Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Sustainability refers to the preservation of human-valued natural capital—the resources that provide environmental services—at a level sufficient to assure the well-being of future generations. This Population Council working paper assess the effects on the total and per capita availability of those services. The degradation of environmental services—exemplified by the overuse of aquifers or (at a global level) of the atmospheric carbon sink—is a significant threat to sustainable development, one that is often exacerbated by population growth. The critical management issue in such cases is the design of effective governing institutions to restrain service demand and safeguard supply. Uncertainties arising from nonlinearities and irreversibilities in environmental systems should give pause to expectations that the forecast ending of world population growth, and a subsequent decline in human numbers, will usher in ecological restoration.