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Consumer society, high energy, lifestyle underlies climate change

 9/26/18 Population has grown super-exponentially over the 20th century, which has led to some alarmist messages along the way. The most well known of them is the 1968 book, The Population Bomb, by Stanford professor Paul Ehrilch. Mass starvation due to the classic Malthusian catastrophe of population growth outpacing food production was predicted for the 1970s and 80s in the absence of immediate implementation of population reduction measures. This dire prediction did not materialize, of course, thanks to the Green Revolution.

The main drivers of population growth are death and birth rates—but the initial population size is important as well. Lifespan has lengthened due to medical miracles, while fertility has dropped across the board due to birth controls and family planning. But most importantly, because of the education and empowerment of women.

While population growth rates have declined, total population has continued to grow due to the initial size of the population, referred to as population momentum. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs projected in 2017 that Earth’s population would surpass 11 billion by 2100, despite these fertility and population growth rate trends.

The UN expects that nearly 70 percent of the world’s population for the latter half of the 21st century would be made up of a population with fertility rates below-replacement (less than 2.1 births per woman). And yet, there has been a steady call for population reduction—only now in the context of emission targets developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to meet global warming goals.

This “Population Climate Bomb” alarm is founded on ignoring several important factors that have brought us to this state of affairs as far as climate change is concerned. Foremost is the arbitrary accounting of the impact of population on climate, which neglects the global trade network where emissions are moved around hidden in goods and services.

Even the lowered fertility rates among the educated and empowered women may be associated with an unintended upward bump in per capita consumption (as discussed below). Additional complications arise because humanity has yet to chart a course to increasing the Human Development Index without increasing the environmental footprint. All developed countries have a high environmental footprint and no developing country can achieve higher standards of living without increasing its per capita consumption.

The IPCC has often been accused of ignoring population as a driver of climate change and global warming. Population projections are very much a part of the calculations for future scenarios on emission, mitigation and adaptation—but some would like a more explicit mention of the impact of population reduction on greenhouse gas emissions……….

The developed world has a narrow base of younger population with a nearly even distribution up to the aging population. Japan stands as a stark example of an ever growing aging population due to stagnating birth rates.  Developing countries on the other hand display a pyramidal age structure with a large base of population under 25. This offers a golden opportunity to educate and empower girls and young women. Nothing has proven more effective as a contraception than educating and empowering women.

Climate assessments including adaptation and mitigation scenarios by the IPCC are indeed better served by focusing on reducing energy intensity of GDPs and carbon intensity of energy production. Population is a problem that is solving itself. Our penchant for high-energy lifestyle shows no signs of diminishing. Our energies are best focused on evolving into carbon-neutral sapiens who will naturally settle into a healthy population level.

Raghu Murtugudde is a Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science and Earth System Science at the University of Maryland. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in India. His research focuses On the role of the oceans on climate variability and change including the biological feedbacks on climate.


September 28, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change, environment

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