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Population control and sustainability: it's the same old song but with a different meaning.

If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.(1)


What is the population problem? To some, it is environmental, an imbalance of people to natural resources that threatens sustainability. To others it is economic, perpetuating an endless cycle of misery and poverty. Some see the population problem as one of injustice, created by systematic oppression of women. Still others perceive it as social, degrading the quality of life through overcrowding and increased crime. The population problem is all of these and none of these. Overpopulation is a multi-faceted problem, at one time both cause and effect of a myriad of social, economic, and environmental issues.(2) Like most complex social problems, development of successful strategies to address the population problem requires consideration of conflicting values and priorities. The resolution of these conflicts impacts the individual, the state, and the international community.

An individual's decisions concerning reproduction are influenced by numerous factors, including religion, economics, culture, and politics.(3) Pressures placed upon the individual or family may be pro-natalist or anti-natalist depending on whether large families are encouraged or discouraged.

Beyond the level of individual interest, the state may have significant interest in obtaining optimal population size. Optimal population size may vary substantially, once again, depending on the values emphasized by the state. The state may focus on environmental resource depletion, economic enhancement, political strength, individual rights, or some combination of these values. Until recently, the primary justification for state regulation of fertility has been economic. Since the 1960s, numerous developing countries with insufficient economic bases to support exponential growth in population have opted for programs of fertility regulation.(4) In many countries, family planning programs, seeking to reduce births, tended to assess their success solely on the basis of population goals.(5) Unfortunately, coercive measures to achieve these goals were not uncommon.(6)

In the last few decades, the effect of population control upon the environment has emerged as a justification for regulation of fertility in dependent of economic concerns. The impact of a world population rapidly approaching six billion upon the world's natural resources presents profound questions of national and international policy.(7) Whether the earth can sustain these numbers is an issue quite separate from concerns about the inequitable distribution of people and resources.(8)

The sustainability rationale for population correlates population growth with environmental degradation. Depletion of natural resources through overuse and destruction of ecosystems by development and pollution seriously threaten the survival of the planet.(9) Environmental sustainability can be achieved only through stringent conservation of resources and reduced demand. Limiting population growth is a critical part of this formula.

Both economic and environmental justifications for reducing birth rates are essentially utilitarian in nature, intended to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When reducing birth rates is the stated social goal, the focus quickly becomes the most cost-effective means of achieving this goal. But the search for the most cost-effective methodology is the pursuit of the answer to the wrong question because fertility regulation is unlike most other economic or social regulation. Reproductive decisions are among the most personal and primary choices made by an individual. For women in particular, these decisions impact personal liberty, self-determination, gender equality, and physical autonomy. Serious human rights violations may occur when these decisions are not truly voluntary.

It was not until the late 1960s that the international community began to recognize the human rights implications of family planning programs.(10) However, recognition of the individual rights affected by family planning programs did not necessarily change the focus or methodology of such programs.(11) The absence of specific language protecting reproductive rights in international treaties has hindered the meaningful application of human rights principles to population programs.(12) At the 1994 World Population Conference at Cairo, the international community reached a consensus that population programs should comply with the basic human rights principles already protected by national and international laws.(13) The human rights which are most relevant to population programs are those designated reproductive rights. The umbrella of reproductive rights encompass the rights to "life, liberty, and the security of person," prohibitions against torture, "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" or medical or scientific experimentation "without free consent," and distinctions made on the basis of "sex."(14) In addition to these general rights which may be impacted by fertility regulation, international law specifically protects the right of individuals and couples to decide:

freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and

to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the

highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. [International law

protections] also include[ ] their right to make decisions concerning

reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed

in human rights documents.(15)

The international recognition of reproductive rights presents significant issues for population policy. The Cairo Programme emphasizes reduction in birth rates through voluntary, informed choice by individuals and couples. This approach will require dramatic changes in many cultures, foremost of which is providing women with sufficient education and economic opportunities so they have options other than having large families. This principled transformation will yield lower birth rates,(16) however, these declines will not occur immediately.(17) To many policy makers, the gradual and transformative process defined by the Cairo Programme is inadequate where rapid reductions in birth rates are desired. However, there is a great deal of controversy over whether alternative approaches which directly target reproductive behavior by limiting family size or aggressively recruiting for contraception or sterilization programs are inherently coercive. Thus, while most governments agree that coercive measures violate human rights, there is a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes coercive practices and regulation.(18)

This Article analyzes the practical and interpretative conflicts between two different approaches to population policy. One approach is structured to achieve maximum protection of human rights through full reproductive health care and voluntary family planning. The other approach focuses more specifically on the achievement of fertility reduction to achieve specific

environmental goals. What is missing from the current debate is consensus on a population-environment ethic which incorporates both human rights and sustainability values. Part II analyzes the history and problems of population regulation theory. Part III describes various sustainability theories and their general relation to population policy. Part IV considers the impact of sustainability and population policies upon the individual. Part V analyzes the tensions and conflicts between current family planning and sustainability theories, concluding with a proposal for a human rights model to use as a baseline for further policy development.


The impact of population on economic and social welfare has been debated since ancient times.(19) Both Aristotle and Plato argued that successful city-states required optimal population size,(20) and they advocated governmental action to achieve the desired population balance.(21) The Romans under Augustus instituted legislation rewarding procreation and penalizing childless marriages.(22) Throughout most of history, large populations were valued as essential to economic and military power.(23) With the development of demographic analysis, economists began to contemplate the relationships between the number of births, deaths, and economic well-being.(24) That relationship remains controversial today.

Thomas Malthus, who is generally credited with the first modern theory of population, postulated that population increases exponentially while subsistence increases only arithmetically.(25) Malthus argued for "moral restraint" in the form of delayed marriage or celibacy as the means of reducing population growth.(26) Malthus ultimately concluded, however, that voluntary means would be insufficient. Natural forces such as occupational hazards, severe labor, extreme poverty, disease, war, plague, and famine ultimately would be necessary to lower the population, particularly that of the lower classes.(27) Poverty, in other words, was necessary to check unrestrained population growth. Although Malthus found a great deal of support for his theory, it was disputed by more optimistic analysts of his day who argued either that the infinite reason of humans would lead to voluntary reduction of fertility, or that we were capable of feeding and sustaining far greater numbers than predicted.(28)

The relationship between population and economic development continues to be factious. Neo-Malthusians insist that fertility rates must be decreased before economic development can occur.(29) Other theorists contend that development is the key to the reduction of fertility rates.(30) This theoretical polarization in turn yields very different perspectives on population regulation. Programs designed primarily to reduce birth rates focus almost completely on contraception and sterilization, often without addressing the critical social and economic constructs which motivate people to have many children. By contrast, programs which incorporate family planning as part of comprehensive social and economic change seek to reduce the motivation to have large families. Proponents of both theories claim success.(31)

The motto "development is the best contraceptive" received international endorsement at the Bucharest World Population Conference in 1974 and continues to be a foundational principle for international population policy.(32) The question of what kind of development results in decreased in birth rates became the next point of controversy.

The term `development' potentially encompasses economic, social, cultural, and institutional changes within a society. To say that development affects fertility tells one absolutely nothing about what specific changes may correlate with declines in fertility rates. Economic development theorists argue that the shift from agrarian to urban-industrialized society reduces the economic "demand" for large families.(33) Numerous children in an industrialized economic base are economic liabilities rather than assets because they are consumers rather than producers.(34) But these types of economic changes do not always correlate with lower fertility rates.(35) Other factors may be relevant.(36) On the supply side, the implementation of family planning programs and increased use of contraceptives successfully reduce fertility.(37) Considerable debate exists as to whether the demand or the supply dynamic is more important.(38) Where both dynamics are present, the impact on fertility rates is generally more significant.(39) Contrary to economic development theorists, social development theorists argue that the critical factors in the reduction of fertility rates are increases in the status, education, and economic power of women.(40)

Several points emerge from this debate. First and most obviously, the causal factors affecting fertility are complex and may vary from country to country. Second, the Malthusian premise that poverty keeps fertility low is disputed by evidence of the impact of development on reducing fertility. Third, even if development positively correlates with a reduction in births, prediction of the percentage of the reduction in the number of births is an imprecise science. Development itself may be seen as a positive value, particularly to the extent it brings education, health care, and economic opportunities to segments of society formerly without such benefits. But how effective is it as a population strategy? The answer depends in large part on how quickly results must be achieved. Ideally, economic and environmental sustainability should occur through a combination of resource protection, economic regulation, and voluntary reduction of birth rates. For many whose primary focus is sustainability, the more difficult question is whether the slow reduction of birth rates achieved through improvements in education and economic opportunities is sufficient to ward off an environmental crisis.


