CSU professor joins Swedish project to study global overpopulation

A Colorado State University professor has joined forces with a faculty member in Sweden on an interdisciplinary project to study a “growing” problem: global overpopulation.

Phil Cafaro, a professor in CSU’s Department of Philosophy, and Frank Götmark, an ecology professor at the University of Gothenburg, have been awarded $600,000 from the Global Challenges Foundation to study the environmental impacts of overpopulation worldwide. The project, based at the Swedish university, also will involve examining challenges associated with keeping population levels around the world from growing.

Phil Cafaro
Phil Cafaro

Growth levels

Since 1950, the global population has grown from 2.5 billion to 7.6 billion, and the U.N. predicted in July that the number may increase to 11.2 billion by 2100.

“That’s a worry for those of us concerned about protecting the environment,” Cafaro says. “How do you deal with that kind of population growth without cooking planet Earth? Better to avoid it in the first place.”

Population growth increases use of natural resources and overall consumption, he explains. This, in turn, amplifies environmental problems such as air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity and species extinction, and global climate change.

Three areas of focus

In their study, “Research on effects of overpopulation and ethical policies to reduce global population growth,” Cafaro and Götmark plan to look at three primary questions:

  • What conditions and factors can reduce global population growth and, in the long run, provide a stable, sustainable world population?
  • Which countries or societies have achieved population stabilization, and what policies have allowed them to achieve this?
  • What measures against population growth are economically, socially and ethically acceptable, and can be recommended?

Among other topics, the research will identify policies to address population aging in developed countries without increasing overall population numbers; quantify how lowering population growth can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and explore the role migration policies play in stabilizing or destabilizing populations in sender and receiver countries.

Frank Gotmark
Frank Götmark

Shared interests

Cafaro says Götmark contacted him after reading his 2015 book, How Many is Too Many: The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States. Götmark, whose most recent research focuses on managing and preserving the biodiversity of oak forests in Scandinavia, shares many of Cafaro’s views on the environmental threats posed by overpopulation. Götmark has seen how population growth can lead to increased development and less habitat for birds and other wildlife, for instance.

Cafaro says he realizes discussions about controlling population growth can be controversial.

“Population issues have become taboo in recent years,” he says. “We aim to change that through an honest discussion of the demographic choices facing countries around the world, and the environmental implications of those choices. Are there ways to be less coercive than setting a mandate on the number of kids you can have, like providing resources and education to those who want to have fewer kids? Or cutting back on immigration by making life better in the countries where immigrants are coming from?”

Environmental sustainability

“Ending population growth is one key to creating environmentally sustainable societies,” Götmark adds. “We hope to contribute to that goal by studying policies in both the developed and developing worlds that have gotten population growth under control, highlighting best practices for doing so.”

Book coverThe two-year grant will cover travel expenses, compensation for time spent on the study, as well as support for two research assistants who will be working on the project, Patricia Derer of Hungary and Jenna Dodson of the U.S.

“In the field of philosophy, this is a significant grant amount,” Cafaro says, adding that two others will contribute to the project as well: Carl Wahren, former head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, who has done related work with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; and Karl-Erik Norrman, secretary general of the European Cultural Parliament, who has done development work with the United Nations and World Trade Organization. “We have these senior Swedish experts, on one hand, and research assistants in their 20s, so the project is intergenerational as well as interdisciplinary.”

About the foundation

The Global Challenges Foundation was founded in 2012 by Swedish financial analyst and author Laszlo Szombatfalvy. The Foundation’s aim is to contribute to reducing the main global problems and risks that threaten humanity, particularly climate change, degradation of global ecological systems, politically motivated violence, extreme poverty and population growth. Visit its website at https://globalchallenges.org/.

The Department of Philosophy is in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.