poverty and at the same time lessen resource demands placed upon what is left of our world’s biodiversity with one swift stroke.[6]  This is an obvious win-win-win solution for all inhabiting this increasingly ecologically-stressed and overcrowded world.  

          Those in the poorest nations “win” because they no longer will be condemned to have such large families. With the ability to limit their numbers thanks to free contraceptives made available through the UN, individual governments, and concerned NGOs; they can choose to emulate the great success stories of the 20th century.   

`        The poorest 10% of our species has a growth rate of approximately 2.4%. 

The wealthiest 10%, 0.25%. 

Globally, the average is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4%. [7]  

The easiest way to end poverty is to pursue policies, which encourage ZPG among those poorest nations who invariably have the highest PGRs. In almost all situations the more destitute a people, the higher the rate of population growth.  The one glaring exception to this is Russia.  Because of their low replacement rate, however, it is almost guaranteed Russians will achieve a higher rate of prosperity than nations throughout the Muslim, African and Latin world who have the highest PGRs. [8]

          If one wishes to eradicate poverty, then those nations with the highest PGRs should be targeted for contraception.  Whether or not these nations then develop their natural resources in a sane and responsible manner will undoubtedly be decided at another cusp, but less people can invariably translate into less demand placed upon biologically diverse ecosystems.

Those of us who realize why our world’s remaining forests must be conserved for reasons other than biodiversity[9] “win”, because the possibility of developing the equatorial forests of our world in a sane way, ecologically and economically, will become tantalizingly closer in those nations where ZPG is reached.  Saving forests worldwide simply for the sake of biodiversity is no longer the issue.

In order to begin cooling our world as quickly as is feasible, humans should save and rejuvenate forests worldwide.  Reaching a global state of ZPG will allow this scenario [“win”] to become possible all the sooner.  Less people does not only translate roughly into more prosperity, but also lessens the total demand our species makes upon remaining bio-diverse ecosystems, and hastens the day we are no longer distorting the carbon cycle, among others.

ZPG is a win-win-win …win solution.

Whether you’re a Polar Bear or a Penguin or someone in between, the equations are simple.  


William Binder

041119, Freya

Virginia Biatch, VA



[1]  http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5699/1146 

Adams, William A. et al., Biodiversity Conservation and the Eradication of Poverty, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5699, 1146-1149 , 12 November 2004

[2] Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and New Guinea being four primary targets.

[3] http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000F3D47-C6D2-1CEB- 93F6809EC5880000&pageNumber=9&catID=2 

Bogaarts, John, Misleading Math about the Earth; Population Ignoring its impact, Scientific American, Janus, 2002.


The contribution of population growth to poverty. This effect operates through two distinct mechanisms. First, rapid population growth leads to a young population, one in which as much as half is below the age of entry into the labor force. These young people have to be fed, housed, clothed and educated, but they are not productive, thus constraining the economy. Second, rapid population growth creates a huge demand for new jobs. A large number of applicants for a limited number of jobs exerts downward pressure on wages, contributing to poverty and inequality. Unemployment is widespread, and often workers in poor countries earn wages near the subsistence level. Both of these adverse economic effects are reversible by reducing birth rates. With lower birth rates, schools become less crowded, the ratio of dependents to workers declines as does the growth in the number of job seekers. These beneficial demographic effects contributed to the economic "miracles" of several East Asian countries. Of course, such dramatic results are by no means assured and can be realized only in countries with otherwise sound economic policies.

[4] I am willing to concede most Asian economic “tigers” have atrocious environmental records.  Much of this is due to having overpopulated their respective nations with high population densities in the first place, as well as ecological priorities receiving an extremely low rank.  Brazil, the Congo basin nations, and others can still choose a path of prosperity and biodiversity.

[5] http://www.livejournal.com/users/forthright/23153.html Nevertheless, we must recognize that one of the major causes of infanticide worldwide is our unwillingness to provide other population-control options to those in the world's poorest countries. …Eliminating the yoke of religio-moral dogma imposed on them by First World countries whose citizens do not face the same sort of heartbreaking moral choices as they do is an important step towards providing means for poor men and women in the Third World to take control of their own economic situations. I am not in favour of infanticide, but I can certainly understand its causes. These causes, more than anything, are severe economic stress - stress that can be alleviated both through judicious use of international aid and through programs funding contraception and, where necessary, abortion. Until we do so, we must accept part of the responsibility for the nasty and tragic consequences, and thus must at least tolerate infanticide.

[6] This is not to say ZPG will inherently cause bioreserves, simply make their possibility slightly more probable. 

[7] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/302/5648/1172

Cohen, Joel E., Human Population: The Next Half Century, Science, Vol 302, Issue 5648, 1172-1175 , 14 November 2003

[8]   Please compare nations’ population growth rates and average income per capital.  It will become fairly obvious funding ZPG programs will immediately cut off one of poverty’s largest sources.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo for example  http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cg.html  is a prime target for poverty eradication, biodiversity conservation as well as economic investment.  The Republic of the Congo is even moreso.  http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cf.html A tenth the size of its Southerly neighbor, it has a twentieth of the population, and its forests are for the most part intact.  These nations can attract eco-tourists and eventually create prosperity easier than most. 


Let us also compare three up and coming “superpowers”; China, India and Brazil, The average Brazilian makes $7,600 annually compared to their Chinese brethren who makes ~$5,000.   Because China’s population growth is lower, .47%, compared to Brazil’s 1.1%, the Chinese should be able to overcome the Brazilians eventually.  BUT when the ecological perspective is taken into account, Brazilians could become incredibly wealthy.  If they ever manage their national treasures in an ecologic and economically sane way, while lowering their population growth rate to zero, it would be extremely difficult for the Chinese to keep pace, having overpopulated their nation many decades ago.  India most likely will never catch up to China or Brazil with a population growth rate of 1.44% and an annual per capita income of $2,900. 

One last interesting statistic: land area to population. 

 8.5 million km sq2/181,000,000 for Brazil 

9.5million km sq2/1.3B  for China

and 3m/1.1B for India.  Much of China is n where near as productive as India or Brazil ecologically.  Brazilians have an immense edge over China and India.  If only we can show them the light. 

http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ch.html  http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/in.html