Environmental degradation is an issue of profound national and international significance. It is, in fact, one of the few truly international issues requiring a global community perspective for effective action. The depletion rate of groundwater and the ozone layer, the degradation of soil, and the loss of species and habitats all pose a serious threat to the ecological health, or "carrying capacity," of the planet.(41) Population growth further stresses the world's ecosystems. Some analysts posit a neo-Malthusian environmental doomsday where population is reduced by mass famines and diseases spawned by a critically impaired ecosystem.(42) It is clear that reducing the population growth of the earth is critical to sustainability.

The Malthusian perspective assumes a direct, linear relationship between population and environment. It contends that limited natural resources will ultimately limit population growth.(43) However, this analysis fails to account for a number of significant variables which may affect the population-environment dynamic.(44) Not every human impacts the environment in the same way. For example, the developed countries, which comprise only 25% of the earth's population, consume approximately 75% of the earth's resources and generate approximately 75% of the carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants.(45) Thus, while the developed countries in the "North" blame high fertility in the developing countries of the "South" for depletion of water, cultivable land, and economic stability, the South accuses the North of consumption and production patterns which pose a greater threat to sustainability than population growth.(46) Numerous analysts have developed formulas for evaluating the Population-Environment dynamic which address variations in consumption.(47) These formulas incorporate important variables and define the population-environment relationship more precisely than classical Malthusian analysis. At the same time, however, these more sophisticated formulas still fail to capture fully the complexity of human behaviors which affect the environment.(48) Research by social scientists demonstrates that economic, social, and political factors influence both environmental and reproductive behaviors.(49) For example, local and national policies concerning technological innovations have significant impact on the use of such technologies.(50) Yet the impact of economic and social development on fertility and the environment is only beginning to be understood.(51)

Finally, understanding of the Population-Environment dynamic is further compromised by research deficiencies. Biologists analyze carrying capacity, demographers chronicle population trends, and social scientists describe behavior patterns. Assimilation of this diverse data into a comprehensive analysis is a daunting, yet critically important, intellectual and organizational undertaking.(52) Polarized perspectives result in part from this lack of interdisciplinary research.(53)

Moreover, the technical complexity of the Population-Environment dynamic translates into equally demanding policy considerations. What should be the focus and scope of regulatory action-birth rates? resource use? consumption? This regulatory challenge is apparent when considering the debate between environmentalists who perceive population growth as the major cause of environmental degradation and human rights advocates who view population as only one factor in the global environmental picture.(54) These divergent viewpoints, in turn, suggest very different approaches to population policy, one which focuses directly on reduction of birth rates as the regulatory target, or the other which anticipates birth rate reduction as a byproduct of development policies improving human welfare and thereby reducing the motivation to have large families. This Article argues that both utilitarian and ethical values are best served by policies based on the reproductive rights and needs of individuals rather than demographic goals of the state.


The population-environment problem derives from two excesses: expanding population and expanding consumption.(55) As discussed above, because people in developed countries consume more resources than those in undeveloped countries, there is not a direct correlation between population and consumption.(56) This fact alone suggests that focusing on regulatory action simply to reduce population growth in developing countries is misdirected. Yet despite this misdirection and despite mixed success in population programs directed solely at reducing birth rates, this policy direction is, for many, more attractive than regulating resource use and consumption.(57)

The family planning programs of the 1960s and 1970s were essentially means of enhancing economic development.(58) Criticisms of these programs centered primarily on two concerns. First, many programs were not as effective as predicted in reducing birth rates.(59) In addition, many programs raised serious questions about human rights violations.(60) These programs erred in distributing contraceptive and sterilization services without addressing the complex cultural, social, and economic forces which motivate family size, and without attention to the individual needs of the women whose bodies were targeted.(61) These errors were in part a result of "top-down" strategies developed and implemented by international agencies unfamiliar with local needs and traditions.(62) Consequently, family planning programs were often viewed with suspicion or disinterest by the intended receptors.(63) These early programs can, at best, be characterized as short-sighted. The economic development focus of international aid assumed that both economic and social benefits would "trickle-down" to the most economically deprived persons in society, and thereby affect fertility rates.(64) However, this assumption did not always materialize.(65) Moreover, contrary to Malthusian analysis, severe economic and social distress may, and in some cases did, lead to higher fertility rates.(66) For example, it has been shown that high infant and child mortality rates, often prevalent in undeveloped and struggling countries, tend to correlate With high fertility.(67)

Most significantly, both from human rights and utilitarian perspectives, population programs have largely failed to consider the complexity of the gender dynamics affecting fertility. Family planning programs impact not only reproduction, but also the underlying sexual behavior between partners. Women bear the physical effects of repeated pregnancies and births at substantial risk to their own physical health.(68) Women also bear the social weight of child-rearing without benefit of economic or social status for their efforts. Yet women in many countries have little control over reproductive decisions. The pervasiveness of patriarchy in developing countries leaves women without political, social, or economic power.(69) Patriarchal control over family and reproductive decisions impact not only the number and spacing of children, but also marriage age, divorce, and maternal health.(70) This patriarchal structure is often reinforced by religion and tradition.(71) Thus, even as family planning programs in the 1970s and 1980s focused more on the interests and needs of the family unit, they often ignored the realities of the family decision-making process where men believe they have the right to control the sexuality and fertility of the woman.(72) Women caught in this cycle of repeated pregnancies and births constantly report their desires to have fewer children and greater spacing between children.(73)

The significance of the human rights deprivations associated with violations of women's reproductive health and integrity was not given international recognition until the 1994 World Population Conference in Cairo. The Cairo Programme of Action links "reproductive health" to basic human rights protected through international treaties.(74) It requires states to develop family planning programs consistent with human rights and the broader concept of reproductive health. This linkage requires states to avoid coercion in family planning programs. Furthermore, adherence to the Programme requires states to make long-term investments in education, health care, and social policy that ultimately will affect the motivational factors relating to high fertility rates.(75)

The spirit of the Cairo Programme clearly rejects population policy as a numbers game. It instead focuses on a decline in birth rates as a natural by-product of social policies directed at improvement in the quality of life of individuals. This policy shift, while laudable in human rights terms, is also the product of a significant body of research demonstrating that birth rates are dramatically affected by specific aspects of social, rather than economic, development, most notably the enhancement of the education and status of women.(76) Nondiscrimination and equal access to educational, economic, and political opportunities are firmly grounded in international human rights.(77) As applied to women, these principles also strongly correlate with reduced birth rates.(78) Educated women tend to marry later, desire fewer children, and carry greater status in family decision making.(79)

Prior to the Cairo Conference and the resulting Programme of Action,(80) the omission of gender dynamics from population policy was due in part to reliance on population models which viewed people as numbers and thus failed to capture how individuals make reproductive decisions within the context of their own family and community. The reformulation of population policy exemplified by the Cairo Programme brings full circle the question of trade-offs between short-term gains and long-term change. This question is relevant not only to population policy in general, but also to the question of sustainability policy.

