Population

“In 2012 the Royal Society published a report “People and the planet” which looks at the whole area of sustainability, natural ecosystems, finite resources and economic growth.  It makes a number of general recommendations which fit in with much of what is written above (alternative ways of measuring GDP, alternative economic models such as that suggested by Herman Daly, consumers paying the (currently externalised) costs of pollution and the need for the rich developed countries to reduce consumption to allow others to increase theirs).  There are two recommendations that have not featured elsewhere:  The first is the idea of a circular economy, which is one where almost everything is recycled.  The second is that of addressing population growth.

We have not space to cover all their arguments on population but we would recommend the reader looks at the Royal Society report, because it is an excellent primer on this issue.  Most environmentalists have avoided the issue population until recently for a variety of reasons.  In recent years this has changed with two high-profile thinkers, Jonathan Porritt and George Monbiot, taking diametrically opposite views.  These are summarised by Monbiot’s “Population growth is not a problem – it’s among those who consume the least.” and Jonathan Porritt’s belief that the earth has a finite “carrying capacity”.  The global population currently is in the order of 7 Billion, with projected future growth in a range of 8.1 to 10.6 Billion people, although there are some estimates that it could go far higher.  No one really knows what population the Earth could support (“carrying capacity”) and estimates of this figure tend to depend on which side of the argument above you are on.  However, the rate of population increase has declined since its peak in the 1960s, as has mortality.  This fertility drop has largely been achieved by the education of women, alongside the increased availability of contraception, also more controversially by sterilization and abortion.  The Royal Society essentially side with Jonathan Porritt.  The problem is both sides are sort of correct.  We need to reduce the global population for environmental and resource reasons. However, given the urgency of climate change and resource depletion, the policy levers are extremely limited.”

From “No oil in the lamp” chapter 7.

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