Monday, 6 June 2005

carbon emissions and population

Over last week-end there was a lot in the press about the damage being done to the environment by cheap air travel, among other sources of carbon emissions. This is all true, but the solutions being offered are often very unrealistic. And the ultimate origin of these problems is still being ignored by nearly all the green groups, and certainly by the politicians. That is human populations. And I am not just talking about the one billion in India. I am talking about the 60 million in Britain, that is still growing. In England the rate of of oil consumption (which can be used as a reasonable measure of carbon emissions) was an alarming 28 barrels a day, per 1000 of population. [The figures are from a couple of years ago, but serve to illustrate my points]. The equivalent figures for the USA were 68 barrels a day per 1000. But the population of India, although topping a staggering one billion people, only used less than 2 barrels of oil per day, per 1000 of population. The population of America has grown by over 10% since 1990, and if it grows at the same rate over the next decade, that increase in population will demand as much oil and emit as much carbon as the whole of India.

This puts a perspective on the realities of controlling carbon emissions. Controlling human population is the priority, and controlling it in the developed world the highest priority of all. We are not going to convince people to lower what they perceive as their standard of living. Therefore the only way to reduce demand for resources is to reduce the population consuming them. But no politician or economist is going to accept this -- their whole way of thinking is based expanding economies and growth. The depressing truth is that none of the solutions proposed for alleviating climate change are actually viable. At best they are delaying the inevitable. Which is why I believe that preserving existing habitat, such as rainforest, and preventing all that carbon being released, is just about the best we can do. And it also preserves all the biodiversity and species richness that goes with it. None of the other options on offer have these benefits, which are probably more important, in the long term than anything else.


  1. I could not agree more, but it is spitting in the wind. This evening, Channel 4 News did a long piece about the G8 meeting and made much of the fact that the politicians of these 8 (only 8!) nations could not agree that the globe was warming, let alone admit that it is caused by human activity. There is no possibility that they would do anything so unpalatable as admitting that the root cause of the problem is the growth of the human population. That would bring the churches in for a start.

    People complain about Prescott's plan to cover the south of England with houses. How many of the complainants have children whose own families will need housing?

    In the 1960s Prime Minister Harold Wilson was tackled on the overpopulation of the UK. Inter alia, he said that a growing population was good for productivity. Was Man made for the Sabbath, or perhaps in this case the shibboleth?

  2. Following up various of John's pieces on population, I read today that the Roll Back Malaria Campaign plans to eradicate the disease in a decade. It is sad that malaria kills a child every 3 seconds. But if the Campaign works, where are they all going to stand?

    Are we not already seeing the effects of this with immigrants/refugees/whatever making desparate attempts to get into Europe?

  3. People complain about Prescott's plan to cover the south of England with houses. How many of the complainants have children whose own families will need housing?