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March 18, 2007

The Population Bomb

Who is this foolish woman, Juliette Jowit? Blithering on about rising populations, climate change, about how no one is paying attention, there's billions and billions and we're all going to die, Aieeeeee!

Is it actually required now to know nothing about your subject to get a column?

In the time it takes you to get to the end of this sentence, seven people have been added to the population of the world. At this rate, the United Nations estimates the number of people on the planet will nearly double by the middle of this century. Even with significant reductions in birth rates, the population is expected to increase from 6.7 billion now to 9.2 billion by 2050.

These figures are staggering. Yet there was hardly a mention of them in a major story last week: the announcement by Britain's two main political parties of how they will tackle what is commonly agreed to be the biggest threat facing the planet, global warming and ensuing climate change.

No need to you see. We have a great big fat report from the IPCC. We're waiting for AR4 but we can look at the last, TAR. We can also look at the economic models that both are based upon, the SRES. And if we do we'll see that increases in population are in fact dealt with. So changes in population are already built into our models and also any solutions that anyone is offering.

Some models predict 15 billion people in 2100. Others 6 billion.

Put simply, if governments want to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, and the world's population rises to the mid-range forecast of 9.2 billion, each person would in fact have to slash their emissions by 72 per cent. More efficient technology, renewable energy and lifestyle changes will help do that, but growing prosperity and consumption in developing countries will also make it harder. That all our low-energy light bulbs, home insulation, efficient cars, boilers and washing machines have so far failed to stop emissions growing illustrates how difficult cutting them will be to achieve.

This is all already included in the calculations. Yes, even the Stern Review. To be going on like this she can't have actually read these things at all now, can she?

But even if reducing the world's population is unlikely or distasteful, it is incredible that there is not even a debate about limiting and maybe one day reversing growth.

Nope, obviously not read a word of it. Try this:

In the A1 scenario family, demographic and economic trends are closely linked,   as affluence is correlated with long life and small families (low mortality   and low fertility). Global population grows to some nine billion by 2050 and   declines to about seven billion by 2100.

The A1 family is one of four used to create the IPCC report. So, fully one quarter (at minimum) of climate change science is based upon the idea that population growth is indeed limited and reversed. This is the absence of a debate?

But there are things that can be done at least to reduce population growth. Last week the UN Population Fund said its latest projections 'underline the urgency of family planning needs'. It says 200 million women in the world don't have access to 'safe and effective' contraceptive services, and calls for a big increase in funding for family planning, especially in developing nations.

And that is just pissing in the ocean and saying you're causing sea level rises. 90% of changes in fertility come from changes in desired fertility, not from access to contraception or "family planning services". We know what causes drops in desired fertility too, as it says in the above linked report from the IPCC. Wealth. And we know what creates wealth, trade. So, as the IPCC report itself is based upon, if we want to reduce and then reverse population growth we need to go full blast on with the great globalization.

And no, this isn't just some wingnut blogger ranting, this is what the damn climate change science is actually based upon!

So, do I get to be Environment Editor of The Observer yet?

March 18, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink


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Drops in desired fertility. Is it just wealth, or more specifically female education? Amartya Sen, looking at China's one-child policy, says female education has been more effective than draconian policy.

Recent statistics from the Gulf States and China would be indicative.

Tim adds: I've just done the chapter of my forthcoming book on this. You don't get female education until deaths in childbirth decrease, children have more than a 50% chance of surviving and lifespans increase. So it's wealth first, in the broader sense.

Posted by: Auntymarianne | Mar 18, 2007 10:24:07 AM

Welcome to post-normal journalism.

Posted by: Kit | Mar 18, 2007 10:31:12 AM

The two questions are separable: if foreign powers provide female education for free (and realistically, subsidise meals for the pupils), does that lower the birth rate? What are the stats on that?

Tim adds: I'm sure it's more subtle than just education. That education has to be valuable as well. Otherwise you'll just be getting better educated housewives, still pumping out babies from 16 years onwards.

Posted by: Marcin Tustin | Mar 19, 2007 2:11:54 PM