3E Intelligence

UK Scientist Chris Rapley has had the courage to ask to right question in an editorial for The Independent a few days ago: “Behind the climate crisis lies a global issue that no one wants to tackle: do we need radical plans to reduce the world’s population?

Taking the publication of the UN’s State of the World Population 2007 as his starting point, Rapley correctly sees the interconnection between climate change and the world’s growing population: “Whether it’s the burning of fossil fuels versus the rate at which plants absorb carbon, or the heat absorbed from sunshine versus the heat reflected back into space, or global birth rates versus death rates – each is governed by the difference between an inflow and an outflow, and even small imbalances can have large effects. At present, all of these three are out of balance as a result of human actions. And each of these imbalances is creating a major problem“.

But whereas climate change is now high on politician’s agenda, the issue of population management remains a serious taboo. “In practice, of course, it is a bombshell of a topic, with profound and emotive issues of ethics, morality, equity and practicability. So controversial is the subject, that it has become the Cinderella of the great sustainability debate – rarely visible in public, or even in private“.

Read also an earlier post I did on the same subject.

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  1. I like Kenneth Deffeyes take on population control – ‘the best way to solve it is teaching calculus to teenage girls’.

    According to Lombourg, it’s increased life expectancy rather than exploding birth rates that is driving population growth. If this is really so, the problem will solve itself.

    Various sources, such as the UN reports and Vaclav Smil’s book present an opinion that world population will stabilise at the level of 9-10 billion people. At 70-80 Gigajoules of energy use per capita (the level of France or Japan in the 70’s), we could suffice with a world energy consumption of 800 Exajoules per year (1 exajoule = 10e18 joules) which is about twice the current level.

    More important than population is the question ‘how much energy is enough’ and what is excess? That’s the real Cinderalla story.

  2. The duration of any given day on Earth produces a net increase of over 200,000 people to human ranks. Teaching calculus to teenage girls would certainly go a long ways, but its more than just an energy issue. Food, fiber and water come into play as well, and its imperative to get those calculus books distributed as soon as possible: mitigating the 9 to 10 billion number down to 8 to 9 billion is very important in terms of sustainability (the integrity of Earth’s systems).

    In fact, I would argue that focusing on energy, while practical, may be the wrong philosophical approach: the more we have, the more we will use — likely to cause a positive feedback in terms of population growth.

    Let’s all get a bit more educated, more serious, and more mindful when it comes to population expansion: before we all turn to pumpkins.

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