09 December, 2011

Population is not the problem

Population policies have little impact on the way a minority of humans use the Earth's resources.

The population "problem" for the environment is more accurately described as two rectangles, each representing the number of people on the vertical and their lifestyles on the horizontal: one tall skinny quadrant encompasses billions of people who use very little of Earth's resources; the other a much shorter, extraordinarily long one for the minority of humans who use the vast majority of natural wealth.

Across time and geography, countries that have reduced birth rates have got richer and so more consumptive: rising incomes, better health and education give men and women the confidence that more of their children will survive into adulthood and help support their families; and as birthrates fall governments can spend more on each person's health, education and jobs, feeding a virtuous cycle of economic development and slowing population growth.

At the same time, study after study shows environmental damage rises – so far almost always perpetually – with income, and often more steeply as developing countries begin to industrialise. Most dramatically, these forces appear to have come together in China, whose one-child policy – albeit with massive state investment and rapid expansion of the market economy – has coincided with the country's rise to become the world's second biggest economy (and, incidentally, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution).

Full article here

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