Over the past two decades a great deal has been published in academic journals and conference proceedings on the relationship between population and environment. Some people maintain that rapidly growing population numbers will lead to environmental decline and economic collapse. Some believe increasing populations are a necessary prerequisite for economic growth and development. Others argue that focusing on population numbers is not the issue and that environmental decline and poor economic performance arise because of constraints in institutional and market structures. There are also those who argue that the focus of the population debate should be on human and reproductive rights. In spite of these debates, the media continue to raise the spectre of environmental catastrophe as a result of increases in population numbers and of population issues as simply an exercise in controlling numbers. In this article the authors seek to get 'behind the headlines' and discuss not only how different perspectives in the population-environment debate can and have been translated into policy and practice, but also the ethical issues associated with policy directions.