Scientists’ warning to humanity: strategic thinking on economic development, population, poverty and ecological sustainability in the Mediterranean and beyond

Helen Kopnina*, Haydn Washington, Ian Lowe, Sandy Irvine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


At present, leading international agencies such as the United Nations Environment Programme are largely focused on what they claim to be win–win scenarios of ‘sustainable development’ rhetoric. These combine social, economic and environmental objectives. However, as noted in the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, environmental integrity is essential for the healthy functioning of social and economic systems, and thus environmental protection needs to be prioritized in policy and practice. Ecological sustainability cannot be reached without realizing that population growth and economic growth, with attendant increased rates of depletion of natural resources, pollution and general environmental degradation, are the root causes of unsustainability. This article argues that to strategically address ecological unsustainability, the social, economic and political barriers to addressing the current economic model and population growth need to be overcome. Proposed strategic solutions to the current neoliberal economy are generic, namely degrowth, a steady-state economy, and a ‘circular economy’. Solutions to demographic issues must be sensitive to the countries’ cultural, social, political and economic factors to be effective, as fertility differs from country to country and from culture to culture. As discussed here, Mediterranean countries have the lowest fertilities in the world, while many countries in Africa and some in Asia and South America have stable but consistently high birthrates. This is discussed using three case studies—Tanzania, Italy and Cambodia, focusing on ‘best case’ policies that offer a more realistic hope for successful sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages15
JournalEuro-Mediterranean Journal for Environmental Integration
Issue number1
Early online date4 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

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