Demographers fail to acknowledge the effect of population growth on climate change

A recently published article asked European demographers about their attitudes towards climate change and population growth. It shows that while most demographers are in agreement on the need to act on climate change, the effect of population growth is largely not understood.

By The Overpopulation Project

An article published in March this year in the European Journal of Population explores  demographers’ attitudes towards climate change and the role of population growth. Titled Population and Climate Change: Consensus and Dissensus among Demographers, its abstract reads as follows:

What role does population play in thinking about the problem of climate change and some of its solutions? In a survey conducted between February and April 2020, we asked European demographers to state their views on the relationship between climate change and population developments, and asked them to rate their concern about climate change and other socio-demographic issues. We found that climate change is at the top of the list of demographers’ concerns, but that their sense of urgency with respect to taking action to redress global warming is not matched by their belief that population policy can make a crucial difference in reducing CO2 emissions: demographers are highly divided on the question whether the global population size should be reduced to lower CO2 emissions, as well as on the question whether family planning is an effective policy instrument.

Probably one of the most interesting findings is described in table 4. The surveyed demographers were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements regarding humanity’s effect on climate change, the effect of climate change on migration patterns, and the effect of population size on carbon dioxide emissions. The majority of demographers fully agreed that climate change is primarily the result of human action (59%) and that saving the environment should be top priority, even at the expense of economic growth (52%). Half of the respondents (49%) agreed with the statement that climate change leads to unprecedented migration flows across the globe, while less of them fully agreed (25%). Even fewer fully agreed that the act of reducing global population size is a crucial part of reducing emissions, only 10%, and the largest group (33%) disagreed that the current world population exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity. There was large variation in the sentiment of effectiveness of family planning in curbing rapid population growth, with only 5% fully agreeing that family planning policies are by and large effective.

The level of agreement to statements about climate change and population. Full statements: “Climate change is primarily the result of human action,” “Saving the environment should be top priority for governments, even if this goal negatively affects economic growth,” “Climate change will generate unprecedented migration flows across the globe,” “Reducing the global population is a crucial in step in reducing global emissions of CO2,” “The current size of the world population exceeds the carrying capacity of the earth,” and “Family planning policies to curb rapid population growth in developing countries are by and large effective.” Based on the results presented in table 4 of the study.

The role that population growth plays in driving climate change emissions and environmental degradation is something we at TOP constantly address, along with acknowledging the effectiveness and success of well-developed family planning programmes. According to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, “Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion” (see figure). And looking forward, again according to the IPCC: “Without additional efforts to reduce GG emissions beyond those in place today, emissions growth is expected to persist driven by growth in global population and economic activities.”

Change in total annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel emissions by decade and four driving factors (population, GDP per capita, energy intensity of GDP, and carbon intensity of energy). The bar segment shows the changes associated with each factor alone. Total emission changes are indicated by a white triangle. Source: IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report

Demographers need to review the plain words of the IPCC on the role that population growth plays in driving climate change. They also should check out the material we provide on our site and learn more about this crucial driver, including what measures we can take to humanely reduce our numbers.

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5 thoughts on “Demographers fail to acknowledge the effect of population growth on climate change

  1. I find this article do be naive and largely uninformed about a lot that’s happened in population for a very long time, such as 54 of the world’s National Academies of Sciences warned–THOUGH BURIED BY MEDIA–that climate cannot be solved WITHOUT ALSO ADDRESSING POPULATION.

    But why do you blame demographers, when, for example, as we saw last November—although, tellingly, few of us “saw” it—11,700 of the world’s climate scientist issued a JOINT STATEMENT WARNING THAT WE CANNOT SOLVE CLIMATE WITHOUT ADDRESSING POPULATION, ESPECIALLY IN THE CARBON-GIANT NATIONS: China, the UNITED STATES and India? When did ANY of us last see ANY story in U.S. major media about anything but a “not to worry” theme, since our birthrate falls, though 92 percent of our growth is immigration!?

    I find it amazing—as I defined in an NPG paper last September—that our entire “reality” is now defined by DEREGULATED BIG 6 MEDIA—which has made it clear it is an enemy of stabilizing population—yet, rather than blame media, we blame AN UNINFORMED, INDOCTRINATED PUBLIC, including demographers who are as “innumerate” (to quote the late Dr. Al Bartlett) as all of the rest of generations who have forgotten why Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day.

    As I said in my NPG paper, if we don’t get media back under the Fairness Doctrine and the Big 6 GLOBAL MEDIA CONGLOMERATE broken up, we’re going to LOSE THE FIGHT FOR A REASONABLE POPULATION AND WE’RE GOING TO LOSE OUR DEMOCRACY, IF WE HAVEN’T ALREADY.

    Why should anyone care a hairy rat’s butt about population when media—REACHING BILLIONS OF PEOPLE—keep telling them population is no longer a problem.

    Kathleene Parker
    Los Alamos, NM

  2. Thank You Kathleene Parker for your comment. Yes, Media is the problem, there are several axamples.

  3. “Family planning policies to curb rapid population growth in developing countries are by and large effective.” has some ambiguity. Is the question whether it currently is being effective, or is the question whether it could be effective if better supported and advocated, or is the question whether the respondent support family planning to curb population growth. Clarification might help us understand the rather surprising survey results.

    1. Good point. TOP has provided reports on well-designed family planning programs being effective in many parts of the world, including Costa Rica, Thailand, Bangladesh, Iran, Tunisia, and Rwanda. But it is also true that today many national programs are underfunded or not as effective as they might be, for a variety of reasons.

  4. The main problem is that governments, as well as businesses, want continued population growth because that’s the factor driving so-called economic growth. And nobody can now see anything else after centuries of global capitalism unfortunately.

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