To determine the ideal mitigation policy, a research team led by Princeton University, the University of Vermont and the University of Texas at Austin employed a climate-economic model to examine two ethical approaches to valuing human population.
Under one approach, the researchers assumed that society aims to increase the total number of people who are “happy/well-off.” Under the other approach, the researchers assumed society intends to increase the average level of people’s happiness/well-being.
Yet, how much to invest in policies — like setting an appropriate carbon tax — to protect future generations from environmental destruction depends on how society chooses to value human population, according to a new study published Oct.
30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Under both ethical approaches, a smaller population could save tens of billions of dollars or more annually on climate change prevention policies, especially in wealthier countries.
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Either way, the researchers recognize that individuals' happiness/well-being is greater when they have more money, especially among poorer people. Society is certainly better off when people are better off, but existing research and perspectives disagree about whether society is better off when there are more happy people. The findings offer insights into the influence of population growth and population ethics on climate change and human development policy.
We also find that at given rates of population growth, income growth is related to the time path of population growth and that population growth due to high birth and death rates is associated with slower income growth than population growth due to relatively low birth and death rates.
Hence, the timing and components of population growth are important elements in the process of economic development.
They then extended these population scenarios into and beyond the next century in order to include the effects of climate change that will occur in the distant future.
If society values the absolute number of people who are happy, it also has a significant effect on the world’s optimal peak temperature.