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"One day, sometime around the middle of this century, during the lifetime of people now alive, the population of the planet will be smaller than it was the day before. Global population growth is slowing, will level off, and one remarkable day, decline."
Writing in "Significant Figures," Peter Gleick nails it. Where we are as a species on that day, which lies within many of our lifetimes, will determine whether or not humanity moves forward to evolve in safety and health.

In 2006, the United Nations stated that the rate of population growth was visibly diminishing due to the ongoing global demographic transition. If this trend continues, the rate of growth may diminish to zero by 2050, concurrent with a world population plateau of 9.2 billion.

To those who believe that the solution to climate change is simply to reduce population; evidence shows that it's consumption rather than population numbers that have been responsible for our current climate crisis and it's reduction of consumption that will save us from disaster.
Where women control their own bodies and have access to reproductive health, they tend to choose smaller families. However, in poor countries some 200 million women would like to delay their next pregnancy or stop having children altogether—but because of gender inequality or lack of access to information or services, they can't do that.
There is a definite distinction among population groups which clearly impact on the environment in different ways. For the most part, countries with high rates of poverty and population growth contribute relatively little to greenhouse gases and other irreversible global ecological threats. This is not always taken into consideration in looking at the effects of population growth on greenhouse gas emissions.
In the long term, lower fertility in low-income countries will result in some reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, lower fertility usually is associated with economic development, including urbanization. Unless low-income countries follow new, low carbon paths of development, higher standards of living will lead to higher per capita greenhouse gas emissions. The usual trend toward smaller household sizes as development proceeds will also tend to increase per capita emissions for a given population size.
This is our challenge as we move forward to solve our environmental crisis: to reduce consumption of our planet's resources in highly developed nations and to assist developing countries to transition growth to new, low carbon paths of development.

Originally posted to beach babe in fl on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 11:57 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Hi there stranger ? (7+ / 0-)

    "please love deeply...openly and genuinely." A. M. H.

    by indycam on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:10:19 PM PST

  •  Fascinating post. (6+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    Why do I have the feeling George W. Bush joined the Stonecutters, ate a mess of ribs, and used the Constitution as a napkin?

    by Matt Z on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:11:57 PM PST

  •  If only it would happen sooner and more so (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    John Crapper, HedwigKos

    It would be nice if the population of this earth were to decline to about 1 billion. Then we could all pig out.

  •  thanks for keeping an eye on the big picture (10+ / 0-)

    Interesting times, any way you look at it.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:24:17 PM PST

  •  Really nice to see your name appear in my (9+ / 0-)

    stream!  This post hits a very important point.  Paul Ehrlilch has made it in the past as well.  

    The relatively small population of rich people therefore accounts for roughly two-thirds of global environmental destruction, as measured by energy use. From this perspective, the most important population problem is overpopulation in the industrialized nations.

    The United States poses the most serious threat of all to human life support systems. It has a gigantic population, the third largest on Earth, more than a quarter of a billion people. Americans are superconsumers, and use inefficient technologies to feed their appetites. Each, on average, uses 11 kW of energy, twice as much as the average Japanese, more than three times as much as the average Spaniard, and over 100 times as much as an average Bangladeshi. Clearly, achieving an average family size of 1.5 children in the United States (which would still be larger than the 1.3 child average in Spain) would benefit the world much more than a similar success in Bangladesh.

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

    by John Crapper on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:49:03 PM PST

    •  Hi john! Ehrlich and I do come to different (4+ / 0-)


      Macca's Meatless Monday

      by VL Baker on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 01:25:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Don't blame the American middle-class (0+ / 0-)

      The American working and middle-class has been largely responsible for the US decreasing its CO2 emissions more over the last 5 years than any other country.

      If you want to blame a certain demographic for squandering resources, blame UK and US Oligarchs, who are bankrolling projects that enable fellow Oligarchs to take carbon-emitting joyrides into subspace.

      And these Oligarchs actually attempt to represent themselves as environmental heroes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 01:50:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Population will decline in one of two ways (8+ / 0-)

    Birth rate declines, or death rate increases.

    The former is preferable, but we are on course for the latter as climate change accelerates extreme weather, which has already beguin to cause droughts, crop failures and disastrous floods.  As the atmosphere overheats, these will increase more than proportionally as tipping points are passed.  We are already using several renewable resources unsutainably - groundwater and topsoil in addition to climate stability.

