lifestyle sustainability

population growth in perspective

When people are faced with the prospect of global warming, one of the quickest excuses for dodging lifestyle change is to raise the issue of world population. We’ve had comments about it on this blog in the past, and they usually attribute climate change to the fact that poor countries are having too many children. It’s always easier to blame the poor countries after all. I know many of you know this already, but it comes up so often I want to say it again. So let’s just compare some facts quickly.

  • In Uganda in 2006, mothers had an average 6.8 children each, an extraordinary number, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • In the United States meanwhile, the average mother has a far more reasonable 2.1 children.
  • However, a Ugandan has an ecological footprint of 1.5 hectares.
  • While the average American has an ecological footprint of 9.5 hectares.

Do the maths – an American family with 2 kids does almost twice the environmental damage of a Ugandan family with 7. So who needs to stop having more kids more urgently?

I’m not suggesting for a minute that population isn’t a problem, or that poor countries don’t need to curb their population growth. They definitely do, or we’re going to have very serious problems in the future. But, those who blame climate change on population growth in Africa and Asia are sorely mistaken. It is a factor, but right now growth in developing countries is far more worrying than growth in poor countries. There is no escaping the need for lifestyle change.

Read more:

  • Jared Diamond on consumption factors:  “Yes, its population growth is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.”
  • George Monbiot on population growth versus greed: “Stabilising or even reducing the human population would ameliorate almost all environmental impacts. But to suggest, as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich.”


  1. Western consumerism (let’s not just isolate America all the time) may have been the cause behind alot of the environmental ills of late but the footprint of those third world kids is increasing rapidly. All the efficiency improvements in the world won’t make much difference when those Ugandan kids start to increase their impact as their lifestyle improves. Look at the standard of living in china, increases in the standard of living there despite the population controls are causing widespread shortages of energy, space, even clean air. We have to consume less, but population remains the key.

  2. Need to factor in some other considerations: one is that western countries have provision for old age by and large and low infant and child mortality. The significance of this is that in, say, Uganda your children are your old age pension and you need to have enough so that a few of them can survive to support you in your old age. Ironically a bit more propsperity distributed widely enough with good social infrastructure is (provenly) likely to reduce birth rate. We’re heading for a trade-off situation between birth-rate and ‘wealth’ (by which I mean a socially well distributed sustainable prosperity).

  3. Yes, the key to encouraging people to have fewer children is to tackle poverty and education, things we ought to be doing anyway. If we got on with those things, fertility rates would begin to fall.
    Ant it’s a good point about children being your pension. It wasn’t that long ago that people in the UK had that many children, for the same reasons.

  4. Thanks Jeremy, and for the same reason some in the UK still do! There is little to hope for in terms of state provision in old age, for the present aging generations.
    My own feeling on the population issue has always been that there are not too many people, only too many greedy people. Simplistic maybe; but didn’t Jesus say, ‘let him who has two cloaks give to him who has none’? A very simple principle – but who is ready to follow it?

  5. Hmmmm what a convenient way to avoid confronting the poor about how they themselves breed their own poverty…. Nobody is holding a gun to their heads to say ‘breed, breed like savages on viagra…

    But of course what would poverty pimp organisations do.. if the poor were actually encouraged to take responsibility for their savages on viagra breeding behaviour and stopped doing so… and no longer were poor…

    what would poverty pimp organisatons do, without heaven forbid poverty!!

    They wouldn’t have anything to do.. what a disaster…. !

    1. I’m familiar with the dependence scenario that you’re referring to, but your cynical and insulting approach to a very real problem is helping nobody.

  6. Jeremy,

    Cynical and insulting? Wow, okay… 😉

    I guess it doesn’t take much to insult you… Cause well for me.. there is absolutely nothing you can say, in any language on the planet.. that I would find insulting…

    I just think choosing to feel insulted is a big waste of time and energy… but I do acknowledge that a majority of the planet choose to feel insulted quite often.. often only based on a few words strung together…

    Anyway… wasn’t ol Jesus crucified cause he said some things that some people found insulting?

    personally I have found his teaching to be far more encouraging towards self sufficiency, than to codependancy.. although of course that depends on whether you are into organised religions interpretations of his word, or others..

    anyway… having worked with former prisoners, and so on.. i am of the view that you cannot help anyone who does not want to be helped.. and i first make very very sure anyone wants to be helped.. and you can only help an alcoholic.. including a poverty pimp alcoholic once they admit they are poverty pimp alcoholics… So while they are in denial there is sweet bugger all you can do for them… Of course you can choose to encourage their denial, with fake two faced positive thinking BS…

    Anyway….. to each their own…

    Good luck…


  7. I’m not the one you insulted! But you did just describe Africans with lots of children to ‘savages on viagra’. That doesn’t sound insulting to you? It certainly does to me.

