Past Event

Environmental Sustainability, Population and Intergenerational Justice - Professor Simon Caney

This event is part of a 4 day conference on "Climate Ethics and Climate Economics: Discounting the Future" organised by the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations and the ESRC

Some have argued - both in the past and in the present - that it is is necessary to limit population if we are to leave future generations an environmentally sustainable planet.  Some, for example, have argued that a couple can have at most one child (Conly 2015) and others have argued that each person may have no more than one child (Overall 2012).  Is this kind of approach right?  To answer this question we need to know (a) what principles of intergenerational justice apply to us, (b) what people should have fair shares of (wealth, welfare or something else?), (c) the nature of a just population policy, and (d) the determinants of environmental sustainability.  When we consider these four elements, I argue, we can see that the calls for one child per person or per couple are not well-grounded.  I defend instead an alternative approach which specifies a duty to live within our obligations to future generations but permits different ways of discharging this duty.  This more liberal approach, I maintain, (i) fits better with the scientific understanding of the determinants of environmental sustainability, (ii) has the virtue of respecting choice and (iii) is more politically feasible.  I conclude by addressing the objection that this treats children and consumption as equivalent in a morally objectionable way and that it fails to acknowledge the special importance of procreation.


12 January 2016 17:00 - 18:30

Further Information


Faculty of Law

St Cross Bldg
10 Saint Cross Road
Oxford OX1 3UL