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Zero Population Growth (ZPG) refers to a state in nature at which the birth rate is equivalent to the death rate, meaning that the population remains exactly at a specific level. There has been speculation about the appropriate level of population that may be sustainable given the restraints of existing economic and environmental resources. In a small state such as Singapore, where severe spatial restraints exist, it has been necessary to limit population growth for the sake of maintaining a consistent standard of living. However, the measures necessary to achieve this are believed by many people to infringe civil liberties or religious tenets on birth control. In other countries where space is not so limited, innovations in productivity and technology have so far managed to ensure that some of the more pessimistic predictions of those who fear continued growth in population, notably the 18th-century economist Thomas Malthus and, more recently, Paul Ehrlich, have yet to come to pass.
Despite its often vaunted environmental advantages, demographic decline has led to several unintended social consequences. In some Western countries, the native born populations are in decline, leading to an increasing reliance on a foreign-born immigrant workforce. In China and India, state and family efforts to control growth have led to a disproportionate rate of abortions of female fetuses, resulting in a large overall imbalance in the ratio of boys to girls for an emerging generational cohort.
From 1968 until 2002, Zero Population Growth (ZPG) was also the name of the U.S. organization now called Population Connection. The organization was created to promote the link between environmental problems and growing population levels and how, consequently, a tipping point is likely to arrive after which the impoverishment of the world must follow. This effort brought ZPG into contact with the feminist movement and other progressive causes favoring sexual freedom through contraception. This has led many to consider the ZPG cause to be political and religious in nature. ZPG’s message has changed from its original prescription to have no more than two children and to tell other people about that decision.
As an organization, Population Connection addresses a number of different population issues across a range of activities including research, promotion, lobbying, education, and publication. It relies upon the contributions of its subscribing members and also on the sale of merchandise. The organization changed its name in part because Zero Population Growth was seen as a term with negative and draconian connotations. So too, population control and resources conservation are complex and multifaceted and not necessarily achieved by uniformity of behavior. Instead, the organization advocates a sophisticated regime of incentives to encourage people to behave in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable.
- Paul R. Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (Buccaneer Books, 1995);
- Thomas R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, ed. by Geoffrey Gilbert (Oxford University Press, 1999);
- Population Connection, www.populationconnection.org (cited July 2006).