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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 12:15-20 (2012)  -  DOI:

Consumption: the other side of population for development*

Francisco J. Mata1, Lawrence J. Onisto2,**, John R. Vallentyne3,†

1Earth Council, Apartado 2323-1002, San José, Costa Rica
2Environment and Sustainable Development Division, Ontario Hydro, 700 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X6, Canada
3Canada Centre for Inland Waters, PO Box 5050, Burlington, Ontario L7R 4A6, Canada
*‑Originally prepared for and presented at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Cairo, Egypt, 5−13 September 1994 [Previously circulated by the Earth Council San Jose, Costa Rica]


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.

KEY WORDS: Population · Consumption · Development · Sustainability · Demotechnic · D-index

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Cite this article as: Mata FJ, Onisto LJ, Vallentyne JR (2012) Consumption: the other side of population for development*. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 12:15-20.

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