Editorial Why we need to address population growth’s effects on global warmingBy THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARDIf the world population hits 11 billion, what then for climate change?Overpopulation could thwart attempt to address climate changeUnsustainable human population growth is a potential disaster for efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissionsEarlier this month, Pope Francis made news when he said that not only was climate change real, but it was mostly man-made. Then, last week, he said that couples do not need to breed “like rabbits” but rather should plan their families responsibly — albeit without the use of modern contraception.Though the pope did not directly link the two issues, climate scientists and population experts sat up and took notice. That’s because for years, they have quietly discussed the links between population growth and global warming, all too aware of the sensitive nature of the topic. Few of them can forget the backlash after then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in 2009 that it was strange to talk about climate change without mentioning population and family planning. Critics immediately suggested that she was calling for eugenics, thus shutting down the conversation and pushing the issue back into the shadows.You know, it’s almost as if the near-universal agreement that “eugenics” is the most evil concept ever, a truly Satanic plot against humanity by snotty old WASPs, is getting in the way of dealing with real world problems.
The pope’s support of smaller families might help that discussion come back into the light, where it belongs.Sensitive subject or not, the reality is that unsustainable human population growth is a potential disaster for efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. These days, the biggest population growth is occurring in developing nations, which is why any discussion must be sensitive to the perception that well-off, industrialized nations — the biggest climate polluters, often with majority-white populations — might be telling impoverished people of color to reduce their numbers. In fact, person for person, reducing birth rates in industrialized nations has a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions because affluent people use more of the Earth’s resources and depend more heavily on fossil fuels.Yeah, but you kind of already did that.Anyway, the question of the expected lifetime greenhouse gas emissions of a child born in a third world country in 2016 depends upon whether you expect third world peoples to remain poor and unable to migrate to first world countries over the rest of the 21st century.If you spelled out the assumptions behind the mainstream liberal conventional wisdom of why the soaring population of, say, Africa isn’t much of a threat to increase carbon emissions in the long run, they’d be:
1. Those dumb third worlders will never be able to get their economic acts together enough to be able to afford air conditioning and cars.
2. Us smart white people will never be so dumb as to let the teeming masses of third worlders into our nice countries.
3. When those third worlders arrive in the first world, they never assimilate economically. Instead, they just stay as poor and non-carbon emitting as back home. They never climb the ladder to be able to afford first world amenities. When you stop and think about it, it’s amazing they even come at all. They must be immigrating just to bring us the benefits of diversity rather than out of any self-interest.
4. When immigrants do prosper, they immediately turn into post-Puritan community garden recycler-types straight out of Portlandia. They never go through a phase of a few generations driving big pickup trucks and generally Living Large.So … you don’t usually see these assumptions spelled out … at all.
In other words, population is not just a Third World issue. More than a third of the births in the United States are the result of unintended pregnancies, and this month the United Nations raised its prediction of population growth by the year 2050 because of unforeseen, rising birth rates in industrialized nations.Who exactly within the populations of industrialized nations is behind this unexpectedly higher fertility? Could it be … immigrants?
So even though the highest rates of population growth are in the poorest and least educated countries — Africa’s population is expected to triple by the end of the century — any attempt to address the issue will have to target the industrialized world as well.… Another 2010 report, by the nonprofit Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C, predicted that fast-growing developing countries will become the dominant emitters of greenhouse gases within a generation. That’s partly because of their rising populations but also because of their poverty; they are less able to afford solar energy projects or other investments in non-fossil energy.The report also notes that these countries and their people are far more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. A disproportionate number of impoverished countries are in low-lying areas where rising sea levels are expected to cause disastrous flooding. Agricultural productivity is expected to fall 40% in India and sub-Saharan Africa by the second half of this century.The population issue is just beginning to get some of the public attention it deserves. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ board of climate experts, included concerns about population size, saying, “Globally, economic and population growth continued to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.” For the first time in its five years of producing such reports, the panel acknowledged that family-planning programs could make a real difference, both in slowing the rate of warming and in helping vulnerable nations adapt to its effects.Isn’t it bizarre that the concept of “family planning” is considered by mainstream minds to be far more controversial and borderline unmentionable in 2015 than family planning was in 1975?
And progress can be made without draconian or involuntary measures. According to Karen Hardee, director of the Evidence Project for the nonprofit Population Council, developing nations are already beginning to recognize the usefulness of family planning in preventing hunger and crowding and in combating climate change. She cites Rwanda, Ethiopia and Malawi as countries that are taking the first steps on their own.In overcrowded Haiti, there are something like 10,000 Western NGO’s active. But after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, I had a hard time finding any whose websites talked about promoting contraception. It’s disreputable, it’s … racist!
… The analysis by the Center for Global Development says that access to family planning and girls’ education — even a little of it — are among the most cost-effective strategies for combating climate change.The Israelis figured out how to halve the fertility rate of the Africans they imported as a PR gesture for American Jews: push, hard, in favor of use of long term contraceptives like Depo-Provera.In other words, these problems are not insoluble, they just seem that way under the reigning prejudices.