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Journal Article

Four Theories of Population Change and the Environment

Carole L. Jolly
Population and Environment
Vol. 16, No. 1 (Sep., 1994), pp. 61-90
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27503376
Page Count: 30
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Four Theories of Population Change and the Environment
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Abstract

This paper evaluates current theories of the relationship between population change and the environment, particularly land use, in developing countries. Specifically, this paper critically reviews the literature and suggests what demographers can contribute to testing these theories. The literature can be divided into four main theoretical frameworks. Population growth plays a different role in each of these theories. (1) For the neoclassical economists, high population growth is a neutral factor; it has no intrinsic effect on the environment. How population growth affects the environment depends on whether free market policies are operative. In an efficient market, population growth can serve to induce innovation and the development of advanced technologies. In an economy full of distortions, high population growth can exacerbate the effects of these distortions. (2) For the classical economists or natural scientists, high population growth is the independent factor causing environmental degradation. As an increasing population puts pressure on fixed available resources to maintain or increase the population's standard of living, environmental degradation occurs as resources are depleted. Empirical work has generally centered on estimating the carrying capacity of land to determine what size population can be supported, given available resources. (3) For many dependency theorists, high population growth is a symptom of a deeper problem, poverty. Environmental degradation and high population growth are linked, not in that one causes the other, but in that their root cause is the same: unequal distribution of resources maintained by distorted political and economic relations.

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