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Population Matters

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Population Matters
Population Matters logo.jpg
Motto for a sustainable future
Founded 1991; 27 years ago (1991)
Founder David Willey
Type Environmental charity
Sustainability organisation
Think tank
Advocacy group
Focus Promotion of smaller families,[1] and sustainable consumption.[2]
Method Research, education, campaigning and lobbying
Key people
Chair, Andrew Macnaughton
Formerly called
Optimum Population Trust

Population Matters, formerly known as the Optimum Population Trust, is a UK-based charity that addresses population size and its effects on environmental sustainability. It considers population growth as a major contributor to environmental degradation, resource depletion, conflict and involuntary migration and societal problems such as housing scarcity and transport congestion.

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Today ,more than half of all people in the world live in an urban area. By mid-century, this will increase to 70%. But as recently as 100 years ago, only two out of ten people lived in a city, and before that, it was even less. How have we reached such a high degree of urbanization, and what does it mean for our future? In the earliest days of human history, humans were hunter-gatherers, often moving from place to place in search of food. But about 10,000 years ago, our ancestors began to learn the secrets of selective breeding and early agricultural techniques. For the first time, people could raise food rather than search for it, and this led to the development of semi-permanent villages for the first time in history. "Why only semi-permanent?" you might ask. Well, at first, the villages still had to relocate every few years as the soil became depleted. It was only with the advent of techniques like irrigation and soil tilling about 5,000 years ago that people could rely on a steady and long-term supply of food, making permanent settlements possible. And with the food surpluses that these techniques produced, it was no longer necessary for everyone to farm. This allowed the development of other specialized trades, and, by extension, cities. With cities now producing surplus food, as well as tools, crafts, and other goods, there was now the possibility of commerce and interaction over longer distances. And as trade flourished, so did technologies that facilitated it, like carts, ships, roads, and ports. Of course, these things required even more labor to build and maintain, so more people were drawn from the countryside to the cities as more jobs and opportunities became available. If you think modern cities are overcrowded, you may be surprised to learn that some cities in 2000 B.C. had population densities nearly twice as high as that of Shanghai or Calcutta. One reason for this was that transportation was not widely available, so everything had to be within walking distance, including the few sources of clean water that existed then. And the land area of the city was further restricted by the need for walls to defend against attacks. The Roman Empire was able to develop infrastructure to overcome these limitations, but other than that, modern cities as we know them, didn't really get their start until the Industrial Revolution, when new technology deployed on a mass scale allowed cities to expand and integrate further, establishing police, fire, and sanitation departments, as well as road networks, and later electricity distribution. So, what is the future of cities? Global population is currently more than 7 billion and is predicted to top out around 10 billion. Most of this growth will occur in the urban areas of the world's poorest countries. So, how will cities need to change to accommodate this growth? First, the world will need to seek ways to provide adequate food, sanitation, and education for all people. Second, growth will need to happen in a way that does not damage the land that provides us with the goods and services that support the human population. Food production might move to vertical farms and skyscrapers, rooftop gardens, or vacant lots in city centers, while power will increasingly come from multiple sources of renewable energy. Instead of single-family homes, more residences will be built vertically. We may see buildings that contain everything that people need for their daily life, as well as a smaller, self-sufficient cities focused on local and sustainable production. The future of cities is diverse, malleable, and creative, no longer built around a single industry, but reflecting an increasingly connected and global world.


History and background

Population Matters was launched as the Optimum Population Trust following a meeting on 24 July 1991 by the late David Willey and others concerned about population numbers and sustainability. They were impelled to act by the failure of United Kingdom governments to respond to a series of recommendations regarding population growth and sustainability.[3]

The Optimum Population Trust prepared analyses and lobbied on issues affected by population growth. It also lobbied developmental and environmental campaigners on the need to incorporate population issues in their thinking. It was granted charitable status on 9 May 2006.[4] Population Matters was adopted as its campaign name in 2011.[5]

Views and aims

Population Matters aims to achieve a future with decent living standards for all, a healthy and biodiverse environment and a sustainable population size.[6] The charity holds the following policy positions:


Population growth increases damage to the environment and depletes natural resources. Therefore, human numbers should be reduced voluntarily to a sustainable level that enables an acceptable quality of life for all.

  • Given that human activity already exceeds Earth’s capacity to support it, Population Matters argues that population stabilisation should be strived for without delay.[7]
  • The United Nations projects that global population size could grow by 2.5 billion between 2015 and 2050, which illustrates the urgency of the matter further according to the organisation.[8]

Development and climate change

Population growth increases the number of wealthy carbon emitters and poorer climate change victims and hampers mitigation and adaptation efforts. In 2016, humanity used the sustainable resource output of 1.6 Earths.[9]

  • Evidence has been presented that less equal affluent countries consume more resources and generate more waste than other affluent countries.[10]Consequently, Population Matters supports greater income equality.
  • Developed countries are responsible for the majority of resource consumption as well as the associated global environmental degradation. Therefore, the developed world has a responsibility to support developing nations according to the organisation.[11]
  • Population Matters supports the concept of Contraction and Convergence as conceived by the Global Commons Institute.[12]

Women’s rights and reproductive health

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential for reproductive health, economic development and population stabilisation. Population Matters therefore supports programmes to improve the status of women.

