Around 390,000 new humans are born every day. So, on a planet with dwindling resources and an increasing strain on natural systems… is curbing our booming population the key to solving our environmental woes?
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In 2018, just North America and China were responsible for almost half of the world’s CO2 emissions. These are also the countries with the highest concentrations of the world’s wealthiest people. Their populations are living longer and having fewer babies, so their population growth is actually slowing down.
By contrast, the poorest half of the world—where most global population growth is currently concentrated — produces only 10% of the world’s CO2 emissions. These populations typically lack the technology and wealth that result in high energy expenditure, increased industrialization, and pollution. So, in climate change projections that take these imbalances into account, it’s been shown that redistributing wealth—so, reducing both extreme wealth and extreme poverty—has as much impact on carbon emissions as reducing overall population would.
Even in projected scenarios where a reduction in population does make a difference in emissions, it’s not enough of a difference to affect projected temperature rise. No amount of population reduction would achieve the reduction in emissions necessary to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius in our near future.
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The population debate: Are there too many people on the planet?
“Our current global health crisis is a reminder of how little we want to return to the days when deadly infections carried away most of us. Yet also in some way, advances back then were a first step on a path towards planetary perdition.”
I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why.
“If your concern is the creation of new consumers and emitters, your gaze should be drawn to those who will consume and emit the most, i.e., the wealthy.”
Population and environment: a global challenge
“‘Economic decoupling’ refers to the ability of an economy to grow without corresponding increases in environmental pressure. In 2014 the United Nations Environment Programme released a report titled ‘Decoupling 2’, which explored the possibilities and opportunities of technology and innovation to accelerate decoupling, and an analysis of how far technical innovation can go.”
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