All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people

Sir David Attenborough says on his website that, “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.”

He isn’t the only one who thinks that. But Melanie Phillips writing in The Times today disagrees with him. She says that, “The idea that falling birth rates are the answer to all our problems is desperately pessimistic”.

I disagree with her. But she mentions that the average British citizen agrees with Sir David Attenborough and others. They do this through their actions rather than their words. They stop having babies. This is not uncommon.

In fact, I recall, that many experts believe that the world population will peak at about 2050 and then start to shrink. The problem, as I see it, is that it might be too late by then judging by what the experts say about climate change.

The number of births in England and Wales has reached a 20-year low. It has reduced by 3.1% in a single year. This reflects a long-term trend in the developed world as stated in Melanie Phillips’ comment column.

She also mentions that Prof Sarah Harper, the founder and director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and a leading demographer said that falling birth rates in the West is a good thing and good for our planet. The professor added that the birth rate in rich countries would help to address the “general over-consumption that we have at the moment”. And this overconsumption is having a negative impact on the planet as we actually know.

Climate change is closely associated with population growth. I guess the formula is simplistic. The more people there are the more energy we require and the more fossil fuels we dig out of the ground to provide that energy. Yes, there is a move towards sustainable energy supplies and away from fossil fuels but many countries such as India, China and Russia still depends heavily on fossil fuel energy supplies and will do so for the foreseeable future.

I’m told that over the past 200 years, “progressive people” have believed that the high human population is potentially catastrophic for the planet and it must be reduced.

The Club of Rome global think tank predicted in 1972 that there would be an inevitable exhaustion of the world’s natural resources. This would prevent further economic growth. The mantra from the economists has always been that there must be economic growth but as the planet has a finite size the only way to achieve it is a substantial refinement in using technology for the production of products and foods. It cannot be achieved by using more space.

The Club of Rome, in 1993, said that the real enemy is humanity because it is humanity which pollutes the environment, creates the threat of global warming, creates water shortages and famine.

The Optimum Population Trust (now called Population Matters) argued, in 2009, that population growth was the key driver of greenhouse gas emissions. They suggested that the UK needed to slash its human population by 50% if it is to feed its population sustainably.

And the young people of the UK and I presume in other countries agree. A global study published in 2021 in The Lancet concluded that 40% of young people aged between 16 and 25 were reluctant to have children because of fears over global warming.

And I have read many stories about students at school, particularly girls, self-harming and many being suicidal. The numbers are frighteningly high by the way. I believe that they are seriously impacted emotionally by global warming. They don’t see a great future if a future at all.

But Melanie Phillips believes that humankind has the wherewithal and will to use its creative ability to solve environmental problems.

She refers to 18th century economist, Thomas Maltus, who predicted that the number of people in the world would outstrip its food supply. He’s been disproved because as the population has massively increased since the 18th century humankind has found ways to better feed itself with reduced starvation and declining poverty across the world.

The number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped overall by more than 50% between 1990 and 2015.

Sidebar: I wonder whether one beneficial factor here is that the mass migration from poorer countries to richer ones has helped to reduce starvation in the poorer countries. This is because migrants are able to earn much more money in more developed countries and therefore, they send some money back and the sum total of this wired money to developing countries amounts to many billions of dollars.

And Melanie Phillips says that a declining birthrate below the sustainable rate of 2.1 babies per woman to 1.55 babies per woman in England and Wales spells disaster. She calls it an ‘inverted population pyramid’ because there is a large and increasing number of ageing people supported by a small and diminishing number of young people. This undermines economic growth, productivity and ultimately the welfare of humankind.

What do you think?

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