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.
- 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.”
- Madeleine Bunting on population and environmentalism