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Peak population

Fertility policies have failed to win favour among climate-change strategists but lowering the global birth rate is a workable way to cut emissions, argues Sara Parkin, kicking off a series of articles on demography.

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At the time of the first United Nations World Population Year in 1974, there were 4 billion of us living on Earth. Today we number 6.8 billion and, according to the UN median projections, will number 9.5 billion by 2050. By the same date, however, we humans are committed to arresting global warming, collectively reducing emissions of greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% on 1990 levels. Yet rarely is the absolute number of people discussed as much as our affluence or our technological prowess in mitigation or (because we have left it so late) climate change adaptation strategies. 

Looked at from an ecological perspective, this is astonishing. We humans are well out of our “ecological niche”, with no other big, fierce, predatory animal claiming a population counted in more than millions (for example, the crabeater seal – a hugely successful species – only has an estimated population of 15 to 40 million). Already we “take” more biological resources from the Earth than it can renew each year and as well as turning carbon dioxide into a dangerous pollutant, we have become the main contributor to the Earth’s nitrogen cycle.

From the perspective of the human economy, however, it seems the more people there are, the better. Today, a successful economy is geared to produce ever more goods and services, requiring not only that today’s adults consume more, but that increasing numbers of new recruits join their ranks. It could be postulated that the model of an eternally growing economy geared to producing more food and more homes for more people began even before we humans took up agriculture. And that as we got better at preventing death – but invested vastly less in preventing births – the model “turned” and became omnivorous, consuming unsustainable volumes of resources and exploiting millions of people just to maintain growth of “consumable” goods and services. The environment and people now serve the needs of the economic model, rather than vice versa.

But nothing can grow forever. US economist Herman Daly points out that a tree, once mature, starts to give things back to nature and that, unless we can find a human economic model that does the same, disaster is certain. Such a model would certainly involve countries going through some sort of ecological demographic transition, where population numbers fall and eventually settle at a lower level, with recruitment equalling loss. Morally, we have to do this in a planned way, because if we don’t, resource constraints or climate change will do it for us brutally.

Already, the growth in the global population has slowed, with average fertility rates halving from five children per woman (cpw) in 1950 to 2.5 today and, in several countries, the ecological demographic transition is clearly underway, notably in Italy and the former Russian Federation where the fertility rate is under 1.4. But even though fertility rates are under replacement levels in countries as different as Brazil and Iran (1.7 cpw) and China (1.8), in many countries they are not, such as Ethiopia (4.8), the United States (2.02), Bangladesh (2.2), India (2.5) and Mali (5.7). The inbuilt increase of women of child bearing years, however, means world population is still growing at around 80 million a year, putting world population on target for the United Nation’s higher projection of over 10 billion by 2050.

So what needs to be done? From an ecological perspective, the further under the lower UN projection of 8 billion by 2050 global population comes in at, the better. Given the disparities in resource use and greenhouse-gas emissions (for example, the United States produces 24 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person per year, China 5.5 tonnes and Ethiopia 1 tonne) preventing births in America would seem to give the best returns to the environment.

This argument, promoted by some development experts, has a perverse logic that says it is alright to have large families as long as you stay poor. The truth is that this is a challenge for both rich and poor. For example, even though China is on the world average for emissions per person, the size of her population means she is roughly on a par with the United States for total emissions. And although India’s greenhouse-gas emissions are 1.7 tonnes per person, her projected population increase by 2050 will mean a rise from 370 people per square kilometre to 490. Moreover, the additional benefits to poor women in charge of their own fertility – in health, education, ability to help their children thrive, contribution to environmental protection and food security for example – are well documented. See, for example, the 2008 and 2009 reports from the UN Family Planning Association (UNFPA).

