Opinion: Climate Debate 2022: will population growth dominate? | Columnists

By Llewellyn King InsideSources.com

It wasn’t front and center at the climate change summit, COP26, in Glasgow, but it was whispered informally, in the hallways and over meals.

For politicians it is flammable, for some religions it is heresy. Yet it demands to be heard: the growth of the world’s population.

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

People do things that cause climate change, from burning coal to raising beef cattle. A lot of people equals a lot of pollution equals a large, obvious and indisputable climate impact.

In 1950, the world population was just over 2.5 billion. This year, it is calculated at 7.9 billion. Around the middle of the century, it is expected to increase by another 2 billion.

There’s a ticking time bomb, and that’s us.

There was a great failed attempt to limit population growth: China’s one-child policy. Besides being draconian, it didn’t work well and was abandoned.

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

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

Malthus’ theory was very wrong in the 18th century. But this had unfortunate effects, which included a tolerance of starvation in the populations of European empire countries, such as India. He also played a role in the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1849, when some in England believed that this famine, caused by a potato blight, was the fulfillment of Malthusian theory and inhibited efforts to help the starving Irish. Shame on England.

The idea that population exceeds resources was reignited in 1972 with a controversial report titled “Limits to Growth” by the Club of Rome, a global think tank.

This report led to battles over oil supply when the energy crisis erupted the following year. The anti-growth and population-limiting side found itself in a tug of war with technologists who believed technology would save the day. It made. More energy came to market, oil 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 begin.

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

If we are going to talk about a leveling of the world population, we must look elsewhere, far from the dictates of 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 move into 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 Roman Catholic France. The data is skewed by immigration in all of these countries except 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 college.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is [email protected] He wrote this for InsideSources.com.