Population and the Climate Change Lever
By Bill Dowling
It has become increasingly clear to me that the never ending global quest for more economic growth relies on both population and consumption growth as well as ever more energy to make it possible, and therefore has caused all the environmental damage and particularly climate change. It is now chiefly driven by debt and the profit motive, or quite simply, making and spending more money!
- How do we stop this continuous and crazy human behavior cycle?
- “Growth is the disease for which it pretends to be the cure.”
- Are we really tackling the best or the right or the most fruitful and rewarding part of the “population problem”?
- Trying to reduce population growth voluntarily is proving very difficult and any success is going to be very slow acting at best anyway.
- Trying to reduce people’s consumption voluntarily is proving to be even harder, so …………… ditto!
- Neither seem to be working anything like fast enough.
BUT – Severely restricting the fossil fuel energy supply would be the most effective and quickest overall solution – albeit somewhat economically and practically painful for a while!
However, this is simply because we have only gotten to where we are today on both population and consumption levels on the back of fossil fuels!
See last cartoon, and also the one here https://i.pinimg.com/originals/02/f9/68/02f96827e6f8a3c62345ef0af48f799e.jpg. and many more like it!
We are still almost completely reliant on fossil fuels to fuel more economic growth, as well as feed, clothe and shelter ourselves. Other energy sources only comprise circa 20% of the total. We cannot possibly support all the people we currently have at anything like the high consumption level we have now soon enough and for long enough without them. So, if we give them up like we really need to do, this will force consumption down drastically and also force population growth down – otherwise more people will simply die because we won’t be able to feed them properly. ( If it gets that bad – that will be just tough – millions, if not billions, are going to die due to climate change anyway, if we don’t do a lot more about that starting right now!)
So, the key to adopting this strategy as “the complete and final solution” (if not the only solution there really is!) is this – IF the whole world population can at last finally become so convinced of the extremely serious threat of climate change such that they all agree to cut back on their fossil fuel use drastically and rapidly, global ecomomic decline will follow and all the necessary adjustments to our ways of life all over the world will quite simply have to be made and so they will follow. We will walk and cycle more and drive and fly less because we will have to, etc.
I have come to believe that if we don’t deal very seriously with this climate change issue right now, there is no long term future and no prospect of a long term sustainable human population – so all our worrying about birth rates and overpopulation threatening a long term future is a bit of an anachronism on our part, to say the least.
If we get through and past this immediate climate change threat, we will at least have done our best to have a chance of having a long term sustainable population at the same time.
For any prospect of sustainable future, we humans have to have a habitable planet.
One that is too hot to live on with much of the land under sea water due to runaway climate change isnt any use.
Therefore, the only logical and by far the most important reason to get birth rates down drastically right now is to (a) minimise the number of humans on the planet that are causing climate change, and (b) minimise the number of humans that will soon have to suffer and die from what is going to be quite extreme, and unavoidable, climate change effects.
Why don’t we in Population Matters and other NGOs use the fear of climate change as the very powerful lever it is?
Why not tell people this plain and simple frightening truth, and thus scare them into (a) giving up fossil fuels completely a lot sooner, and (b) having no more than one child or preferably none?
What is a Sustainable Human Population?
We all live on a finite planet with finite resources, so the size of a sustainable human population must depend solely on the global average lifestyle or resource consumption. Clearly, we cannot all consume as much as the most wealthy people on the planet do. In fact, the 7.7 Billion of us there are now should all be living more like the average Sri Lankan, but instead we are all living more like the average Romanian does.
Like increasing a bank overdraft that cannot be repaid, this situation cannot continue.
Yet, the size of our overdraft from the “bank of natural resources” still increases every year! Clearly the only solution is to reduce the consumption of the highest consuming people on the planet first, because too many of the poorest people are already suffering deprivation. Worse still, the world population is still growing by a Billion every 12 years!
Obviously this growth in demand cannot continue either, and the only solution to this problem is to reduce birth rates to well below replacement everywhere as soon as possible. If we do not take both these actions together and at the same time now; pretty soon the planet will fail to provide enough resources to adequately support enough of the population. That will cause many arguments and wars over the remaining resources, and ultimately huge human suffering; quite probably a lot worse that caused by climate change!
Assuming the UK became completely self-sufficient, a sustainable UK population would be less than 17 million instead of the 67 million it is now.#
Similarly for the USA, a sustainable population would be less than 150 million instead of the 330 million it is now #
# Based on Global Footprint Network data 2019 , analysed by Bill Dowling in August 2020.