The collective effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions distinguishes between countries with different emissions levels. The United Kingdom, for example, aims to reduce its current 11 tonnes per person emissions by 80% by 2050 as its contribution to the collective global target. Other contributions to keep the global population under 8 billion could follow a similar pattern. That global target means each woman having, on average, one child less. As fertility rates in many richer countries are stagnating or even slightly increasing, paralleling the justice built into variable contributions to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would mean richer countries trying to meet or beat that average, while also ensuring the necessary investment to help poorer women halve their family size and feel confident the children they do have survive and thrive. Popular family-planning programmes in remote areas of Mexico, for example, pack contraceptives and vaccines onto the back of the same donkey.

Climate-change talks may be in the doldrums, but there is no reason for delay in realising the contribution 1.5 billion fewer people could make to greenhouse-gas emissions and to the overall welfare of women and children as well as local environmental and economic resilience, especially – though not uniquely – in the poorest countries.

It is estimated that well over 300 million women worldwide want contraceptive materials and advice but have limited or no access to them. Even in rich countries, 30% to 40% of pregnancies (in and out of marriage) are unplanned. Meeting these unmet needs should not be difficult, and is one of the more competitively priced strategies for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.  

Policy resistance to considering population policies in the context of sustainable development has several causes. The first is the implication of fewer people consuming less for an economic model perversely constructed to thrive on the opposite. The second is the diffidence of policymakers when it comes to anything to do with sex. And the third is the bad reputation family planning gained from past heavy-handed programmes carried out by international agencies and in China and India. 

But as the soaring demand for food, water and energy is exacerbated by climate change, it is no longer legitimate to leave policies for lowering birth rates off the policy agenda. Adding family-planning information and materials to the list of fundable technologies for climate mitigation and adaption post-Copenhagen would be a good start. Moreover, there is no reason to wait until an international agreement is reached. Rich and poorer countries alike can simply get on, put their own houses in order and help others to do the same. For example, in its recent publication “Growing Pains, sustainable development charity Forum for the Future has made recommendations to the UK government on better ways to address population.

In the end, family planning is the responsibility of all of us, at an individual as well as at a global level. A 50% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 means we have to use fewer resources than we do now by an order of magnitude – on top of being ultra efficient in what we do use. Not one or the other, but both. As world-renowned environmentalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough points out: “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.”

 

Sara Parkin is founder director of Forum for the Future. This article is based on parts of her new book The Positive Deviant: Sustainability Leadership in a Perverse World. To order the book with a 20% discount, enter code PD20 in the voucher box when you order online at www.earthscan.co.uk/pd.

Homepage image from baby-baby-baby.org 

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

移民也有一定的影响

生育率只是其中一部分因素,而同时,应该把净移民量考虑在内。

据预测,由于移民,英国人口在接下来的几十年内将增长15%。这使得英国要减少80%的碳排放量的目标变得更加艰难,尤其是这里的减排80%指的是消费过程中的碳排放,而不是生产过程中的碳排放。

(此评论由董鹤冰翻译)

Migration also has an impact

The statistic "children per woman" tells only part of the story - net migration tells another.

The UK's population is forecast to increase by 15% or so during the next couple of decades as a consequence of migration. This will make it even more difficult for the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% - particularly if that 80% refers, as it should, to emissions from consumption rather than emissions from production.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

给富人绝育

我怀疑在气候变化谈判中我们还能取得更多进展,除非人们不再把这件事看成“我的国家和你的国家的对抗”。因为它真的不是。事实上全世界的富人,无论他们住在哪里,都消费了过多的资源并产生过多的污染。解决办法很明显,不是应该给富人绝育吗?

Sterilize the rich

I doubt we will make any more progess on climate change negotiations until everyone stops looking at this as a my country vs. your country issue. It is not. The fact is that the rich people of the world, wherever they live, use more than their share of the resources and produce far more than their share of the pollution. The solution is blatantly obvious, isn't it - sterilize the rich.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

很高兴看到这个话题

我从未在美国见到过讨论全球人口问题的文章,很高兴在这里看到了这样的讨论。饥饿、贫困,疾病、污染、殆尽的资源、大自然和野生动物所有这些问题都源于地球上有太多的人类。美国政客关注很多问题,唯独没有控制人口这个关乎当前以及子孙后代的事情。