Gender dynamics also are an integral part of natural resource management and conservation. In many societies, women are responsible for performing and supplying the basic functions and necessities of family life: water, fuel, and food gathering and cultivation.(81) Women are closely affected by the depletion of resources necessary for subsistence,(82) yet at the same time, restrictions on women's access to the labor market and the most desirable agricultural land severely limit their options in supplying these basic necessities.(83) Increased work for women may actually lead to higher fertility as women seek additional labor support from children or deny female children access to education so the children can spend more time on domestic chores.(84) Resource policy in many states has focused on exports and thus has ignored these local problems. Furthermore, women have for the most part been excluded from any political participation in addressing these local resource issues.(85) Thus, the same equality issues so critical to enlightened population policies are also an essential component of sustainability policies which respect human rights.


The utilitarian focus on reducing birth rates to enhance economic development is echoed in the strikingly parallel debate about the relationship between population and environmental degradation. Population is the centerpiece of most sustainability strategies. As discussed above, however, the role of population in environmental decline is a complex one.(86) The risk of error posed by interpreting population as a numbers game is as substantial for environmental policy as it has been in economic policy. Political, economic, and social factors affect resource use per capita,(87) and simply reducing birth rates in the developing world Will not, by itself, yield the environmental return necessary for sustainability. The depletion of natural resources financed by the developed world has a significantly greater impact upon the environment than the greater numbers of people using resources in the developing world.(88)

The bottom line is that a successful sustainability policy requires a national and international reordering of priorities which may be perceived as inconsistent with the free-market economies prevalent in many parts of the world.(89) Consumption is the cornerstone of most national and international economic policy(90) and adjusting consumption patterns presents a daunting task where these patters are firmly ingrained.(91) Compounding the problem is evidence that the developing countries are pursuing economic development which is modeled on the growth and consumption patterns of the developed countries.(92) The current pollution problems in Asia caused by rapid industrialization are an example of that modeling. The momentum of growth is even more difficult to check than the momentum of population. While many families express a desire to limit family size if the means are made available to them,(93) this self-regulating behavior is unlikely to be reflected in economic policy.

The economic pressures to focus sustainability policy on reducing birth rates are reinforced in many countries by political systems which do not emphasize individual rights to the extent prevalent in the West. In these countries, the impact of population policy upon the individual is less significant than the welfare of the community.(94) In addition, the individual rights at issue are primarily those of women who generally have little rights, status, or power. In truth, regulation of women's fertility has been, and remains, an expedient policy choice because women have been subjected to control by family and state throughout history.(95)

These economic and political realities set the stage for an over-reliance on birth reductions as the primary solution to the problem of environmental degradation. This solution presents both practical and ethical problems. First, unless consumption in the developed countries is addressed, it is unlikely that reduced birth rates will significantly improve environmental conditions.(96) Birth rates have declined by one-third since the 1960s and are continuing to decline.(97) However, little progress has been made on improvements to national and international sustainability policies since the Rio Conference in 1992.(98) Without advancement in resource protection, imposing responsibility for global sustainability on women's bodies is a Draconian burden indeed.

What should be done? To begin with, there is a significant unmet need for contraceptive services which should be addressed as rapidly as possible. More than 120 million married women of reproductive age without access to contraceptive services report a desire to use contraception.(99) In many countries, targeted demographic goals could be achieved simply by satisfying existing demand for contraception.(100) Meeting global contraceptive demand would result in a 44% decline in total fertility, bringing the total fertility rate well within the UN target set for the year 2000.(101) These figures suggest that addressing the real contraceptive needs of individuals can satisfy both demographic goals and human rights concerns, as long as contraceptive services focus on reproductive health, including informed consent and adequate medical supervision. However, once unmet need is satisfied, additional efforts to regulate reproductive behavior raise critical human rights questions.

Coercive family planning policies exist where the state does not trust individuals to voluntarily comply with governmental policy.(102) The most obvious point about coercive family planning policies is that they violate internationally established human rights. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects life, liberty, and security of person.(103) It also protects the rights to education, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to an adequate standard of living.(104) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the most significant international treaty protecting the rights of women in matters of fertility and sexuality. The treaty prohibits discrimination in all aspects of public and private life and it specifically obligates signatories to ensure women have "[t]he same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights."(105) CEDAW also protects access to health care services and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.(106) Thus, the protections of CEDAW obligate state parties to formulate population policies which respect human rights.

However, the less obvious point about coercive family planning practices is that they are not necessarily any more effective than programs respecting individual choice. Research comparing China's fertility rates with fertility rates in the Indian state of Kerala, which is characterized by voluntary programs and advances in education, health and status of women, showed lower fertility rates in Kerala despite a higher fertility rate originally.(107) The profound significance of reproductive decisions to an individual strongly suggests that individuals will pursue their perceived best interests regardless of governmental policy. Efforts to avoid coercive population programs may lead to further human rights abuses. One example is found in China where the one child policy has lead to a high level of female infant mortality as families seek the male child so valued by Chinese cultural norms.(108) Another example is reversion to larger families once coercive restrictions are removed. Just as the dismantling of coercive family planning programs implemented in India under Indira Gandhi resulted in a substantial backlash against family planning,(109) there is evidence a similar reaction is beginning in China.(110)

The significant research showing the positive correlation between improvement in the education and status of women and decline in fertility rates demonstrates that ultimately, the interests of the woman and the state are compatible. But the state must be willing to address the economic and patriarchal pressures which encourage large families.(111) The state must also be willing to make long-term investments in education, health care, and enhancement of opportunities for women. The multi-dimensional dynamics of culture, religion, economics, and political climate which affect fertility make it clear that population policy is about a great deal more than passing out contraception.(112) Socio-economic pressures already exist which lead many individuals to desire large families. The state can, without coercion, affect the context and climate in which reproductive decisions are made so that smaller families are perceived as desirable.(113)

For instance, the Cairo Programme of Action emphasizes the rights of individuals and couples to "freely and responsibly" decide the number of children.(114) The concept of responsible parenthood requires couples to consider not only their rights, but also their obligations to care for children and the impact upon the larger community. However "responsibly" is not an authorization for states to impose coercive family planning in the name of collective good. 115 Responsible parenthood will only occur where the educational, health, economic, and political climate established by the state encourages couples to have smaller families. Voluntary choice will not bring about significantly lower fertility rates where couples lack the economic and social security to survive without large families. For women in particular, voluntary policies provide little incentive for smaller families until women have real economic and social options other than having many children. The obligations of the state also serve the goal of enhancing resource conservation by removing the pressures on women to feed their families without access to the economic means to do so.

Malthusian population policy is misdirected in insisting that fertility rates can be reduced without upsetting the social and political status quos, or the economic elite. Sustainability theory centered on reducing population comes perilously close to the same misdirection. Both approaches' failures to understand the complexity of the population-environment dynamic has led to an oversimplified perception of cause and effect relationships. A more accurate evaluation requires a multi-factorial, comprehensive approach encompassing both the local impact of national and international decisions and the global implications of local and national actions.(116)

Improved understanding and analysis of the complexity of the population-environment dynamic is essential to the development of national and international consensus. Currently, the failure of political will is the most significant obstacle to humane and effective sustainability policy. Political recognition of the ramifications of continuing environmental degradation created by existing economic policy has been stymied by the same stunted viewpoint which seeks a quick fix to complex fertility problems. For developed countries, the disproportionate responsibility we bear per capita for environmental decline is rejected primarily for economic justifications. For developing countries, the investment in women's health, education, and economic opportunities is compromised for economic and cultural reasons. Yet the economic motivation for policy change also clearly exists. As the Ehrlichs have demonstrated, we are living off environmental capital rather than interest.(117) The developed world's reliance on the resource base of the developing countries to support its manufacturing enterprises cannot continue indefinitely.

It is precisely this understanding of global ecological interdependence which provides the moral, and ultimately, the legal basis for consensus. States' compliance with international human rights norms is driven both by political practicalities and shared ethical principles. The transformation of national perceptions of self-interest to international norms which can be expressed through legal rules depends heavily upon a shared political vision of a globally interdependent ecosystem.(118)

Conceptually, individual, national, and international interests share the common goals of eliminating inequities and enhancing the quality of life. These interests are well-grounded in national and international human rights law. Political consensus breaks down at the point of transforming these broad ethical tenets into specific policy.(119) Implementation and enforcement of the laws protecting women's reproductive rights and preventing discrimination against women are critical next steps.

