Population control and climate change

The overpopulation issue and subject of birth control is always a bit of a thorny topic. The term “population control” is probably not the best one to use as it stirs up strong emotions. Maybe population management? Sustainable population practices? I don’t know – it’s a rose by any other name and maybe it wouldn’t make a difference what we call it while people believe they have a right to have children.

Anyhow, the United Nations recently weighed in on the subjects in a recent UN Population Fund report.

The report states that climate change is not only directly related to what and how we consume, it is also about our growing numbers, currently approaching 7 billion.

As our populations grow in a way far beyond Earth’s capacity to adjust, the report says climate change could become much more extreme – and conceivably “catastrophic”. The growth of population can contribute to freshwater scarcity or degradation of cropland, which may in turn exacerbate the impacts of climate change.

“No human is genuinely “carbon neutral,” especially when all greenhouse gases are figured into the equation. Therefore, everyone is part of the problem, so everyone must be part of the solution in some way,” says the report.

To get some idea of the impact of reducing population growth, if the United Nations Population Division’s *low* population growth scenario; about 8 billion people by the year 2050, does somehow eventuate, it could result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions than if the medium-growth scenario (just over 9 billion) happens.

The report cites an estimation that if those one billion extra people weren’t born, it’s the equivalent of the emissions saved through the use of known energy efficiency in all new buildings around the world, or the construction of 2 million 1 megawatt wind turbines to displace coal-fired power plants currently in use.

This being the case, it could be said that not having children is the low hanging fruit of battling greenhouse gas emissions.

While one of the major hurdles of overpopulation is ensuring that people in developing countries have adequate education and access to birth control, we in developed countries need to recognize that our children have a far, far, far higher impact on the planet than those born in poorer countries.

For example, a child born in the United States has 160 times the carbon impact than a child born in Bangladesh.

As I mentioned in my article on population control, not having children is one of the greenest things you can do.

Adopt, foster a child.. or think about recycled pets instead :).

The UN Population Fund report, State of World Population 2009 can be downloaded here (PDF).


Population control – the ultimate greening.