OOS 67-10
Impacts of family planning on ecological change: Assessing the evidence

Thursday, August 13, 2015: 11:10 AM
340, Baltimore Convention Center
Robert Engelman, Environment and Society Program, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC
Yeneneh G. Terefe, Environment and Society Program, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC

According to a recent survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Pew Research Center, more than four out of five AAAS members agree that “world population growth will strain natural resources.” Yet no scientific discipline systematically probes linkages between human population change and natural resources, ecological integrity or environmental sustainability. Scanning evidence in peer-reviewed scientific literature published since 2005, the Worldwatch Institute’s Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment evaluates the hypothesis that family planning benefits environmental sustainability through demographic and non-demographic pathways. Our methodology consists of interviewing experts in a range of related fields, scanning citations in key articles, and using keywords to search such databases as Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science. Identified articles are then evaluated by project staff and consultants and in selected cases by a network of some two dozen research assessors, of both genders and mostly in or from developing countries. The objective is to identify the most compelling peer-reviewed research from the last decade supporting or refuting the hypothesis that expanding access to and use of voluntary family planning services will significantly contribute to progress toward an environmentally sustainable world.


The project will produce in late 2015 a report on findings, preliminary selections of which will be the basis of this presentation. Population-ecological interactions will be discussed and selected literature highlighted on the implications of family planning and human population dynamics for biological diversity and other aspects of ecological well-being. The literature is sparse and its quality uneven, but there is some promising work—in some cases produced by developing-country researchers. No published research found so far makes the case that demography is irrelevant to ecology or sustainability, and many papers—including some by developing-country authors—to varying degrees support the hypothesis.