As part of this process the reproductive rights which form the basis of the Cairo consensus should be explicitly codified into an international treaty.(120) Although many of the worst offenders of women's rights are non-signatories to CEDAW or have lodged substantial reservations to many of its articles,(121) the international community should recognize the expanded protections of reproductive rights defined at Cairo. This is essential not only for the value inherent in the protection of the reproductive autonomy and integrity of women, but also as a universal reminder that the rights of women cannot be compromised in the name of economic growth or environmental sustainability.

At bottom, the polarization between environmentalists and human rights advocates is based on a false dichotomy. Strategies for achieving sustainability and reducing population growth win only be effective if there is a paradigm shift in the local, national, and international understanding of development. Part of this process is a recognition of the various socioeconomic factors that affect reproductive behavior and resource consumption patterns. Social and economic policies leading to exploitation and inequity threaten both humane family planning and sound environmental policy. The Programme of Action for Sustainable Development adopted at Rio embraces values strikingly similar to those found in the Cairo Programme of Action.(122) The control theory of nature which has dominated Western thought throughout the modern era must be replaced with a partnership grounded in respect. Similarly, the idea of domination of women entrenched in patriarchal culture must yield to equity and honor of individual integrity. The political barriers to achieving these types of changes are deep and remarkably parallel. The juggernaut of unchecked growth is deemed a sovereign imperative in many states as is the cultural net of patriarchy.

It is in fact the interdependency of the population-environment dynamic that is the greatest testament to the need for consistent policies grounded in universal principles. The truly global nature of sustainability issues is further justification for seeking international baselines. The respect for individual integrity and physical autonomy manifested in human rights treaties requires family planning programs free of coercion. International treaty standards of nondiscrimination and gender equality require states to remove the political and legal barriers to opportunity which catalyze high birth rates. The articulation of these individual rights as "universal" provides the credible moral and legal basis upon which international sustainability policy may be developed.(123)

The most effective solution to the population problem also happens to be the most ethical. Respect for the welfare of the individual and responsibility towards the global community are universal humanistic values which provide a principled basis for legal and political action. Nor are these principles merely Utopian fantasies. Pollution control laws in the United States such as the Clean Air Act,(124) Clean Water Act,(125) Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,(126) and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980(127) demonstrate a political commitment to environmental and health priorities despite increased costs to industry.(128) The environmental and social changes generated by these laws would have been incomprehensible less than three decades ago. The substantial growth in recycling and mandated recycled content in products is an example of how grass roots action and political leadership can shift private and public behavior.(129) Several international environmental agreements already in place embody the global governance perspective essential to successful sustainability policies and nations have now agreed on over 170 environmental treaties.(130) For example, the Montreal Protocol on the Depletion of the Ozone Layer, which restricts the production of chlorofluorocarbons and the use of certain other ozone-depleting chemicals, has been ratified by more than 100 countries since 1987.(131)

The consensus of over 160 countries to the human rights based approach to family planning adopted at Cairo demonstrates a recognition of the inextricable link between fertility reduction and social progress. This consensus is just as significant for sustainability policy as for economic policy. While our understanding of the relationship between population and environment will continue to be refined, the centrality of human rights to equitable and effective policy is the common ground upon which to build international policy


Failures to understand the complexity of the relationship between population and environmental sustainability have too often led to oversimplification and polarization of views between environmentalists and human rights advocates. In truth, there is significant room for consensus on equitable and effective policy. Sustainability does not need to be achieved at the cost of reproductive integrity. Nor does protection of human rights mean high birth rates. The key ethical principles, respect for the individual and responsibility towards the larger community, are critical both to successful population policy and the larger question of sustainability. These principles impact the individual, the state, and the international community. They are the cornerstones of humane and effective action.

(1) John Stuart Mill, Principals of Political Economy (V.W. Bladen ed., University of Toronto Press 1965).

(2) Modern overpopulation is in fact the product of declining mortality rates rather than rising birth rates. Birth rates are declining world-wide, but mortality rates have declined at a greater rate. Carl Haub & Martha F. Riche, Population By the Numbers, in Beyond the Numbers: A Reader on Population, Consumption, and the Environment 95-96 (Laurie A. Mazur ed., 1994) [hereinafter Beyond the Numbers].

(3) Population is affected by several factors including fertility and mortality rates and immigration. Ruth Dixon-Mueller, Population Policy and Women's Rights: Transforming Reproductive Choice 13-14 (1993) [hereinafter Transforming Reproductive Choice]. This Article is concerned solely with the regulation of fertility. Direct factors influencing fertility include use of effective contraception, marriage age of women, length of time after childbirth when a woman cannot conceive due to breast-feeding or abstinence, and availability and use of abortion. Bryant Robey et al., The Fertility Decline in Developing Countries, Sci. Am., Dec. 1993, at 60, 61 [hereinafter Fertility Decline]. Education, occupation, wealth, location, religious practices, and social status are indirect determinants of fertility. Id. at 62.

(4) For example, China has the infamous "one child policy." Betsy Hartmann, Reproductive Rights & Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control 157 (2d ed. 1995) [hereinafter Reproductive Rights & Wrongs]. India also has a long history of fertility regulation, from the mass vasectomy camps of the 1970s to the formal sterilization programs of today. Id. at 251-54.

(5) Id. at 63 (quoting Donald Warwick who refers to the "machine theory of implementation" with impersonal delivery of services in which individuals are defined as "receptacles for the services delivered"). These types of programs were prevalent in many countries including India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Kenya, Pakistan, and Egypt. Id. at 63-66.

(6) These practices include forced contraception, sterilization, and abortion. See id. at 243-67 (discussing various countries' forced contraceptive policies).

(7) Note by the Secretary General of the U.N., Preparatory Committee for the International Conference on Population and Development, 3d Sess. at 30, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.171/ PC/5 (1994); Robert S. McNamara, Foreword to Klaus M. Leisinger & Karin Schmitt, All Our People: Population Policy with A Human Face, at xi (1994) [hereinafter All Our People]; see also Present Report of the Secretary General, International Conference on Population and Development, Agenda Item 8, at 73-80, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.171/4 (1994) (discussing national and international effects of population distribution, increased urbanization, and immigration) [hereinafter Secretary General Present Report); United Nations Population Fund, Population, Resources and the Environment-The Critical Challenges 5-9 (1991) (discussing sustainability and various policy issues it touches upon) [hereinafter Population, Resources and the Environment].

(8) Secretary General Present Report, supra note 7, at 9-15.

(9) See Paul R. Ehrlich & Anne H. Ehrlich, The Population Explosion: Why We Should Care And What We Should Do About It, 27 Envtl. L. 1187, 1188-91 (1997).

(10) The Proclamation of Teheran, the product of the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights, recognized that "[p]arents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children." Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights, United Nations, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.32/41, at 3 (1968), available at <> [hereinafter Teheran Proclamation]. Resolution IX, which concerned measures to promote women's rights and the advancement of women, was adopted at the Teheran Conference. However, it was silent on issues regarding the human rights implications of family planning programs. See United Nations, The United Nations and the Advancement of Women 1945-1996, at 177-79 (rev. ed. 1996) (reprint of Resolution IX, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.32/41).

(11) See, e.g., Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 221-41. As an example of unchanged focus in family planning program methodology, Hartmann describes the problems of the Bangladesh family planning program, which include targeting of poor women in aggressive sterilization drives and distribution of birth control pills without either instruction or information on side effects. Id. at 222-23. Although the country's birth rate fell between 1975 and 1990, there was no reduction in Bangladesh's high death rate which has perhaps lead to a false claim of a successful population control program, given the continually poor health conditions of the majority of the country's citizens. Id. at 223-33.

