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One Child

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One Child

Do We Have a Right to More?

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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As the world population grows, you may lose the right to have more than one child.

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  • Innovative


The world’s population of seven billion strains the planet. Struggles over food, land and fossil fuels are inevitable, says philosophy professor Sarah Conly. She argues that only procreation limits can mitigate the negative impact of overpopulation. She clearly doesn’t fear controversy, since even the suggestion of family limits is an assault on what most people feel is a basic freedom. Conservation and reducing consumption are not enough, she submits. While Conly hopes that voluntary compliance, education and accessible contraception would spur the desired reductions, she believes government sanctions are not out of the question. Conly maintains that having more than one child is not an inalienable right. This in-depth, intelligent analysis is not for the casual reader. It’s a serious academic exercise unrelieved by anecdotal support. Surprisingly, Conly pays scant attention to China’s now updated one-child mandate. While always neutral on political or controversial issues, getAbstract suggests Conly’s thesis for its brave exploration of an unpopular solution to an obvious problem.


Seven Billion and Growing

In 2011, the population of the world reached seven billion people. The growth rate will accelerate as more babies are born. As the population consumes the Earth’s resources at alarming rates, people feel the consequences the resulting environmental damage. Parts of the world face food scarcities due to overfishing, loss of arable land, and natural disasters such as droughts and heat waves. Today’s reckless destruction of the planet harms future generations.

A smaller population will diminish many of these negative effects and ensure that your children and their children won’t suffer inferior lives. A one-child policy would mitigate the damage to the planet without compromising people’s rights or their well-being. Rates of consumption in the Western world and parts of Asia are higher now than ever. Reducing consumption is one approach, but it’s not enough.

The topic of limiting the population seldom makes it into the public dialogue. Population control is such a distasteful idea – and often contrary to people’s religious beliefs and sense of privacy – that politicians and environmental agencies avoid it. No one wants to acknowledge...

About the Author

Associate professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College Sarah Conly wrote Against Autonomy.

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