Population growth taxes environment

December 12, 2009


— Yes, there is something more foreign than being offered kippered herring for your breakfast. It’s being offered PopOffsets for your conscience.

After seven hours and 3,325 miles, I arrive here, open the paper and discover that a British think tank, Optimum Population Trust, is ready to make me a deal. As a good environmentalist, I can offset the 1.1 tons of carbon emissions spewed into the atmosphere from my trans-Atlantic flight by donating $7 to a family planning program.

Well, I am not a fan of carbon offsets, which have been described as a get-out-of-jail-free card. I don’t cotton to the idea that we can neutralize our wasteful ways by planting a tree in the rain forest. The idea that I can balance flying by preventing a few little carbon footprints smacks of an elitism I thought went out with the Raj. Indeed to prove the point, the newspaper story was illustrated by a Busby Berkeley arrangement of African babies in a circle. So I pop off at the PopOffsetters.

But the irony is that at least these think-tankers are making a connection between population growth and climate change. That’s more than the scientists are doing at the conference in Copenhagen.

The think-tankers may be tone deaf, but the Copenhageners seem to be altogether deaf. The subjects under discussion range from clean energy technology and protecting forests, to carbon credits and enforcing a treaty. Countries are wrangling over everything about human-induced climate change except the increasing number of humans inducing it.

An odd fatalism about population growth has settled in since 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared the subject virtually untouchable. The “scope and legitimacy of population control,” they warned, were still “subject to ongoing debate.”

One piece of the controversy is, of course, amply illustrated by the implication that some countries can maintain their high carbon diets by reducing births in other countries. As Robert Engelman, co-author of a recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, says, “There’s a perception that wealthy countries with lower fertility rates are casting aspersions on poor countries with high fertility rates, blaming them for having too many children.”

The link between population growth and the environment is also complicated by the fact that the little people in my American family have larger carbon footprints than little people in developing countries. Most importantly, there is the lingering notion — imprinted by China’s repressive one-child policy — that family planning is “population control” imposed by governments against the rights and wishes of families.

But ever since the 1994 U.N. conference on population, international family planning policy has been focused on enabling women and men to make their own decisions. We’ve learned about the direct relationship between education and economic opportunities for women and smaller, later, healthier families.

It turns out that every society that offers a range of contraceptive options and information to women has a fertility rate of two children or fewer — and this includes developing countries such as Iran and Thailand. Today the average size of a family has shrunk from five children to two and a half. But there are still hundreds of millions of married women who don’t have access to services or information.

Kathleen Mogelgaard, who works on population and climate change for Population Action International, believes, “The beautiful thing about making this linkage is that so much of this (environmental debate) is about telling people what they cannot do. They cannot cut down forests or consume fossil fuels. This is one way to address the challenge by giving them what they want.”

There are nearly 7 billion people in the world today. Scientists project 9.5 billion people by 2050. In fact, there could be 8.5 billion or 10.5 billion. Depending on what we do.

As the UNFPA’s Thoraya Obaid says, “There is no investment in development that costs so little and brings benefits that are so far-reaching and enormous.”

There are people still uncomfortable with the notion that there can be too much of a good thing: humans. But Engelman replies, “Our impact on the Earth is overwhelming. To say it has nothing do with our numbers is laughable.”

In Copenhagen, talk is centered on technological fixes and political trade-offs. Responses are crafted by scientists, governments, meteorologists, finance experts. The silence on population is rooted in the belief that the human problem is the most intractable. But maybe it isn’t.

What if we can lighten the burden on the planet while widening the chances for women? That’s my kind of offset.


Dan Eyler 8 years, 2 months ago

It is everybody's duty to take your youngest child out back and sacrifice them for the sake of the planet. You will be made to kill your child under the environmental solution to saving the planet. If you are uncertain how this plan will work simply open you computer, google Communist Chinese law on one child policy and read up on the future these environmental cults have in mind for you and the American family. In the mean time google the United States Bill of Rights and the Constitution of which you may or may not have the slightest idea of what that is; print it and burn it. Are you really going to allow these environmental wolves lead your children to the slaughter. Americans are becoming sheep. Easy targets because they have lost their common sense. Listen to this executioner "There are people still uncomfortable with the notion that there can be too much of a good thing: humans. But Engelman replies, “Our impact on the Earth is overwhelming. To say it has nothing do with our numbers is laughable.” These environmentalists are making it as clear as glass. If they can they will kill any humans they can for the sake of their environmental religion. If you follow them, they will in the end lead you and your children to the executioner. A play book right out of China and Nazi Germany. All in the name of the perfect solution to save the earth......for themselves.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 2 months ago

Got all your doors double locked, and curtains and blinds drawn shut, kansasfaithful? Those environmental bogeymen are just outside, waiting to kill your entire family.