这个星球和它的资源不足以维持人类的需求,然而家庭中的孩子不断出生,2个,3个,5个,8个甚至更多。我见过许多所谓的环境学家,他们自己有4个,或者更多的孩子。

对于“为富人绝育”,我认为这个主意不错。我建议对所有男孩绝育(不论种族,国籍,家庭状况),他们一出生就这么做。等他们成人,可以决定是否要孩子的时候,他们可以再做一个手术恢复生育能力。这既简单又不费钱。

(此评论由董鹤冰翻译)

Glad to see the topic

I never see global population issues being discussed in the United States so I am happy to see it discussed here. Hunger, poverty, disease, pollution, vanishing resources, nature and wildlife all stem from too many human beings on the planet. U.S. politicians focus on everything but controlling population for the current and future generations.

The planet and its resources cannot sustain the human population, yet families continue to have 2, 3, 5, 8 or more children. I have seen so-called environmentalists with 4 or more kids. In 2010? Why?

To the "sterilize the rich" suggestion, I think you are on the right track. I propose to sterilize all male children (regardless of race, birth nation or family status) shortly after birth. When they become adults and make the conscious decision to have and support a child, they can have the vasectomy reversed on the government's dime. Simple and inexpensive.

PeopleSwarm

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

湖南计划生育30年的“成就”

引述权威信息来源,如下:
如果不实行计划生育,现在我省人口已经过亿,人均GDP要下降5800元,耕地、粮食、森林、水资源的人均占有量将减少1/3。记者从昨日我省举行的中共中央发表《关于控制我国人口增长问题致全体共产党员共青团员的公开信》30周年座谈会上获悉,30年来,我省因计划生育少生了3600万人,相当于一个中等国家人口;节约社会抚养费约1.2万亿元,相当于2008年的全省GDP总量。

据介绍,30年来,我省人口出生率从37%。多下降到12%。左右,人口计生工作水平进入全国一类地区,在某些领域走在了全国前列。 湖南创造的“一盘棋”模式已推向全国,湘粤等泛珠11省市区正式开启流动人口计生服务管理区域“一盘棋”协作。 如今,我省人口过快增长的势头得到控制,低生育水平基本稳定。

The achievement of one-child policy in Hunan

If it wasn't for the one-child policy, the population in Hunan province would be over 100 milion, GDP per capita would have decreased by 5,800 RMB and resources such as land, food, forest and water per capita would have decreased by one third. It is shown that without the one-child policy, the population would be larger by 36 million, which is equivalent to the population of a medium-size country, and it would cost 1.2 trillion yuan, which amounts to the GDP of Hunan province in 2008.

In the past 30 years, the birth rate has decreased from 37% to 12%. Hunan province has become a pioneer in population-control in certain areas, which measures have been introduced in other provinces and adopted nationwide. Now the rapid growth in population in this province is kept under control and is gradually slowing down, with a very low fertility rate.

(this comment is translated by Dong Hebing)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

给富人绝育,给穷人壮阳:评论2#

“给富人绝育”是个“革命”性的想法,在谈它是否有用以前,我们来问几个简单的问题。首先,谁算富人?富人的财富如何衡量?是看他房子的大小还是存款,还是工资加奖金?假设笼统来说的“富人”,好,那么这个提议基本上是说要把西方的大部分适合绝育年龄的人全部绝一遍。另外,他/她既然是富人,想必是有两下子的,那么除了他/她富以外,是不是还要附加其它的条件:蠢才、残废、罪犯、恶棍、没文化、没信仰,最后你会发现,这些需要绝育的人中的大多数都在...中国、印度、俄罗斯,当然了西方也多得很,比如说华尔街。好了,这些人断子绝孙了,后果是什么呢?从这点看,这个评家真是个伟大的革命家。

