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News Is unrestrained population growth ethical...

  1. Mar 26, 2016 #1
    Couldn't figure a better thread title but my question is as follows.

    Intro... I was bought up to think that any suggestion to limit population growth from a state level is like the most evil suggestion.

    Given that science will prolly always find ways to feed people I would like to leave food supply out of the discussion.

    Question is it more ethical to allow anyone of legal age to breed as much as and whenever they want or is it more ethical to impose restrictions on the number and type of people breeding.

    I really think it is horrible to think restrictions are ethical but without catastraphising the point I think it is also unethical to have unlimited population growth.

    I get there are limitations eg fertility, mortality etc but in theory.

    Second question is it ethical to have open borders on migration like Germany, Sweden etc are involved with.

    Again I am torn, sure most of us a from migrant families and we should alleviate suffering in the world but is this sustainable?

    Very torn on these questions, what do others think if anyone even thinks about this at all??
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 26, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Science does not always find a way to feed people - and the resources to grow food are, ultimately, energy: a limited resource.
    There exist societies which do impose limits on reproduction - they feel it is ethical and nessisary to do so.
    To work out the ethics first you have to define your terms.

    You may find that some forms of mandatory reproduction limits would be ethical and some not - i.e. killing people who have already reproduced would be hard to justify, but rewarding voluntary sterilizations would be more palatable... maybe only allowing reproduction to those who can demonstrate the means and ability to raise the child? But you still have to say what your measure of "ethical"is going to be.

    After all, why is it ethical to have children in the first place?

    You have the same issue with borders - you have to define your standard for ethical.
    Why would it be ethical to close borders? Do people who are within those borders by accident of birth have some special right to live there just by being born?
    Perhaps borders should be more porous to some people: most countries allow people with desirable skills to cross after all? Perhaps some people in especial need should be allowed to cross?

    If there were no borders what would happen? Initially, everyone would want to move to the richer countres with more opportunity ... the resuklt being that these countries would likely get poorer: but is that a bad thing? What if the mass migrations lead to a disadvantaged underclass of migrant worker exploited by the locals? Perhaps there could be a managed migration policy instead? So it is not really about whether to allow migration for all or none, but what kind of migration policy to have.

    Bottom line: you are phrasing the questions too simplistically to get useful answers.
  4. Mar 26, 2016 #3
    Number of people is not such a big problem. What IS a problem is their consumption. There were studies showing that the Earth can provide enough food for everyone. What is a huge problem is the distrubution of wealth and resources.
    My personal favourite philosophy is voluntary simplicity http://simplicitycollective.com/start-here/what-is-voluntary-simplicity-2. In my opinion, that is the way to go for the whole planet. Of course, I am very much aware that it is a utopian philosophy and can never be applied worldwide. It is only something that I try to live according to in order to keep my conscience clean.
  5. Mar 26, 2016 #4
    I don't know why this isn't a big political question or a big research area.
  6. Mar 26, 2016 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    ... what do you mean by "this"?

    The subjects - immigration, population, and reproduction rights - are huge political concerns that get lots of airtime in the TV news and punditry.
    Where on Earth do you live??

    The topics you have touched on are covered in the social and political sciences and are HUGE research topics drawing on fields from mathematics to biology and law. Individual researchers usually work on subsets of the topics because the subject is just vast - and they have to work carefully because the topic is ethically and politically challenging.

    There are some realities you need to consider too:
    1. It is hard to get funding for general science or research - much easier if there is a particular problem to be solved and even easier if there may be an exploitable product at the end of it. See how your topics fit into this picture and you will get an idea of where research priorities go.
    2. The job of news agencies like TV News shows is to deliver a demographic to advertisers: they have to sell the ad breaks, that's how they get paid. Bear this in mind when you follow News coverage and you will understand more about why different items get the cover they do. The ethics of unrestrained population growth won't get a panel discussion, but access to fertility control products or abortion services, does: same topic though.
  7. Mar 26, 2016 #6

    Simon Bridge

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    You have asked about ethics in a scientific forum though ... so I should fill you in.
    When it comes to research, questions of ethics go before an ethics committee ... so it is "ethical" if the committee allows it.
    If you want to consider how a scientist would think about the ethics, try to propose an experiment or study that would cover the topics you want.
    i.e. you may set up a closed community and then want to know the study the impact of allowing a select group (perhaps elected) to decide who gets to reproduce within the community? Would would it take to get a study like that past the ethics committee?
  8. Mar 26, 2016 #7

    jim hardy

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    Unrestrained growth being the philosophy of the cancer cell
    it seems to me not addressing your question is at best amoral..

    Isaac Asimov phrased a nice paragraph in a talk about 1974. He observed 'we face choices and the longer we put them off the more difficult they become.
    Consider the progression Abstinence, Contraception, Abortion, Cannibalism.'

