"Is Population Growth a Problem: If so, What Would Be an Ethical Response?"

Oct 21, 2019, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
Friend Center, Room 101


Event Description

Is the world’s present population, of around 7.7 billion, a problem that we should try to do something about?  Should we be concerned at predictions from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs that in 2050 the population will reach 9.7 billion and that it will continue to grow to nearly 11 billion in 2100?

If we think it would be better if the world’s population did not grow to this extent, we must face the practical question: what means may ethically be used to encourage others – often people with different religious or cultural values -- to have fewer children? 

This event will feature four speakers with expertise on different aspects of these questions. Dylan Matthews and Alex Ezeh will discuss whether we have reason to regard population growth as a problem. Matt Connelly will focus on the abuses to which earlier alarm about “overpopulation” led, while Frances Kissling will describe continuities and changes in feminist thought and advocacy regarding attempts to control population size. 

The format will allow time for discussion among the panel and with the audience.


Dylan Matthews is an American journalist, and a senior correspondent with Vox.  He leads their Future Perfect section, which launched in October 2018.  Its focus includes issues like global poverty and health, and future catastrophic risks.

Frances Kissling is the President of The Center for Health Ethics and Social Policy, focusing on feminist perspectives on population and reproductive health, and an Instructor at the Institute of Philosophical Investigation at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she teaches reproductive health ethics. She took part in the UN Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994, and is currently a member of the International Planning Committee for the Nairobi Summit, a high level conference to accelerate efforts to end maternal mortality, meet the unmet need for family planning and end gender based violence by 2030.

Matthew Connelly is a professor of international and global history at Columbia. He is also director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and the principal investigator of History Lab, a MacArthur Foundation and NSF-funded project to apply data science to historical research. He is the author of Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, an Economist and Financial Times book of the year. Matt has provided commentary on international affairs for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Le Monde, and has hosted radio documentaries for BBC Radio.

Alex Ezeh is a professor of Global Health in the Department of Community Health and Prevention at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. Before that he was the founding Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Center. His work focuses on addressing the challenges that come with the growth of slums around the world and the continuing rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa.  He co-chaired the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and is also a member of the Vatican-Lancet-Mario Negri Commission on the Value of Life that began its work in February 2018.  He is the recipient of the World Academy of Sciences 2018 Prize for the Social Sciences.

Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values, will chair.