Dan Eyler 8 years, 2 months ago

Interesting that your response is based on my post rather than the content of the article itself. I am comfortable with my opinion and yours is very telling. My welcome sign is out. The sun always shines on common sense?

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 2 months ago

( It's hard to breathe, let alone think, inside the tank. )

melott 8 years, 2 months ago

Yes, she makes a good point. The effect of population on environment is nearly always neglected. The population of the USA has roughly doubled since I was born. The environmentalists have been pretending like this problem doesn't exist. They don't want to be unpopular for mentioning it. Having too many people can defeat just about any new technology or conservation measure you come up with. And you CAN keep the population growth rate down by educating women, making sure they have equal rights and free choice, you don't need compulsion.

In the US, the population growth people have been pretending that immigration isn't a big part of the problem. Mexico and other countries to our south are producing people faster than they can support them, so they come up here for a better life--and have a worse impact on the environment. We have to seal up the border and let them support their own excess children. This is another thing it's unpopular to mention. Maybe we could send the bill to the Pope.

Centerville 8 years, 2 months ago

Leave it to a moron like Ellen Goodman to fall for ChiCom-style population control. She's still hilarious after all these many years!

kenos 8 years, 2 months ago

Have any of you driven through western Kansas lately? There are towns with cheap vacant houses, and plenty of farm land with no people. Where are you getting this idea that there are too many people? OK, I know where the idea is coming from. It's coming from an elite cabal of Darwinian bankers who want to have the entire planet for themselves; and people like Ellen Goodman are buying the propaganda. The solution is simple. Kill yourself if you think there are too many people.

Tom McCune 8 years, 2 months ago

A few years ago when I was in grad school, one of our guest lecturers was a PhD economist from the Federal Reserve Bank in DC. After working our way through the usual macroeconomic charts and graphs mumbo jumbo, somebody in the class asked her something like: "So, what's out there on the horizon that could completely change the big picture?"

Her response was: "Well, you young people need to get busy and start having a lot more kids to drive more economic growth."

After what seemed like about five minutes of stunned silence, somebody said: "Isn't it the other way around? You are just saying that because you don't know how to draw a graph of aggregate supply and aggregate demand if global population starts declining, because all of your mathematical models depend on unending growth. But if population keeps exploding, at some point the whole ecosystem will collapse and there won't be any supply, or any demand, or any people for that matter."

Her response: "Oh. Well. Maybe you're right."

Bear in mind this was a middle-aged woman, not some senile old man.

I bring this up because some people (even intelligent ones) have just never considered anything other than perpetual growth, which is impossible. At some point global population will decline. We can let it be an catastrophic collapse or we can at least try to reach some sustainable equilibrium.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 2 months ago

Our economy has basically been outsourced and reduced to a "shop till you drop" economy. Of course that requires more bodies to support a failed economic policy of "shop till you drop". Thus her comment on more bodies.

However more bodies is the solution to the economic problems of Lawrence according to members of the city commission and likely our Chamber of Commerce. Smart economics is the fiscally responsible solution.

However those more bodies need jobs that pay real money. It is my belief access to to credit cards was substantially relaxed for USA consumers to go shopping. Of course the banks are winning because we taxpayers shore up this screwed up economics ......not necessarily by choice.

Goodman's focus on population growth is right on the money. If population and abortion are concerns there is a way to bring these matters under one roof known as education: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control-4211.htm

Between Planned Parenthood,cutting back on driving by 50% and eliminating coal power we could be on the way to saving our planet. Taking up "green gardening" and purchasing local food products thus supporting local farmers would also contribute immensely.

Jumping on the local energy band wagon would help a great deal: wind,sun,water and geothermal. There are tons of jobs directly and indirectly related to local energy production

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