    People in poor countries have lots of children because too many of them die, and having lots means a greater likelihood of some surviving into adulthood. Lift people out of poverty, and the problem is solved, as plenty of countries have proved already. It wasn’t so long ago that couples had half a dozen children in Europe too.

    You’re dismissing a very serious issue as people who don’t want to be helped. Perhaps you don’t mean it that way, but the tone you have taken with this is cynical. I’m all for practical action rather than positive thinking, but I’ve got no time for judging people from afar either.

  8. If I was one of those savages spreading my legs and breeding like I was on viagra….

    Your poverty pimp attitude to my addiction to being a savage on viagra, would do me fuck all good! And you would justify your do-gooder poverty pimpiing, by your self righteous attitude that you do not want to insult me with the truth!

    You are a two faced hypocrit… worse, a self righteous two faced hypocrit!

    The savages on viagra deserve better help than two faced poverty pimp do gooders who don’t even think the savages deserve to hear the truth, about their condition!

    If there was one thing Jesus hated, it was hypocrisy!

    Take a look in the Mirror, Mr. Two Faced Christian!


  9. Let me know when you change your mind… and you are interested in the conversation.

    In the year I spent with Black Africans in prison, listening to them, in the three years I spent living in an American black ghetto; in the years I spent working with African american prisoners, not once, did I ever walk away from a conversation.

    But I cannot tell you how many white poverty pimp do gooders… walk away from a conversation..

    So, as I said.. let me know when you willing to have the conversation..

    Till then… All the best… not sure what you gonna tell Jesus, when he says…

    And about that conversation you walked away.. from cause you did not want to confront your poverty pimp hypocrisy?

    tell me, what was that about?

  10. I’m up for a conversation, but that requires you to read and engage with what I say. You didn’t, you just repeated your insults. Answer my points, and I’ll answer yours. To make it easier, let me spell it out:

    What gives you the right to describe poor people, with no access to contraceptives, as ‘savages on viagra’?

  11. My religion is that of brutal honesty, above two faced hypocrisy.

    That is where my right comes from, my respect to another to be honest with them, as opposed to a two faced hypocrit.

    As for ‘cant afford contraceptives’…. you answered your other question… as to how they are savages.. when I can’t afford contraception, I behave like a human and close my legs and don’t fornicate with any walking penis..

    The inability to practice some sexual restraint, and refrain from acting like a dog on heat, is the difference — for me — between a human and a savage on viagra.

    Ever heard of ‘JUST SAY NO’!

    Furthermore an IUD is very fucking cheap, and lasts for upto 12 or twenty years. Allot of poor people’s alcohol budgets would pay for contracpetions for ever….

    You, however, are welcome to your right to being a two faced hypocrit… since you are clearly very very attached to that poverty pimp right…

  12. Unless you’re prepared to treat people like human beings, with the dignity they deserve, ‘conversation’ is impossible. You clearly know absolutely nothing about poverty in the developing world, and you pay lip service to your religion while writing insulting, racist comments.

    Say what you like, I’ve said all I’m going to, and future readers can make up their own minds who is right here.

    As a last word, I’ll answer your earlier question. If Jesus asks why I walked away (he won’t), I’d reply with the paradox of Proverbs 26:4-5, “do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

  13. No worries, Jeremy,

    If that is your choice, okay.

    I guess your culture that worships ‘hypocrisy’ while calling it all other Orwellian names; considers yourself superior to a culture that worships honesty, above hypocrisy and two faced ‘dignity’.

    Thats okay.. there are alot of people like that, who prefer someone gives them fake dignity, than blunt honesty.

    I am a Radical Hon(our)sty Bushido Discordian; ie ( + Bushido Way of the Warrior + Discordian = Radical Hon(our)sty… we have a total free speech philosophy.

    When someone who is angry with us, or who is disgusted with our behaviour tells us that to our face, in unequivocal terms, we consider that the highest form of respect they could give us. They valued us enough to be totally honest with us. That is what we consider the highest form of respect; not two faced ‘dignity’, behind a wall of self righteous superiority.

    But, to each his own.. I know our radical honesty way is the way of the warrior… it ain’t for the faint hearted or those with fragile ego’s who prefer not to take a look in the mirror.

    So, i hope the alter at which you worship brings you much joy and that you find there what you are looking for..

    Take care… As I said earlier.. let me know if you change your mind..

    For my door is never shut to anyone.. not even fools…, cause being a happy honest fool, is what I consider wisdom! 😉

    Lara Johnstone
    PS: If one day hypocrisy no longer works for you.. you can experiment with practicing some radical honesty, and admit your addiction to being a poverty pimp white guilt do gooder.

    Don’t worry, we all been there… you may stay in the rut your whole life, or you may awake and move on…

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