Time To Have A Conversation About Human Population Growth And Climate Change

Nobody talks about over-population anymore. Which is why this blog post by Nicholas Johnson is so important to be shared.  When you get to the part about the number of cars on the road it cuts through your denial and makes you realize the unsustainability of it all.  Posted with permission.

“After writing this I discovered 21,000 scientists agree: ‘We are jeopardizing our future … by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.’” – Nicholas Johnson


A Global Warming Win-Win-Win
by Nicholas Johnson

Can women cool global warming?

Homo Sapiens first appeared about 300,000 years ago. We’ve been growing rather than chasing our food since 10,000 B.C. Estimates of the population then are between one and fifteen million persons.

With more food available, villages evolved and population increased dramatically.

Yet, it took until 1803 to reach one billion people. Then 124 years to reach two billion; 33 years to reach three billion; and 15 years to reach four billion.

Need I say more?

Apparently so. Because most of what we’re told about environmental change and daily disasters stops with the phrase “climate change.”

Many are willing to do their part. To borrow from the Great Depression, they “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” They become vegetarians, bicycle or walk to work, turn up the air conditioner thermostat, recycle, compost, and grow some food.

That’s good citizenship in a crisis. But it only offsets a tiny fraction of the problem.

In fact, many of our environmental problems have been created, or at least made worse, by the rapid increase in rate of human population growth. One example: Humans are responsible for a 1,000-fold increase in other species’ natural rates of extinction.

The increase to eight billion of us also multiplies potable water shortages, polluted air, deforestation, wetlands destruction, increased trash and toxic waste, depleted fisheries and finite resources, increased farm, river and ocean pollution and acidification, and the substitution of concrete for agricultural land and open spaces now under sprawling communities and 4 million miles of roads.

Human activity is not only responsible for most of the greenhouse gas CO2 since our industrial age. We have also reduced the forests and soils that could remove and store it. Our country creates the most – and at a rate seven times per person that of China, number two.

Transportation creates the largest share of U.S. emissions.

In 1922 the U.S. population of 110 million was driving 111 vehicles per 1000 people (12 million vehicles). By 2012 the population was 314 million, but the number of cars per 1000 population had gone from 111 to 808 (271 million vehicles).

Say what you will about fuel efficiency and electric vehicles, more people driving 20 times more vehicles produce more CO2.

Exponential population growth is an environmental challenge for the U.S., but especially third world countries.

Fortunately, women will naturally reduce population growth if they are provided the support they deserve: social status, economic opportunity – and education. Women (and men) with secondary education and access to contraceptives have far fewer births. They space more time between pregnancies. Plus, their children also end up with better health, quality of life, and education.

We ought to be doing this anyway. Saving our planet is a bonus.

After writing this I discovered 21,000 scientists agree: “We are jeopardizing our future … by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.” Think about it.


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4 Responses to Time To Have A Conversation About Human Population Growth And Climate Change

  1. Edward Fallon says:

    This is a really important and difficult conversation. Thank you for sharing. Nicholas’ astute commentary. Ed.


  2. A.D. says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this.

    One major problem is that population growth has gotten tangled up with many difficult issues, including poverty and immigration. But as Nicholas Johnson points out, it’s a basic reality that women who have more good options generally choose to have fewer children. Hundreds of millions of women around the world don’t have good options.

    Another huge problem is that we are firmly strapped into an economic system that is based on endless population growth. We really need to start addressing that head-on.

    It’s the ultimate Ponzi scheme. We, here and now, are not willing to step off the endless-population-growth economic merry-go-round. But we know that some future generation of humans will be absolutely forced to do it. Our motto seems to be “Better them than us.” The question isn’t whether human population growth will stop, it’s what kind of planet will be left by the time it does.


  3. Trish Nelson says:

    Sending along this comment by Nick Johnson: Thanks to Editor Trish for posting, Ed and “AD” for comments, and Dr. Price for the support. “Population growth” is a tough one to write or lecture about without provoking attacks from both right and left. What’s even more difficult — in the U.S. — is delving into the role of “consumption per person” (as distinguished from birth rate or population). If each of us consumed what Native Americans consumed per person 1000 years ago, or the bottom 2 billion Homo Sapiens consume per person today, there wouldn’t be a need to talk about “climate change.”


  4. A.D. says:

    Please pardon just one more comment. Anyone interested can look up CASSE, the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. It was founded “to refute the dangerous rhetoric that ‘there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.'” Few on the right or left want to face that issue, myself included, especially in 2022 Iowa. Talk about heresy and a politically-hazardous message. But it’s an interesting organization.


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