Consumption Dwarfs Population as Main Environmental Threat

I’ve found that it’s fashionable among environmentally sympathetic folk in private gatherings to spark up conversation about the the publicly unspeakable “greatest threat” to the natural world : Overpopulation.  

Inevitable, right ?.. trends suggest otherwise.
More people means more consumption, right ? not necessarily.
Biggest environmental threat, right ?.. turns out, no. 

Fred Pearce suggests (and wields sound reasoning) that the environmental “threat” of Overpopulation is probably more of an argument that folk in affluent countries use to displace our culpability – over-consumption – onto the less privileged: 

Consumption dwarfs population as main environmental threat – Guardian

What’s one easy thing that you can do to help :

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  1. Todd Avatar

    in the article:
    that’s about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for 50 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.

    Those 50 percent on the low-emissions end are aspiring to the lifestyle of the 7 percent on the high-emissions end. If we can provide them with an improved standard of living without the associated carbon load, then the article has some merit.

    Alternatively, if that 7 percent is willing to live on a dollar a day, then that would also give the article some merit.

    In my view, it is a false argument. Carbon consumption (and other consumption) is way out of hand and needs to be curbed. At the same time, increasing education, health care and providing conception options are ethical ways to manage population growth. The approaches are not mutually exclusive.

    In addition, many parts of Africa will experience large climate change impacts (and, unfortunately, this is regardless of climate policy, like it or not emissions profiles for ALL energy scenarios deemed technologically feasible are essentially equivalent for the next 25 years). Those in Africa are also least able to adapt to abrupt changes in their environment. There will likely be geopolitical instability resulting from the nexus of population growth and climate change resource destruction (of, say, fresh water or crops). As above, both ends of the problem need to be addressed — limit emissions and manage growth.


  2. TimothyB Avatar

    If all Americans, Australians, Canadians, Britons, Germans, and Japanese significantly reduced our consumption to the average Chinese levels the earth would likely need to go back to an agrarian lifestyle.

  3. Bob Gregg Avatar
    Bob Gregg

    Evolution is still at work, and we humans are still in the game. The question is: are we just another animal species, or are we a special species, a sacred species? It took 4 billion years of evolution and natural selection to bring us from single cell organisms to sentient beings, but now the last 100 years or so have brought us humans to a crossroads. We possess thermal nuclear bombs (not itty- bitty Hiroshima bombs) and bio-weapons that can wipe out huge swathes of population. Do we really want to put civilization at risk by pushing our populations to the limit like rabbits do before the crash? No doubt consumption plays a big role in environmental degradation, but the number of people consuming is just as important, and a lot easier to control. Just tell your daughters two is enough, two is the right thing to do – and population stabilization will happen.

    Do we follow the ancient ways or embrace a new ethic? Only civilization, knowledge, and technology will lead us to the stars. The ancient command to extend our species to every nook and cranny on earth has already been accomplished, but now our tribes possess thermal nuclear bombs (not itty- bitty Hiroshima bombs) and bio-weapons that can wipe out huge swathes of population when Can we possibly pull back our exploitation of the land and every natural resource on earth as the author suggests? newand all of the demands and commands of evolution are still at work today, but we humans now have choices unavailable to our ancestors.

  4. Brian Ertz Avatar

    I think the point of the article demonstrates that it’s largely the populations that have already stabilized and achieved sustainable (if not below) replacement reproductivity that are the ones trashing the planet. Many countries in Europe are experiencing economic crisis because they’re not replacing population – yet their consumption continues expansion. That’s the problem – the people not even having two kids on average.

    So third world countries that aspire to western standards of living will (and are) stabilizing their populations as a very function of improved standard of living – yet, we see exponential impact that surpasses the rate of population growth.

    If population were the problem it would be reflected as a direct correlation of impact – it’s not. Consumption rates of countries that aren’t significantly increasing in population do show upward correlation to impact.

    Tell your daughter to have 2 kids – fine – but promote economic systems that are not premised on wasteful consumption – found our “standard of living” on something other than disposable toys, 3 cars & a boat, a new TV & HD-DVD (I’m sorry – blueray) player every other year, and a wasteful approach to electricity consumption that pretends mega-solar or mega-wind solves the problem. Once that’s done – once our sins are addressed (cause in the First world, population expansion isn’t happening) – then cast the stone at Africa, Mexico, or any other third world population that makes it easier to believe that the problem is ‘over there’

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Brian Ertz