The Living Earth Ethical Principles: A Family For All Families.

AuthorAssadourian, Erik
PositionESSAY - Essay

The fifth in a series of essays on a system of ecological ethics for living sustainably. This and the remaining essays describe the 10 Living Earth Ethical Principles in detail. For references and additional discussion, visit

A Family for All Families. Until the human population returns to a number that the Earth can healthily maintain, all couples should moderate their reproductive fruitfulness. Those wanting larger families should consider adopting as many children as they have the longing and means to raise. All families should focus on teaching their children to tread as lightly on the Earth as possible.

We need to shrink the human population as fast as humanely possible if we expect the majority of humans to live in anything but the most abject state of poverty on a disrupted planet with ecosystem services increasingly less able to sustain humanity. But a reduction of how much, exactly? The conservatively calculated Ecological Footprint indicator suggests that the Earth can sustain about 2.1 billion high-income individuals or 6.2 billion middle-income individuals or 13.6 billion low-income individuals (this assumes all of Earth's biocapacity is used for humans). Few will be willing to return to a state of poverty, nor should they, so really we need to aim for either a high-income ("consumer") population one-third of today's population (and no one else), or, more realistically, a larger but still much-reduced middle-income population--one that maintains a simple but satisfying way of life.

So, the Earth can sustain 6 billion mindful individuals or fewer consumers--yet we're en route to a total population of about 9 billion, including 2-4 billion consumers. That means our survival depends on an aggressive campaign to reduce population and consumption, starting right now. In part we can address this by offering opportunities to women to control their own reproductive choices. Many have written about this, including Worldwatch vice president Robert Engelman in his recent book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want. In essence, he notes, "women aren't seeking more children, but more for their children." If we can provide education, support, and access to contraception, many women will choose to have fewer children.

Family planning efforts like the ones Engelman describes will help significantly, but they typically only focus on low and middle-income individuals. What about those women who are seeking more...

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