The 2022 climate debate: will demographic growth dominate?



It was not in the foreground at the climate change summit, COP26, in Glasgow, but it was whispered informally, in hallways and over meals.

For politicians, it is flammable. For some religions, this is heresy. Yet it requires a hearing: the growth of the world’s population.

As the world struggles to decarbonise itself, saving it from sea level rise and other disasters associated with climate change, there is no official recognition anywhere that people play a vital role.

People are doing things that are causing climate change, from burning coal to raising beef cattle. Many people equate a lot of pollution equates to a large, obvious and indisputable climate impact.

In 1950, the world’s population barely exceeded 2.5 billion. This year, it is calculated at 7.9 billion. By the middle of the century, it is expected to increase by a further $ 2 billion.

There is a time bomb, and this is us.

There has been one big failed attempt to restrain population growth: China’s one-child policy. Besides being draconian, it didn’t work out well and was dropped.

China is full of young men looking for non-existent wives. While the program was in effect from 1980 to 2015, the girls were aborted and the boys were rescued. The result: a huge gender imbalance. It is doubtful that a country, regardless of its authoritarian regime, will ever try again.

The demographic alarm has a long history, dating back to the 18th century and Thomas Malthus, the English demographer and economist who gave birth to what is called the Malthusian theory. This indicates that food production will not be able to keep up with the growth of the human population, which will lead to famine and war; and the only way forward is to restrict population growth.

Malthus’ theory was very wrong in the 18th century. But it had unfortunate effects, including tolerance to starvation among populations in countries of the European Empire, such as India. It also played a role in the Great Irish Famine of 1845-49, when some in England believed that this famine, caused by a potato blight, was the fulfillment of Malthusian theory and hampered efforts to help the hungry Irish. Shame on England.

The idea of ​​an over-resourceful population was awakened in 1972 with a controversial report titled “Limits to Growth” from the Club of Rome, a global think tank.

This report led to battles over oil supplies when the energy crisis erupted the following year. The anti-growth and population-limiting side found themselves in an uphill struggle with technologists who believed technology would save the day. It made. More energy entered the market, petroleum resources were discovered all over the world, including in the previously unexplored southern hemisphere.

Since this debate on the limits of growth, the world population has increased inexorably. Now, if growth is the problem, the problem needs to be looked at more urgently. I think 2022 is the year the review will start.

Clearly, no country is going to want to give up on China’s failed one-child policy, and only authoritarian governments could consider it anyway. Free people in democratic countries do not handle diktats well: take, for example, the difficulty of enforcing the wearing of masks during the time of the COVID pandemic in the United States, Germany, Great Britain, in France and elsewhere.

If we are to talk about a capping of the world’s population, we have to look elsewhere, away from diktats towards other more subtle pressures.

There is a solution, and the challenge for the world is whether we can get there fast enough.

That solution is prosperity. When people enter the middle class, they tend to have fewer children. So much so that traditional populations are in decline in the United States, Japan, and much of Europe – even in nominally Catholic France. The data is skewed by immigration in all of these countries – with the exception of Japan, where it is particularly striking. This shows that population stability can occur without dictatorial social engineering.

In the United States, the not-so-secret weapon may be nothing more than the excessive cost of a college education.


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