3E Intelligence

At a conference in Brussels today, I raised the question of the link between the growing world population and global warming. Because I mentioned China’s one-child-family policy as one of the arguments used by the Chinese to put the blame on the Western industrialised world, I got an answer from German Christian-Democrat MEP Peter Liese who implicitly accused me of advocating such a policy. His unfair reaction proved my point that the issue of population control is indeed one of the big taboos in the climate change debate.
This is all the more regrettable as the European Union is seriously considering new birth promotion policies to deal with the “demographic ageing” problem and for some (although as a hidden agenda) also with the immigration issue (“let’s make more children to prevent that we have to import migrants”).
The climate change problem is, whether we like it or not, not just a problem of greenhouse gases. It is also a problem of numbers and intuitively we all know that. Does anyone REALLY believe 1.3 billion Chinese can have the same standard of living and consumption as a European in Paris or an American in Miami? As Thomas Friedman stated in his article “The power of Green“: if China reaches the per-capita income of the US (possibly by 2031) and “if it copies American consumption, it will have three cars for every four people, or 1.1 billion vehicles. The total world fleet today is 800 million vehicles!”. More biofuels anyone?
So what should be done? Of course, not starting with a forced “one-child” policy but tackling lower fertility rates in Europe only in combination with policies to reduce over-population and poverty in other less fortunate continents. We will also have to look at per capita emissions per country when we redistribute global climate change targets in the future.

More on the link between population and climate change can be found on the website of the Population Resource Center.

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  1. Hi Willy,

    Fascinating post. Population is indeed a major taboo. In the US, thoughtful discussion of it is also opposed by both the libertarian right (who get few votes but are very active on the Web) and the Christian right. Few environmental writers will even touch it. I wrote an article on that here:


    Here’s another article which may be of interest. it deals specifically with the EU’s concerns over population decline:


    Personally, I think the EU should be thankful that some of its member countries’ populations are stable or early in decline. It represents a great opportunity to develop new economic approaches and new ways of living more sustainably. It much better than the alternative of continuing to grow and facing pervasive ecological collapse.

  2. Good points raised in this post. People sure get their hackles raised when the issue of population is addressed. There is even more consternation when the variables underlying population growth are addressed. See http://www.panearth.org for a narrated slide show on human population growth.

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