The Climate Emergency and the Population Diversion

A recent comment on the Metung Science Forum (MSF) raised the question that the main problem we face is overpopulation rather than climate change. I sympathise with this view as I was a member of Zero Population Growth in 1972, a fan of Paul Erhlich and wrote several short essays on the subject more than 20 years ago, but for a number of reasons I think this emphasis is wrong. Both these problems are huge but the humane solutions to the population problem – such as universal education and the empowering of women – are long term, whereas the solutions to the climate problem are clear and immediate.

Then there is the equity problem. For 250 years the developed world has burned fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow. In terms of the best average temperature for the earth that probably maintained by 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide is the ideal – set in about 1910. Since then the economies of Europe and America have consumed a large amount of the fixed carbon budget leaving little room for the overpopulated countries of India and China to achieve a similar high consuming standard of living.

The first world continues to produce large amounts of greenhouse gases whilst the third world has a long way to catch up. The fact that the CO2 production of an Australian citizen is 17.1 tons pa whilst that of an Indian citizen is 1.9 tons illustrates this.

The arguments around this question are many. Since the problem has been caused by first world countries, they should be the ones doing the most to reduce their carbon pollution as quickly as possible. They should also be making a large financial contribution to assist poor nations who are imperilled by the extreme weather events and other effects of climate change, but have done little or nothing to cause it.

Tom Moore in MSF added “it is not correct to say that population growth has caused Climate Change. Climate Change has (is being) caused by increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The main reason that we have increasing carbon dioxide is that for the past 200 years…human beings…have been…cutting down forests and burning fossil fuels, adding carbon to the atmosphere and the oceans and reducing the natural balance that was possible via photosynthesis. Some have been burning more fossil fuels than others. We have also adopted farming practices that have exacerbated the situation and acted in other ways that cause global warming.”

The population argument does not recognise the immediacy of the climate emergency and the existential threat of warming. There are two ‘d’s from the Michael Mann thesis involved here –  there are those who are ‘doomers’, that is we can’t do anything about it and so give up, and ‘deflectors’, being diverted from immediate action on the climate emergency. Mann’s ‘ds’ are just more subtle tools of the old climate deniers and those yet to perceive the urgency of the climate crisis.