Population growth and CO2

Just read the January/February issue of the New Internationalist, and was depressed at first to see the title “The population panic” on the cover. But it turned out to be a very well-researched series of articles, showing that a lot of the popular assumptions about population growth are false.

For example,the following graph shows that the link between population growth and global warming is weak: the majority of the population growth is in poor countries that do not contribute greatly to global warming, while the countries with low population growth are the ones emitting COs. Basically, global warming is caused by more industry, more flights, more waste, more consumption, and that’s taking place mostly in rich countries with static populations: “So unequal are the consumption levels that one European or North American or Australian may be responsible for more emissions than an entire village of Africans.”

Clearly population growth creates other problems, especially for poor countries where resources are scarce – but again, the articles showed how improved education and social programmes help a lot more than coercive measures. Iran achieved the fastest fertility decline in the world, from 6.6 children per woman in 1970 to 1.9 today, due to widespread public education campaigns about family planning.

I particularly liked the “7 Myths about Ageing”, in which a lot of the scary talk about ageing populations is debunked. Overall I felt not that the problems of population are not as catastrophic as they are sometimes presented. It’s not that nothing needs to be done, but that the problems need to be tackled differently. Poverty and inequality are the main issues, and we need to focus on rich-country consumption levels more than poor-country population levels.

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There are 3 comments

  1. Fred Pearce, author of a number of excellent books on environmental issues and climate change, as well as a long standing journalist with the New Scientist has a book out on Population called “Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash” which is about many of these themes. I’m currently reading it and will review ASAP.

    Well worth a look in my opinion.

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