    Restrictions fit in there someplace
  9. Mar 26, 2016 #8


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    Global population growth is not unrestrained. Growth has been slowing for sometime, and sometime in this century it will reach zero and go negative. Signs are now apparent. The working age population in China has already begun to shrink. More adult diapers are sold in Japan than for infants. If you must worry, worry about upside age demographics.


  10. Mar 27, 2016 #9
    The population can't theoretically exceed 9 billion without famine.

    Plus, countries are developing, which reduces population.
  11. Mar 27, 2016 #10
    China as I am sure most of you know has had a one child limit since the 1980's to help stem it's population growth. However the Chinese cultural preference for boys is now resulting in a gender imbalance with 12 boys born for every 10 girls. This is having unforeseen social consequences. I once heard a Urologist comment on vasectomies in the US saying that it was the more educated men who chose to have fewer children.

    The usual human method of population control is war. Considering the distrust among cultures and religions with the desire to preserve their culture etc and dwindling resources it is not unlikely that this will be the method of choice verses voluntary population control. Nature may intervene with a lethal super bug with the right infection characteristics and incubation period it could spread throughout the world in days before any significant remedial action could take place if at all.

    Regarding morality or ethics, these seem to me a matter of convention, What is acceptable in one culture many not be in another.. If war or nature does not do us in then population problems will probably be dealt with as a matter of practicality not morality. After all survival is the ultimate.imperative.
  12. Mar 27, 2016 #11

    jim hardy

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    Worry about it ? Why ? It's a mathematical necessity if world population is to get back to reasonableness absent cataclysms like gleem mentioned .
  13. Mar 28, 2016 #12
    Who says? Source?
  14. Mar 28, 2016 #13
    Food science, animal and plant production science (covering a lot of disciplines), fertility science I believe without proof will more than compensate for manyvredtraints mention ed.

    Big wars seem a thing of the past, historically disease is not even noticeable on the scale of human population graphs, same natural disasters.

    People are living longer and demanding more energy, popular economics promotes bigger populations to drive growth in manufacture etc.. I'm skeptical things will just work themselves out or that its not even a problem.
  15. Mar 28, 2016 #14
    The Bubonic Plague killed about 20% of the world population in the 14th century. It took 150 to 200 years for populations to recover.
  16. Mar 28, 2016 #15


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    Because a heavily upside down age age demographics curve is like an upside down house of cards - its bound to collapse. A country with half its population in retirement and only 10% under 15 is soon going to have a hard time finding enough people to take care of its seniors.


    A soft slow down in the birth rate is, I think, preferable so that the demographics curve goes only slightly top heavy.
  17. Mar 28, 2016 #16

    high school math analysis reveals the human population curve is robust against catastrophic events. It bounces back like nothing happened.
  18. Mar 29, 2016 #17

    jim hardy

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    Well , it'll be difficult to maintain the "Permissive Cornucopia" society that's for sure. But that might not be so bad.
  19. Mar 29, 2016 #18
    There may be a built in socio-biological mechanism that will stabilize the human population. There seems to be a strong correlation between child mortality and fertility. The higher the child mortality the higher the birth rate to compensate to maintain the population. It is suggested that improving children health is the way to control population growth.
  20. Mar 29, 2016 #19
    Socio-biological mechanism also known as common sense.
  21. Mar 1, 2017 #20
    This has been a widely discussed topic since at least the 19th century. I think the most famous early writer on this subject was the Rev. Malthus. His thesis was that our population growth would be limited by famine, disease, and war.

    The Population Bomb by Dr. Paul Ehrlich was a famous book of the 1960s. Ehrlich predicted global catastrophe if we did not implement effective birth control, including a program of sterilization.

    You may also have heard of the Limits to Growth report by the Club of Rome. This was based in part on a computer model that used simulation techniques to predict changes in population, food production, birth rate, death rate, and other parameters. There is a online app based on this approach.


    Others point to the Green Revolution as promising much greater food production per hectare of arable land. In addition, there has been much development in indoor agriculture. I discussed this question recently with an expert who told me that in Japan they have high rise buildings in urban environments where food is developed using hydroponics. So perhaps we are no longer limited by the amount of arable land.

    As for how much population growth is ethical, that's debatable. The Roman Catholic Church still bans artificial birth control. Some groups, such as the Palestinians, see population growth as a demographic weapon. You may see major growth in your own group as a sacred imperative, others may see it as an existential threat.

    One reason I'm interested in simulations of population dynamics is because at least that gives us some kind of quantitative model to work from. We may not know exactly what is going to happen, but we can do some useful "what-if" predictions to guide our policy decisions.
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