(12) For example, the lack of a clear definition of such terms as `women's health' and `family planning programs,' which are included in such human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, infra note 74, has not provided countries the incentive to consider reproductive and sexual health policies to be governed by human rights principles. Rebecca J. Cook, Introduction to Women's International Human Rights: The Way Forward, in Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives 19-20 (Rebecca J. Cook ed., 1994) [hereinafter Human Rights of Women] (arguing the adoption of such clarifying language would aid states in developing comprehensive reproduction and health services in compliance with human rights laws).

(13) Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, U.N. Dept. of Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.171/13 (1994), available at <gopher://> [hereinafter Cairo International Conference Report]. The Report states "reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents." Id. at ch. VII, [paragraph] 7.3.

(14) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217(A)-III, U.N. Doc. ST/HR/1/ Rev.4 (1948), in United Nations, The United Nations and the Advancement of Women 1945-1996, at 125-28 (rev. ed. 1996) [hereinafter Universal Declaration of Human Rights].

(15) Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13, at ch. VII, [paragraph] 7.3.

(16) See infra note 40 (describing a U.N. study on the correlation between women's education and fertility); see also Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at app. B, app. C at 232-45 (illustrating with demographic data the enhanced status of women through increased economic and educational opportunities).

(17) Fertility Decline, supra note 3, at 67.

(18) For example, countries have declared states of emergency in order to take more aggressive measures, as India did in the mid-1970s under the guise of legality, even though many saw such methods as unduly coercive and as depriving individuals of their basic human rights. Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 247-54 (describing the forced sterilization programs of both India and several Latin America countries).

(19) As early as the sixth century B.C., Confucius argued that "excessive growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender strife." Paul Neurath, From Malthus to the Club of Rome and Back: Problems of Limits to Growth, Population Control, and Migrations 6 (1994) (quoting from Determinants and Consequence of Population Trends (United Nations 1973)) [hereinafter from Malthus]. A fifth century B.C. philosopher, Mo Tzu, saw how government could impact population. "Rulers of today reduce the population in more ways than one. They overwork the people in employing them, and impose heavy burdens by levying taxes. People's resources become insufficient and innumerable people die of hunger and cold . . . . These are ways in which population is reduced. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy 227 (Wing-Tsit Chan, ed. & trans. 1963). Mo Tzu also recognized that if people are caused to marry early, the population can be doubled. Id.

(20) See From Malthus, supra note 19, at 6 (discussing Aristotle's and Plato's ideas on population control).

(21) Id. "[T]he father of three sons shall be exempt from military service, and he who has four from all the burdens of the state." Aristotle, Politica, in The Basic Works, of Aristotle 113, 1167 (Richard P. McKeon ed. & Benjamin Jowett trans., Random House 1941)

(22) From Malthus, supra note 19, at 7. The Lex Julia (18 B.C.) and the Lex Papia Poppaea (9 A.D.) authorized tax relief and public service benefits for complying families and severe inheritance penalties for non-compliance. Id.

(23) Paula Abrams, The Tradition of Reproduction, 37 Ariz. L. Rev. 453, 458-63 (1995); see also Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, Abortion and Woman's Choice: The State, Sexuality, and Reproductive Freedom 67-69 (rev. ed. 1990). Even the United States tax code encourages couples to have larger families through the recently enacted child tax credit which provides a $500 credit for each dependent child under the age of 17. Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, Pub. L. No. 105-34, [sections] 101(a), 111 Stat. 788 (1997) (to be codified at I.R.C. [sections] 24). Many religions also value high fertility as a manifestation of divine will. See, e.g., Genesis 1:28 (Revised Standard) (stating the Christian dictum: "[b]e fruitful and multiply").

(24) From Malthus, supra note 19, at 11-30.

(25) Thomas R. Malthus, Population: The First Essay (University of Michigan Press 1959) (1798). Malthus argued "[flaking the population of the world at any number . . . the human species would increase in the ratio of 1, 2, 4, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, &c, and subsistence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 &c." Id. at 9. Malthus was not the first to argue that large population could adversely affect social well-being. See From Malthus, supra note 19, at 10 (noting that Tertullian (ca. 160-220 A.D.) warned of the ill effects of an overly large population).

(26) Malthus, supra note 25, at 4-6.

(27) Id. at 11-12.

(28) William Goodwin in England and M. J. Condorcet in France, both contemporaries of Malthus, contended that humankind's infinite capacity to improve would lead them ultimately to choose smaller families. From Malthus, supra note 19, at 5. Johann Peter Suessmilch is one of the eighteenth century "pre-demographers" who calculated that humans could continue to sustain large populations through new forms of agriculture and resource use and development. Id. at 32-34.

(29) Margaret Sanger and Dr. George Drysdale are examples of two neo-Malthusians who argue overpopulation causes poverty. Contraception and family planning must reduce the fertility rate before real economic growth can occur. Paul Meadows, Toward a Socialized Population Policy, in Population Control and Politics 443, 445 (Joseph J. Spengler & Otis D. Duncan eds., 1956).

(30) Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 290.

(31) Id. at 290-91. Betsy Hartmann argues that demographic transition is a natural outgrowth of economic development and cites most of Europe, North America, and Japan as examples. Id. But see Fertility Decline, supra note 3, at 64-65 (claiming that fertility rates can be reduced without socioeconomic development through strong contraception programs and the educational power of the media).

(32) Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, Rethinking the Debate 74 (Lourdes Arizpe et al. eds., 1994) [hereinafter Population and Environment]. The World Population Plan of Action was adopted at the 1974 Bucharest World Population Conference and is a consensus document which is the product of U.N. sponsored world population conferences held every ten years. It stipulates that a comprehensive and thorough review and appraisal of progress should be undertaken every five years by the U.N. to address population and sustained economic development in the world. Secretary General Present Report, supra note 7, at 6.

(33) Gayl D. Ness, The Long View: Population-Environment Dynamics in Historical Perspective, in Population-Environment Dynamics: Ideas and Observations 47-48 (1993) [hereinafter Population-Environment Dynamics].

(34) Id.

(35) Id.

(36) Many researchers consider the four major direct influences on fertility to be: 1) use of effective contraception, 2) women's age at marriage, 3) length of time after childbirth that a woman cannot conceive, and 4) use of abortion. Fertility Decline, supra note 3, at 61.

(37) Id. at 62.

(38) See, e.g., id. at 64-65 (arguing that although development seems to encourage smaller families, reduction of fertility is most affected by successful distribution of contraceptives); cf. Gayl D. Ness, The Long View: Population-Environment Dynamics in Historical Perspective, in Population-Environment Dynamics, supra note 33, at 48 n.16 (citing data on Brazil where economic development and urbanization have reduced fertility rates without government participation in family planning).

(39) Gayl D. Ness, The Long View: Population-Environment Dynamics in Historical Perspective, in Population-Environment Dynamics, supra note 33, at 48.

(40) See, e.g., United Nations, Women's Education and Fertility Behaviour: Recent Evidence from the Demographic and Health Surveys (1995). The U.N. Study concludes there is extensive empirical evidence on direct and indirect correlations between fertility and education of women. Women with ten or more years of schooling inevitably have fewer children than those without schooling. Id. at 97. Education impacts decisions on when to marry, how many children are deemed desirable, and awareness and access to contraception. Id. at 2.

(41) Carrying capacity refers to the integrity of the basic ecological systems which replenish the earth's supply of air, soil, and water. Carrying capacity formulas predict the critical level of population that can be supported by a designated land area, whether local, national, or global. Laurie A. Mazur, Beyond the Numbers: An Introduction and Overview, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 5; Sandra Postel, Carrying Capacity: Earth's Bottom Line, in Law, Values and the Environment 168 (Robert N. Wells, Jr. ed., 1996) (discussing "carrying capacity," which refers to the earth's ability to support the largest number of any species and includes what the basic food, water, and shelter needs are along with the output of waste and effect of the waste on the resource base).