Sterilise the Rich, Strengthen the 'Yang' (Virility) of the Poor

"Sterilise the Rich" is a "revolutionary" idea, but before we discuss whether or not this is useful, let's ask a few simple questions. First, who is considered to be one of the rich? How do you measure the wealth of the rich? Do you look at how big or small a person's house, or the person's level of savings, or salary and bonuses? Suppose you generally speak about "the rich", OK, this proposition is basically saying we should take the greater part of Western people of suitable age and sterilise all of them in one go. Besides, since he/she is one of the rich, presumably has some measure of skill, so apart from him/her being wealthy, shouldn't we also look at other factors: stupidity, deformity, criminality, hooliganism, lack of culture, lack of conviction, and in the end you can discover, these people who would be sterilised are mostly in ... China, India, Russia, and of course the West is also numerous, for instance on Wall Street. OK, these people die childless, what would the result be? From this point of view, this critic really is a great revolutionary.

Default thumb avatar
gaidee

应对气候变化的新动向:兼论思想政治工作的重要性

首先向不辞劳苦奋战在中外对话翻译前线的董鹤冰同志致敬。

其次,我们看到现在有些美国人以及一些某些不太严肃的同志动不动就提要通过计划生育乃至绝育的办法,也就是通过减少全球人口总量的办法来应对气候变化。我们要应对气候变化,我们需要减缓气候变化的强度和力度,目的是什么,目的难道就是为了好玩,显示我们人类的能力?错了,我们的目的都是为了人类自己的福祉,对不对?可持续发展的目的在于不断了子孙后代的活路,现在倒好,不但解决不了气候变化的问题,还要绝了子孙后代,真是岂有此理,本末倒置。人都没了,还要个什么环境?管他什么环境不环境的?我怎么感觉这个世界,中国的,美国的,东方的,西方的,说胡话的人越来越多了呢?思想政治工作重要啊,你看啊,主席不是提倡科学发展观吗,可是有谁在这儿用这个原则的呢?科学发展观说的多好啊,“坚持以人为本,树立全面、协调、可持续的发展观,促进经济社会和人的全面发展”,人都没了,还怎么科学发展?再说了,生育是人生在世一个最主要的社会活动,也是一个乐子,你把人的这个权利剥夺了,这还是个人的世界嘛?中国情况不同,人口实在太多,搞得穷困潦倒,没办法只好搞了一下,据说取得了辉煌的成就,为全球人民做出了榜样,但是还没有看到那个国家积极效仿,到我们这儿取经。所以呢,思想工作不能松懈,特别是对一些自由化倾向特别大的来自自由世界的人们。
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A new trend in tackling climate change:also the importance of political and ideological work

Firstly, I would like to express my respect for Dong Hebing's tireless labours in translating on Chinadialogue's front line.

Secondly, we can see that now see that some Americans and a few of our less serious posters keep suggesting using birth planning and sterilisation- in other words, a reduction in the world's total population- as a way of coping with climate change. We need to respond to climate change; we need to reduce the strength and force of climate change. But what is our goal in doing this? Are we doing it for laughs, to show off the capability of the human race?
No, our goal is the welfare of humanity, is it not? The goal of sustainable development is to give future generations a chance of survival. Now, when it cannot solve the problem of climate change, it makes no sense to eradicate those future generations- it's putting the cart before the horse. Without any people, what is the point of the environment? Who would care? Why is it that I get the feeling that there are more and more people- be they Chinese or American, Eastern or Western- in this world talking nonsense? Ideology and politics are vital- the Chairman is promoting the Scientific Development Concept, but who on the site is using this principle? The Scientific Development Concept puts it well- "Insist on putting people first; establish a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustainable concept of development; stimulate economic, societal, and human development in all areas." Without any people, how can you have any Scientific Development?
Also, reproduction is one of the most important social activities of a person's life, as well as a pleasure. If you snatch this right away from people, would this world still be a human one? The situation on China is different- the population was just too large, leading to extreme poverty and deprivation. Population control was the only option, and it has reportedly been a glittering success, setting an example for the people of the world. So, ideological work cannot let up, especially that aimed at some from the free world with particularly extreme liberal tendencies.
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