Can we slow global population growth significantly?

by Ginosar  

Central to the things that we must do is to recognize that population growth is the immediate cause of all our resource and environmental crises.

Dr. Albert Bartlett:

I am shaking my head as I study population trends of different countries. I read about this subject quite a bit during my UCLA studies for my doctorate in Environmental Science. I did my first population study: Family Planning in the People's Republic of China in 1974, and several other population studies a few years ago. Except China and Europe, for all practical purpose, the world population has continued to increase with some slow down. The majority of world leadership has closed its eyes on this crucial subject. Even when global warming [GW] is discussed in depth, population growth is rarely on the agenda.

A lot of statistics are available; all are unsettling, since nation after nation is unable to grasp the explosive situation we are in. Let's look at just one example- Egypt.

In 1950 Egypt population was 22 million, now it is 75 million! More than three times larger. They still have the same amount of arable land, but it is less fertile now and less water from the Nile River, their main source of livelihood. Result? More poverty and population dissatisfaction. Western people are unable to grasp the level of deep poverty in the slums of Cairo, for example, it is similar to India's notorious slums.

Obviously, this population growth leads to larger use of resources, more food, more clothing, more electricity, that is: more energy and more GHG emissions.

Egypt has to be governed by dictatorship since otherwise the population would revolt.


"Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity can not survive overpopulation.

Convenience and decency can not survive overpopulation.

As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It does not matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual maters."

Issac Asimov:

But my main emphasis here is about the global survival and our ability to curtail population growth, so let's return to it:

We can grasp the changes in Egypt, the numbers are within our understanding, but the real problem is global population increase from today's already unsustainable 6.8 Billon people to over 9 Billion in the next three decades. And we have known about it for decades.


In 200 years global population grew 6 times!

1800 - 1 Billion

1900 - 1.8 B

1950 - 2.5 B

1960 - 3 B

1980 - 4.5 B

2000 - 6 B

The crucial issue of population growth is rarely mentioned when GW is discussed in the halls of governments, congress, and the media. It is a taboo. We look at it as a problem for the developing world, mostly Africa, India and China. Europe can not mention it because their own smaller population has already all the modern comforts and their populations are mostly stabilized.

The US population is growing slowly, but our high demand for comfort dictates very high energy use and large GHG emissions second only to China. We are 4.5% of the global population and consume about one quarter [25%] of all global resources. So, we have a real population problem as far as energy and GHG emissions are concerned. And these cause GW. The US emitted to date around 30% of all accumulated GHG!

Developing countries do not want any one to interfere with their own population policies. The result is that the rapid population growth is hindering most efforts to fight GW.


We will always stay behind the ability to supply low-carbon energy as long as energy demand continues to grow rapidly due to population growth.

Even if we stood still in our energy demand, the task is nearly insurmountable, the use of energy from all fossil sources is so large, and it is close to impossible to replace it in the short time frame we must do it to slow down GW. Add to it the need to chase the energy demands of a growing population- the task is nearly impossible.

So many "green" commentators tell us that if we can just put more wind energy farms across the land or put photovoltaic on every roof, or more thermal solar in the deserts. The problem of curtailing GHG emissions would be solved. With all due respect to their strong love of humanity- this is sheer dreaming. They are unable to grasp the magnitude of the energy problem, the shortage of time to cut very significantly GHG and the need to change almost every thing we are doing. Nothing will change sufficiently to make any impact on GHG emissions if we continue according to the old way of thinking. Congress is offering us energy bills that are easy to swallow, but they will have negligible impacts on GW. Major sacrifices have to be made.

The POPUATION BOMB  book was published more than 40 years ago, and the global population has been going up before and after that book at a fast rate, a rate that can not be sustained without severely aggravating the damage to the global climate.

Is there anything that can be done to significantly reduce the growth of global population that we may have a modicum of chance to slow the GHG emissions?

The facts are against that possibility.

Consider the following:

1. The growth of China and India populations is the key to global population impacts on global warming because they have the largest populations and their rate of modernization is the most significant.

2. Both China and India expect major shifts in population from poverty and very low income to the middle class. Some 200 million in each country are projected to move from rural poverty to urban areas with considerably higher standard of living in the next decade or so. Note that India population is 71% rural, and 29% urban. Also half the population does not even have electricity. Therefore, the shift would multiply energy demand by a massive factor.

3. That population shift by China and India would increase their energy use by  an amount equivalent to current US use..

US energy use per GDP is four times better than India or China. Therefore, their new urban population has to increase their standard of living to just one quarter of the US level to cause the same energy and GHG impacts as a full new USA!

Again, although this combined population shift of 400 million would not gain the US standard of living in this period, they are likely to use as much energy as the USA uses now.

4. You can't reduce the desire for sex. The sex drive is a basic human need and can not be changed.

5. Free use of contraception of all types can not reduce population growth significantly to the level needed, and in the time frame needed. Even China tried it. It did not work.


6. The only methods that achieved fast population reductions to date are either massive war [50 million deaths WWII] or mandatory "one-child" laws in China, [China reduction of 400 million potential births].

7. It is not possible to copy the unique China experience without rigid control on the country.

8. Most countries are "freedom loving" and would not accept population control like in China.

9. If India could impose full human rights to most women in a very short time, women would be able to use all means of birth control, including abortion, at will. This change in women's freedom is impossible in the time frame we are discussing in a country deep in old traditions that have not changed in centuries among the majority of the rural population.

10. The current accumulation of children and young people in India [and other high population growth countries] will force high population growth rate independent of any new and even drastic population control attempts.

This is destiny, not open to adjustments or question.


11. Some 3/4 of India population is in the child-bearing age.

Median population age is 24 years; 32% of the population is below 14 years! India Population growth rate is 1.38%. It is not a high rate per se, some Muslim countries have over 3% rate, but because India has a large population it has a very high impact.

12. Approximately one forth of India rural population [200 million] is expected to be urbanized in the next decade or so. That move is expected to be accompanied by reduce population growth in this portion of the population.. How much would the national growth drops by this is not yet clear. The current average rate of India is 2.65 children born/woman.


13. China, with slightly higher population has a dictated low rate of only 0.5% due to its one child policy- that is not fully followed. Even this 0.5% is too high for China. Their official aim was/is to have a negative rate to drop to 700 million.

"The first law of sustainability: population growth and/or growth in the rate of consumption of resources can not e sustained."

Dr. Albert A. Bartlett


My conclusion:

It would be nearly impossible to reduce global population growth by a significant amount to help in the struggle against global warming. We do not have the time for slow changes.

And rapid population reductions are not possible, short of massive wars or massive famines.

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