The Ehrlichs argue that by degrading these basic systems, we are depleting our "capital." Ehrlich & Ehrlich, supra note 9, at 1192 n.21.

(42) See Joel E. Cohen, How Many People Can the Earth Support? 88-90 (1995) (describing the doomsday model of population growth).

(43) See supra note 27 and accompanying text.

(44) The failure to account for the impact of technology on resources, particularly food supplies, led some analysts to conclude that population growth forces technological innovation sufficient to support increased numbers of people. See Julian L. Simons The Economics of Population Growth 158-81 (1977) (discussing the influence of population growth on technology).

(45) Laurie A. Mazur, Beyond the Numbers: An Introduction and Overview, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 3; see also Mark Sagoff, population, Nature, and the Environment, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 35 (stating that the developed countries consisting of 25% of the world population consume 85% of all forest products and 72% of all steel production and generate about 75% of the 2,500 billion tons of waste produced worldwide). One measurement of consumption impact per capita is the "Ecological Footprint" formula. The Ecological Footprint calculates the land necessary to provide sufficient resources to satisfy a given population's consumption patterns. For example, the Netherlands Footprint is seventeen times the size of the country. See James Salzman, Sustainable Consumption and the Law, 27 Envtl. L. 1243, 1250-51 (1997) (discussing the ecological footprint and the impact of the world's consumption on the environment and resource base).

(46) Janice Jiggins, Changing the Boundaries: Women-Centered Perspectives on Population and the Environment 11-12 (1994).

(47) The most well known is probably the I = P x A x T equation developed by Ehrlich and Holdren. See Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 80 (citing the well-known equation as one of the earlier attempts to capture the complex interaction of people and the environment in a mathematical form). Environmental impact is determined by multiplying the number of people (P) times per capita affluence or consumption (A) times an index of the environmental harm caused by technologies necessary to serve the consumption (T). Id.; see also Ehrlich & Ehrlich, supra note 9, at 1188. One of the first and most well-known formulas is the model originally put forth in Donelle H. Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind (1972), which presented a computer model involving the variables of population, food, industrialization, nonrenewable resources, and pollution to project population and impact upon the earth. See Cohen, supra note 42, at 121-23 (describing the formula, its history, and its critics).

(48) Population and the Environment in Developing Countries: Literature Survey and Research Bibliography, U.N. Doc. No. ESA/P/WP.123 (1994) at Ch. IV, C, available at <gopher:// popdiv/wp1> [hereinafter Literature Survey and Research Bibliography].

(49) See, e.g., Gayl D. Ness, The Powers and Limits of State and Technology: Rice and Population in Southeast Asia, in Population-Environment DYNAMICS, supra note 33, at 109-32 (discussing the various economic, social, and political factors in the long history of Southeast Asia); Stephen G. Bunker, Problems of Population and Environment in Extractive Economies, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 277-301 (discussing various population and environment models).

(50) Technological innovation may be relevant both to fertility, where safer more effective contraception is developed and to environmental impact, where, for example, new strains of rice produce higher yields per acre. Gayl D. Ness, The Powers and Limits of State and Technology: Rice and Population in Southeast Asia, in Population-Environment Dynamics, supra note 33, at 121-32.

(51) Literature Survey and Research Bibliography, supra, note 48, at ch. IV, C.

(52) The UN has called for greater multi-disciplinary research efforts. Id. at ch. IV, D.

(53) Id.

(54) Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 68. This tension was particularly acute at the preparatory meetings for the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992. Id. at 67. See also Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 147 (discussing the "have your cake and eat it too" syndrome in which environmentally-minded women's rights supporters and feminist environmentalists are in opposition over what the focus of population planning should be).

(55) Salzman, supra note 45.

(56) See supra notes 45-46 and accompanying text.

(57) Salzman, supra note 45.

(58) See e.g., World Bank World Development Report 1984, at 79 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1984) (labeling population growth a "serious brake on development").

(59) Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 74.

(60) See, e.g., Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 4142, 78-81, 226-31 (retelling stories of coerced abortion and vasectomies).

(61) Program success depended on the number of "acceptors" of contraceptive and sterilization services. Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 80. The recruiters own benefits often depended on the number of acceptors, and coercive practices were not uncommon. Id. at 78-81. The Chinese population program is one of the most restrictive, with forced sterilization, abortion, and other violent actions reported. Id. at 157-70; see also Amartya Sen, Fertility and Coercion, 63 U. Cm. L. Rev. 1035, 1054 (1996) (describing the coercive fertility policies of China). In addition, the health impact of these programs upon women was rarely considered. See, e.g., Adrienne Germain & Jane Ordway, Population Policy and Women's Health: Balancing the Scales, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 135-39 (discussing the problems of using contraceptive distribution as a population control strategy in the Third World due to the poor counseling given to recipients and the social and cultural complexities of the Third World); Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 189-219 (discussing the problems with the use of the pill and intra-uterine devices (IUDs) as contraceptives, especially given the misinformation and poor medical supervision provided to women); Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 48-50 (discussing the dangers and effects of hormonal and surgical contraceptive measures and the lack of use of male contraceptive devices).

(62) Numerous factors affect a decision to have another child, including religion, status, family pressures, economics, and social factors such as son preference. See Judith Lichtenberg, Population Policy and the Clash of Cultures, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 279; Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 74.

(63) Denese Shervington, Reflections on African-American Resistance to Population Policies and Birth Control, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 280-90; see Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 74.

(64) See Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 72.

(65) Id.

(66) Children in developing countries often are viewed as valuable workers in the family and security for parents in old-age. All Our People, supra note 7, at 38-41; Wolfgang Lutz, World Population Trade: Global and Regional Interactions Between Population and Environment, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 42; Gita Sen, Women, Poverty and Population: Issues for the Concerned Environmentalist, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 74.

(67) Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 8-10.

(68) The World Health Organization estimates that at least half a million women die annually from maternal causes, which are complications arising from or associated with pregnancy, abortion, or childbirth. Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 141. Where food is scarce, women often are deprived of nutrition by distribution systems that favor men. As a result, research has shown over 500 million women are severely anemic and an equal number suffer from malnutrition related disabilities. All Our People, supra note 7, at 138.

(69) See Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 23-27 (discussing the patriarchal bases of social control and stating "the most fundamental threat to women's rights to self determination is the patriarchal family system"); All Our People, supra note 7, at 136-40 (considering the social and economic ramifications for women if patriarchal constraints were to be removed).

(70) Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 24-27.

(71) Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 53-54; see also Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 23-25 (discussing traditional governmental reinforcement of the patriarchal system).

(72) Cynthia B. Lloyd, Family and Gender Issues for Population Policy, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 249; Amartya Sen, Fertility and Coercion, 63 U. Cm. L. Rev. 1035, 1052 (1996); Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 26; Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 46-48.

(73) See Population, Resources and the Environment, supra note 7, at 111. Some family planning programs require a woman to obtain her husband's consent for contraceptive services. Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at 25; Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 51-52. The high number of illegal abortions, estimated at 25% to 40% of all abortions performed in a year in which women risk their health and their lives, is evidence of the steps women will take to reduce births. Id. at 51.

(74) Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13, at ch. VII, T 7.2. These protections are linked to protections in the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and include protection of the rights of nondiscrimination, bodily control, and bodily integrity. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. GAOR, 34th Sess., Supp. No. 46, at 193, U.N. Doe. A/34/36 (1981), in United Nations, The United Nations and the Advancement of Women 1945-1996, at 244-50 (rev. ed. 1996) [hereinafter Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women].

(75) Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13.

(76) Amartya Sen, Fertility and Coercion, 63 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1035, 1052 n.50 (1996); see also All Our People, supra note 7, at 143-45 (citing a U.N. study comparing 98 developing countries which showed that "secondary education is one--if not the--key factor influencing the level of the birth rate").

(77) See Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, supra note 74; Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supra note 14.

(78) All Our People, supra note 7, at 144.