    Diarist VLB (tipped and rec'd) correctly emphasizes overconsumption, but consumption and population multiply to produce effects. Paul Ehrlich, back around 1970, made this precise in a formula: I = P*C*T,  where
    I is environmental impact,
    C is consumption, and
    T a technology factor, short for how dirty the technology is.  Solar energy, for example, has a much lower greenhouse impact than coal to produce the same level of consumption of delivered electricty.

    Ehrlich's formula can be further improved by including an additional inequality factor: the ratio of mean to median consumption.  That captures the VLB's concern that overconsumption by the afflent contributes disproportionately to environmental harm.

    But population growth cannot be dismissed - it multiplies the impact, and shortens the time to deploy clean technology  and reduce inequality, before the impacts become catastrophic and the death rate scenario begins.

    Specifically, the current net annual increase in population is very close to the unmet demand for birth control.  Making access to birth control universal, along with educating girls and women (rather than urbanization or development in general), are the key policy variables to stabilize population before we overshoot and collapse.

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 01:13:53 PM PST

    •  Food scarcity will cause the real damage (0+ / 0-)

      True, the cause of climate change is over consumption by a relatively small fraction of the world's population.

      But we still have to feed all 9 billion people on the planet, and feed them at a cost that all 9 billion can afford. The real damage to civilization comes when we stop having affordable food for a billion or two, and they start getting angry at the remainder (particularly the ones who do the most consuming). I predict a massive increase in terrorism, as well as outright resource wars, is what produces the biggest impact from climate change.

      So over-population is as much a problem for climate change as over-consumption is. And even halting at 9 or 10 billion people is worthless if we only have food for 6.

      Imagine if we have to reduce world populations by a billion people in one decade, and then a billion people in the next decade, and then another billion in the decade after that.

      •  Eating lower on the food chain is healthier (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        eyo, LinSea, deepeco, RunawayRose

        individually as well as collectively.

        In particular beef delivers only about 1/20 the protein the cattle consume, and meat fat consumption raises heart disease risks. Animals on feedlots emit copious amounts of methane, a very potent greenouse gas.  

        Tim Flannery, prominent Australian scientist, in his nifty short book Now or Never,
          estimated that about 1/5 of total greenhouse impacts are due to industrial agriculture including especially animals raised for meat.  Flannery says that the climate impacts are substantially less for free-range grazing than feedlots.

        There's no such thing as a free market!

        by Albanius on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 02:12:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The education of women (9+ / 0-)

    is also a crucial element in the reduction of the rate of population increase.

    While the connection between world population growth rate and the rate of production of greenhouse gases is complicated by noting who produces all the greenhouse gases, the leveling off of world human population is still an overall good.  I remember how, back in the 1960s, there was great concern over world population projections and the question of how to feed all of those antiicipated people.  Of course, now that problem has been replaced with climate change, which is far more complicated.

    -5.13,-5.64; GOP thinking: A 13 year path to citizenship is too easy, and a 5 minute background check is too burdensome. -- 1audreyrenee

    by gizmo59 on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 01:22:23 PM PST

  •  Low-carbon trajectory is critical... (8+ / 0-)

    ... as the Business-As-Usual model is Thermogeddon, with a planet unable to feed 7B, much less 9B. That scenario (which we are on the fast track to) has the population curve heading downward steeply in the worst possible manner - see the works of Michael Klare or my blog post on KXL being 1% of Giga-Death.  

    The good news is that non-carbon energy is on a steep upward curve, and villages using Solar and wind with LED's and electric vehicles can bypass the centralized dirty fuel mode and its pollution, carbon and other.

    “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” - William Butler Yeats

    by RandW on Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 01:33:43 PM PST

  •  Good to hear from you, VL. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LinSea, deepeco, RunawayRose

    We all need to eat less meat and dairy as that will reduce a ton of pollution to water and air by lowering the need for so much livestock feed.  GMO corn and soy produced by industrialized agricultural practices use around seven times more water that organic farming.

    Prince Charles explains this in more detail here.

    Here's an interesting article that I saw today on water.  Thermal power plants (like coal, nuclear and natural gas) use four times the amount of water as all US residents combined.  They use the same as all US agriculture which I had been told by a water professional was the biggest user of fresh water.  So, converting to renewable energy should be a high priority, not just from a ghg perspective.  We need to conserve fresh water.

    We are currently depleting water sources in 48 out of 50 states faster than it is replenished which is unsustainable.  This is why solar PV and wind will be even more critical in moving to a sustainable path for our country.

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