Classroom Resources: Be Fruitful and Multiply?

Article by David Malakoff

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Discussion Questions

1.    How is it possible that decreasing birthrates could contribute to eventual environmental degradation?

2.    What is the demographic transition? Does this transition follow automatically from increased economic development, or are there factors that can arrest or derail the transition?

3.    What factors may be responsible for the upturn in birthrates recently observed by some researchers in several of the world’s wealthiest nations? If this upturn persists, what are some of the possible implications for environmental sustainability?

4.    Given the “demographic divide” referred to in the article, is global population growth a central issue any more, or is it more important to focus on national and regional trends?

5.    What are the risks for environmentalists in terms of making predictions about future outcomes, such as the consequences of human population growth? Does the environmental movement lose credibility when dire predictions do not come true?

Websites for Further Information

•    The Optimum Population Trust:

•    US and World Population Clock:

•    World in the Balance:

•    Population Reference Bureau:

•    Human Development Reports:

•    AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:

•    United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA):

Human Population Growth in the News

•    A Billion Teenagers, for Better or Worse (New York Time, April 12, 2009):

•    Population growth is not what makes climate change a feminist issue (The Guardian, November 2, 2009):

•    Measuring our ability to map future population growth  (The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 17, 2006):

•    Indonesian population must be controlled in order to save the environment (The Jakarta Post, August 5, 2009):

Peer-reviewed Literature (in addition to the citations listed in the article)

•    Dietz, T., E.A. Rosa, and R. York. 2007. Driving the human ecological footprint. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: 5(1): 13-18.

•    Laurance, W.F. 2007. Have we overstated the tropical biodiversity crisis? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 22(2): 65-70.

•    Lutz, W., W. Sanderson, and S. Scherbov. 2008. The coming acceleration of global population ageing. Nature 451: 716-719.

•    Pimentel, D., S. Cooperstein, H. Randell, D. Filiberto, S. Sorrentino, B. Kaye, C. Nicklin, J. Yagi, J. Brian, J. O’Hern, A. Habas, and C. Weinstein. 2007. Ecology of increasing diseases: population growth and environmental degradation. Human Ecology 35(6): 653-668.

Key Concepts

•    Population growth
•    Demographic transition
•    Human development index
•    Population age structure