(79) Nafis Sadik, Investing in Women: The Focus of the 90s, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 220-21; see also Transforming Reproductive Choice, supra note 3, at app. B, app. C at 23245 (containing charts which display selected demographic indicators of the social status of women). Amartya Sen describes recent research in India which demonstrates higher fertility rates in wealthy districts where female literacy and employment is low as compared to districts with lower per capita income but high levels of female literacy and employment. Amartya Sen, Fertility and Coercion, 63 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1035, 1052 (1996). Increased education also tends to lead to enhanced employment opportunities which may, in turn, reduce the need for children as economic security. The data are by no means consistent on this point, perhaps due in part to discrimination against women which limits even educated women to low-paying, low-status jobs. See Nafis Sadik, Investing in Women: The Focus of the 90s, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 222 (discussing the contradictory evidence linking the rise of the number of women in the work force with lower fertility and mortality rates).

(80) See Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13.

(81) Bina Agarwal, The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons From India, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 93, 103-04.

(82) Deforestation or reduced water or soil supply increases women's work. Agarwal describes an example of how deforestation in India has resulted in a sevenfold increase in time spent collecting firewood. Id. at 105.

(83) Id. at 104. In many societies, the myth of the male breadwinner dominates even when women in fact are responsible for providing family subsistence. All Our People, supra note 7, at 138.

(84) Bina Agarwal, The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons From India, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 103-10.

(85) Women in many countries have become active in grass-roots organizations focusing precisely on local impact of national resource policy. See, e.g., id. at 110-15 (citing examples of women's resistance to ecological destruction in India).

(86) See supra notes 50-51 and accompanying text.

(87) Mark Sagoff, Population, Nature, and the Environment, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 34-39. Extraction and consumption of resources, in addition to waste generation, vary considerably per capita. As with population issues, sustainability policy requires understanding of both micro and macro factors. Resource use at local levels where a high density of population exists must be viewed in relation to national and international pressures on the same resources. For example, deforestation or land acquisition by national or multinational interests affects the behavior of local communities toward resources. State and multinational support of export crops and livestock disrupts local use and distribution by small farmers and forest dwellers as large forest tracts are cleared for expanding commercial enterprises. See Marianne Schmink, Die Socioeconomic Matrix of Deforestation, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 264-71 (discussing deforestation in India); Alberto Palloni, The Relationship between Population and Deforestation: Methods for Drawing Causal Inferences from Macro and Micro Studies, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 125-61 (describing the nature of the analytical problem of working out the interaction between population growth and deforestation).

(88) See supra notes 45-46 and accompanying text.

(89) The Rio Programme concludes in Chapter 4 that "[w]ithout the stimulus of prices and market signals that make clear to producers and consumers the environmental costs of the consumption of energy, materials and natural resources and generation of wastes, significant changes in consumption and production patterns seem unlikely to occur in the near future." Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.151/26 (Vol. 1) (1992) at ch. 4, [paragraph] 4.24, available at <gopher://> [hereinafter Rio Declaration]. In fact, new technologies can be developed which would enhance development and minimize environmental impact. See Salzman, supra note 45.

(90) Alan T. Durning, The Conundrum of Consumption, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 40-45.

(91) The failure of the market to reflect the environmental, or external, costs is one of the most significant problems. These costs include resource and emission costs from extraction, production, and distribution of the product, manufacturing waste, disposal, and depletion of resource costs. Salzman, supra note 45.

(92) The Rio Programme recognizes that the production and consumption patterns of the developed countries are "emulated in much of the world." Rio Declaration, supra note 89, at ch. 4, [paragraph] 4.15.

(93) See infra note 96 and accompanying text.

(94) See Paula Abrams, Reservations About Women: Population Policy and Reproductive Rights, 29 Cornell Int'l L. J. 1, 25 (1996) (noting that in communally-oriented cultures there may be tensions between international human rights law and the sovereignty of states because of the perception that international human rights are based on an incompatible Western philosophical and cultural view which seeks to protect the individual from the community (government)). For example, in consensual societies like Japan and Korea, values are based on mutual accommodation, and in communist societies like North Korea and China, individual interests are defined by the interests of the Communist Party. Id. (citing James C. Hsiung, Human Rights in an East Asian Perspective, in Human Rights in East Asia: A Cultural Perspective 1, 6-17 (James C. Hsiung ed., 1985)).

(95) See Not in God's Image 144-53, 220-33 (Julia O'Faolain & Lauro, Martines eds., 1973).

(96) See e.g. , Lourdes Arizpe & Margarita Velazquez, The Social Dimensions of Population, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 34-35; Laurie A. Mazur, Beyond the Numbers: An Introduction and Overview, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 3-8 (discussing the various theories of the ultimate effects of overpopulation on the environment and sustainability). "Replacement level" fertility is when couples "replace" themselves (i.e. by having two children) rather than adding more and thereby increasing the size of the next generation. The population eventually stabilizes. Cohen, supra note 42, at 140.

(97) Ehrlich & Ehrlich, supra note 9. Women on the average have four children today as compared to six in the 1960s. See Fertility Decline, supra note 3, at 60.

(98) At the recent United Nation's conference on global warming, there were doubts expressed about the progress towards the goals of the Earth Summit held in Rio five years ago. One Rio conference participant noted

[w]e reached the zenith of our enthusiasm and commitment for sustainable

development and the environment in 1992 .... Since then many other

things have come our way which have distracted our attention from

that. Since then a sense of parochialism has spread over much of

the developed world, a parochialism that affected the willingness

of those countries to make available funds or resources.

Barbara Crossette, Half-Hearted Global Warming Conference Closes Gloomily, N.Y. Times, June 27, 1997, at A3.

(99) Meredith Marshall, United Nations Conference on Population and Development: The Road to a New Reality for Reproductive Health, 10 Emory Int'l L. Rev. 441, 456 (1996).

(100) Steven W. Sindling, et al., Seeking Common Ground: Unmet Need and Demographic Goals, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 165-67.

(101) Id. at 158-70.

(102) Coercive practices can be defined as those involving the application of physical force or threat of severe deprivation to get individuals to do what they otherwise would not do. See Donald P. Warwick, The Ethics of Population Control, in Population Policy Contemporary Issues 21, 28 (Godfrey Roberts ed., 1990).

(103) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supra note 14, at 126 ("Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.").

(104) Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "[e]veryone has the right to education" and that at least elementary education "shall be free" and "shall be compulsory." Id. at 127. Article 23 continues, proclaiming that "[e]veryone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment." Id. Article 25 provides that

[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health

and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing,

housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the

right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability,

widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances

beyond his control.


(105) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, supra note 74, at 248 (containing Article 16 which eliminates discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations).

(106) Id. at 247 (containing Articles 11 and 12).

(107) Amartya Sen, Fertility and Coercion, 63 U. CHI. L. Rev. 1035, 1056-57 (1996); Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 298-300.

(108) Sen, supra note 107, at 1056-57.

(109) Reproductive Rights & Wrongs, supra note 4, at 252.

(110) Chinese Happily Break the `One Child' Rule, N.Y. Times, Aug. 17, 1997, at 1-1, available at 1997 WL 7999539 (describing how economic growth is eroding the traditionally strict enforcement of the one-child policy, allowing those who wish to do so to have larger families, but also encouraging less children to those families formerly forced by poverty to have large families).

(111) Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, State Responsibility Under International Human Rights Law to Change Religious and Customary Practices, in Human Right's of Women, supra note 12, at 175-85.

(112) Laws which affect population may therefore include not only those which directly regulate reproductive matters, but also those which impact reproductive choices, such as laws regarding the minimum age of marriage, education, status of women, health care, employment, child care, welfare, and old age security. See Luke T. Lee, Law, Human Rights, and Population Policy, in Population Policy Contemporary Issues 3 (Godfrey Roberts ed., 1990). For example, voluntary family planning programs in Mexico have been successful in large part due to the positive political climate generated. Thomas W. Merrick, The Evolution and Impact of Policies on Fertility and Family Planning: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, in Population Policies Contemporary Issues 147-65 (Godfrey Roberts ed., 1990).