  • Population Matters embraces the Sustainable Development Goals that see women’s empowerment as a necessary condition for sustainable development.[13]
  • Comparisons made between developing nations that experienced rapid fertility decline and those that did not found that high fertility increases absolute levels of poverty by slowing economic growth and worsening the distribution of additionally acquired resources.[14] Consequently, the organisation promotes policies improving access to contraceptives.


Migration often results from conflict, poverty, inequality or population and consumption pressures. Population Matters calls for fair trade terms and increased foreign aid and knowledge transfer to promote sustainable development, global justice and resilience.

  • Population Matters believes that the only just and long-term solution to migration pressure is to address its underlying causes in the countries of origin, such as poverty, lack or over exploitation of resources, climate change and conflict.[15]
  • The organisation believes that developed countries have a moral responsibility to help with this because they contribute to migratory pressures by being both major consumers of resources from developing countries and are the principal source of the causes of climate change.[16]

Ageing and parenthood

  • Population Matters rejects the case that more young people are required to care for an increasing number of elderly. It believes that governments should promote responsible parenthood and limit subsidies to the first two children unless a family is living in poverty.
  • Population Matters promotes the idea that society should deal with ageing by enabling employment for untrained, underemployed and older people and by optimising the use of technology.[17][18]


Population Matters campaigns to stabilise population at a sustainable level through encouraging a culture shift towards smaller family sizes worldwide and improving resources for women's empowerment and family planning in lower income countries.[19][20] Over the years, the organization has supported various campaigns, including Caroline Lucas’ Bill to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) a statutory requirement in state-funded schools.[21] It also produces material to help its supporters raise awareness of population growth.[22]

The charity also runs PopOffsets, a project that offers members of the public the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions by donating towards family planning projects around the world.[23]

Other activities include the Population Matters Overshoot Index, which presents assessments of the extent to which countries and regions of the world are considered to be able to support themselves on the basis of their own renewable resources. It also produces short films, such as “Zombie Overpopulation”.[24][25]

Organisational structure

Population Matters consists of patrons, an advisory council, a board, a team of staff/contractors and volunteers and members. It relies on members and donors for its funding.[26]


Population Matters' patrons include prominent and successful public figures such as the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, the economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, the biologist Professor Paul Ehrlich, the primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, Professor John Guillebaud and the politician Baroness Shreela Flather.[27]


In 2013, Population Matters was criticised for advocating that Syrian refugees should not be accommodated in the UK,[28] calling for “zero-net migration” to the UK and for supporting a UK government policy of stopping child benefit and tax credits for third and subsequent children.[28] In 2017, the organisation stopped advocating for these policies, replacing them with a call for a Sustainable Population Policy.[29]

See also


  1. ^ "Smaller families". 
  2. ^ "Consume mindfully". 
  3. ^ "People & story - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  4. ^ "Charity overview". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  5. ^ "UK Web Archive". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  6. ^ "Vision & values - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  7. ^ "Living Planet Report 2014". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  8. ^ "World Population Prospects The 2015 Revision" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  9. ^ "World Footprint". Global Footprint Network. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  10. ^ "Inequality and Environmental Sustainability" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  11. ^ "The State of Consumption Today | Worldwatch Institute". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  12. ^ "Contraction and Convergence Homepage". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  13. ^ "Women's Empowerment". UNDP. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  14. ^ "Population and Poverty: New Views on an Old Controversy". Guttmacher Institute. 2005-02-02. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  15. ^ "Conflict & migration - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  16. ^ Clark, Duncan (2011-04-21). "Which nations are most responsible for climate change?". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  17. ^ Valenzuela, Dr Rebecca (2015-03-23). "The economics of an ageing population". The Age. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  18. ^ "Managing an ageing society" (PDF). Population Matters. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  19. ^ "Central London Humanists". Meetup. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  20. ^ Martin, Roger (2011-10-23). "Why current population growth is costing us the Earth | Roger Martin". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  21. ^ "PSHE briefing for MPs | Caroline Lucas". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  22. ^ "London's population to grow by a quarter - Population Matters". Population Matters. 2016-05-25. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  23. ^ "PopOffsets > Contact". Retrieved 2016-06-09. 
  24. ^ "Population Matters — Media Trust". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  25. ^ "Overshoot Index" (PDF). Population Matters. 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  26. ^ "People & story - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  27. ^ "Patrons - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-09. 
  28. ^ a b "The charity which campaigned to ban Syrian refugees from Britain". openDemocracy. 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2016-06-09. 
  29. ^ "Sustainable population policy - Population Matters". Retrieved 13 November 2017. 

External links

Official website

This page was last edited on 17 March 2018, at 06:17.
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