(113) Religious influences may be more difficult to change. See Frances Kissling, Theo-Politics: The Roman Catholic Church and Population Policy, in Beyond the Numbers, supra note 2, at 320-29 (discussing the role of Roman Catholicism in world population policy and planning); Maura A. Ryan, Reflections on Population Policy from the Roman Catholic Tradition, in Beyond The Numbers, supra note 2, 330-40 (discussing the same).

At the same time, Italy, a predominantly Catholic country, has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Similarly, Mexico and several other predominantly Catholic countries in Central and South America also have very successful fan-Lily planning programs and are experiencing declines in fertility rates. See Thomas W. Merrick, The Evolution and Impact of Policies on Fertility and Family Planning: Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, in Population Policies Contemporary Issues 147-65 (Godfrey Roberts ed., 1990).

(114) Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13, at ch. VII., [paragraph] 7.3.

(115) Paula Abrams, Reservations About Women: Population Policy and Reproductive Rights, 29 Cornell Int'l L. J. 1, 13-17 (1996) (discussing the development of international reproductive rights after the issue first received international attention at the International Conference on Human Rights in Teheran in 1968).

(116) Recognition of this complexity is reflected in increasing demands for multi-disciplinary research into both macro and micro dynamics of the population-environment relationship. Literature Survey and Research Bibliography, supra note 48, at ch. IV, D ("Current research on population and the environment continues to be carried out largely within the confines of separate disciplines despite a recognition, by both social and natural scientists of the need for a multidisciplinary approach."); see also Conclusions: Rethinking the Population-Environment Debate, in Population and Environment, supra note 32, at 33947 (summarizing the various perspectives on the population-environment debate and suggesting new research directions); Gayl D. Ness, et al., Summary, Conclusion, and Next Steps, in Population-Environment Dynamics, supra note 33, at 377-406 (setting forth a research agenda for the future and discussing issues of scale, complexity, and the problem of boundaries).

(117) Ehrlich & Ehrlich, supra note 9, at 1192.

(118) Robert J. Beck et al., International Rules-Approaches from International Law and International Relations 218 (1996).

(119) See infra note 120-21 and accompanying text.

(120) The protection in the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of the right to decide "freely and responsibly" on the number and spacing of their children was only part of the definition of reproductive health adopted at Cairo. The Cairo Programme of Action states

[r]eproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental

and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or

infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system

and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore

implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex

life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom

to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last

condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to

have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods

of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods

of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against

the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care

services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy

and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a

healthy infant. In line with the above definition of reproductive

health, reproductive health care is defined as the constellation

of methods, techniques and services that contribute to reproductive

health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive

health problems. It also includes sexual health, the purpose

of which is the enhancement of life and personal relations, and

not merely counseling and care related to reproduction and sexually

transmitted diseases.

Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13, at ch. VII, [paragraph] 17.2. The CEDAW merely states that signatories shall provide men and women "[t]he same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing on their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights." See Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, supra note 74, at 248.

(121) Abrams, supra note 115, at 17-22 (discussing various countries reservations to CEDAW); see also United Nations, The United Nations and the Advancement of Women 1945-1996, 816-23 (rev. ed. 1996) (containing a chart detailing the status of reservations, objections, and notifications of withdrawal of reservations by signatories to the CEDAW).

(122) For example, Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration puts "human beings ... at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature." Rio Declaration, supra note 89, at ch. 1, Annex 1, Principle 1. Principle 3 addresses "the right to development" and equitable fulfillment of this right. Id. at ch. 1, Annex 1, Principle 3. The Rio Declaration advocates that

an effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty,

development and environment simultaneously should begin by

focusing on resources, production and people and should

cover demographic issues, enhanced health care and education,

the rights of women, the role of youth and of indigenous

people and local communities and a democratic participation

process in association with improved governance.

Id. at ch. 3, [paragraph] 13.2. Chapter 24 of the Rio Declaration outlines numerous objectives and activities directed solely toward "global action for women towards sustainable and equitable development." Id. at ch. 24. These measures focus on removal of discrimination in political, economic and social arenas, promotion of education and health care for girls and women, including family planning and call for the full integration of women into decision-making positions. The Cairo Programme of Action similarly recommends to the international community a set of important population and development objectives. Among these objectives and goals are; "sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development; education, especially for girls; gender equity and equality ... and the provision of universal access to reproductive health services, including family planning and sexual health." Cairo International Conference Report, supra note 13, at ch. I, [paragraph] 1.12.

The Cairo Programme also addresses both rights and responsibilities in defining the rights of individuals and couples to "freely and responsibly" decide on the number and spacing of their children. Id. at ch. VII, [paragraph] 7.3. Principle 2 of the Rio Programme likewise refers to the "sovereign right" of states to exploit their own resources and "their responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction." Rio Declaration, supra note 89, at ch. 1, Annex 1, Principle 2.

(123) The debate over `universal' as compared to `relative' human rights is a long one. Despite ongoing dissent that even core human rights must be defined in relation to varying cultural norms, the prevailing international consensus is that core liberties are universal in meaning. See Donna J. Sullivan, Current Developments, Women's Human Rights and the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, 88 Am. J. Intl. L. 152, 157 (1994) (discussing the debate, prevalent at the 1993 Conference on the universality of human rights) The United States, like many Western countries, favors universality. Elaine Sciolino, U.S. Rejects Notion That Human Rights Vary With Culture, N.Y. Times, June 15, 1993, at A1. Although many non-Western cultures have lodged reservations about the universality of human rights by taking exceptions to certain language in various United Nations proclamations, not all non-Western countries are against universality in human rights. See Abrams, supra note 115, at 19-21, 26.

(124) 42 U.S.C. [subsections] 7401-7671q (1994).

(125) Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, 33 U.S.C. [subsections] 1251-1387 (1994).

(126) Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1976, [subsections] 6901-6992k (1994).

(127) 42 U.S.C. [subsections] 9601-9675 (1994).

(128) Most of these statutes are based on the polluter pays principle, described in The Polluter Pays Principle (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development 1975).

(129) Curbside recycling programs in the United States have increased from 1,042 in 1988 to 6,678 in 1993, resulting in a 10% percent increase in recycled or composted municipal waste. John E. Young & Aaron Sachs, Creating a Sustainable Materials Economy, in State of the World 1995: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society 87 (Linda Stark, ed. 1995) [hereinafter State of the World 1995]. Oregon mandates that rigid plastic containers either contain 25% recycled material, be made of plastic that is being recycled in the state at the rate of 25%, or be used five or more times for a similar use. Or. Rev. Stat. [sections] 459A.655 (1995). California courts require recycled paper be used in briefs filed in their courts. See Cal. Rules of Court 44(a) (West 1997) ("The use of recycled paper shall be required for all papers filed with the court or served on the parties.").

(130) Hilary F. French, Forging a New Global Partnership, in State of the World 1995, supra note 129, at 172-74. The Convention on Biological Diversity, an outgrowth of the Rio Conference, has been ratified by over eighty-nine countries. Id.

(131) Id. at 173.

(*) This Article, while derived in part from the Author's participation in and preparation for the Population Law and Policy Conference held April 11-12, 1997 at Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College, was not presented at the Conference.

Paula Abrams, Associate Professor of Law, Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College. I wish to thank Katherine Kellner for her excellent research assistance. I would also like to thank Virginia Abernethy, Reed Boland, Harold Coward, Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, Robert Hardaway, James Huffman, Richard Lamm, Dottie Lamm, Luke Lee, James Salzman, and Elizabeth Spahn for their thoughtful and energetic contributions to the Population Law and Policy Conference and this Symposium. Finally, I would like to express my deep appreciation to Peter Dehlinger whose interest and support made this Conference possible.
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Title Annotation:Symposium on Population Law
Author:Abrams, Paula
Publication:Environmental Law
Date:Dec 22, 1997
Previous Article:Allowing fertility decline: 200 years after Malthus's essay on population.
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