30 June 2023

Overconsumption, not overpopulation, drives climate change.

 Last night it rained. Such a lovely sound. As a result, today has been somewhat cooler. 

The garden is hard work at this time of the year, at least for the gardener who picks berries and harvests assorted vegetables and has to weigh the produce and record the yields on his excel sheets and stuff the freezer and make jam and salads and dinners. I join him in the evening picking raspberries and obviously, I am full of praise for all the work he does.

this year the melons look good

spot the one miserly apricot

onions and parsnips

the raspberries

a wild mallow that grew out of nowhere

invasive R calls it, taking over

abundant feijoa from NZ


we call this one dyer's chamomile

the yellow day lilies look a bit messy

finally the plumeria

Because I've read it again as an argument why nothing can be done about climate change and also because some of you have mentioned a couple of times in your comments, here my attempt to explain why I think it's a straw argument.

Yes, overpopulation is often used as an explanation for the climate crisis. Almost 8 billion people currently populate the earth so of course, population growth has and will increase global emissions of CO2. But here's the thing, rising incomes have a much greater impact. Because people do not all produce the same amount of emissions. In the richest countries, emissions are 50 times higher than in the poorest countries. And while in the low-income, low-emission countries the population is growing fastest, industrialised countries (20% of the world's population) are responsible for 80% of CO2 emissions through excessive consumption. Also, in the rich nations, emission levels are linked to income and age of consumers, with older people emitting more, as they often live in smaller households and have carbon-intensive lifestyles.

Overpopulation is a convenient idea. To some, it means their life style isn't what's damaging the planet, but rather the sheer mass of people — so there's little point in changing their behavior.

Anyway, while population growth has increased greenhouse gas emissions, it is dwarfed by the rise in emissions per person. A densely populated world running on clean energy could have lower emissions than one with few people powered by fossil fuels. If anything, population growth should move us even more to work on climate change mitigation

Sometimes people try to use population as a way to let rich countries off the hook, whereas in reality, it's our consumption and our level of economic activity that drives emissions more than the number of people we have.

Zeke Hausfather (more here)

There are vast differences between particular communities and societies in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for producing and therefore their contribution to climate change. Those communities which have high fertility rates have a negligible impact on climate change.

Lisa Tilley (more here)

You can read current scientific articles on population growth research here and here and here.





Barbara Rogers said...

So glad you're talking about climate change, as it relates to population and emissions. There are many other factors to take into consideration as well, like the continued industries using and manipulating fossil fuels, the manufacturing and non-recyclable current situation of plastics, the lack of preservation of forests, land for animals, eating animals which produce methane themselves, etc. Keep up the discussion, please. It's important, because the more of us care about what we can do, starting with daily plastic use, or less travel in cars...and then bring the attention to elcections that this is now what's important!

Ms. Moon said...

Interesting and also, pretty obvious if you think about it. One middle-class American probably has more to do with the destruction of the planet than a hundred people in the poorest areas of the poorest countries. I am sure there are exact statistics.
I did want to comment on your husband's assessment of the invasive tulip vine- it is trying its hardest to take over my yard, along with about ten other species that should never have been planted here.

Steve Reed said...

I don't dispute that wealthier societies that consume more contribute a greater share to climate change. But if there were fewer people, there would be FAR less danger posed by more and more societies around the world trying to adopt middle-class Western lifestyles, which is what's happening now. You can't blame them, but it's not a sustainable approach. In other words, it's not really an either/or situation. BOTH problems drive climate change -- overconsumption in wealthier countries and far too many people overall.

Besides, overpopulation drives a host of other problems such as food scarcity and environmental degradation and pandemics (for example). It seems like common sense that fewer people would leave humanity with more resources and a less stressed planet. Or do we just keep piling on the people and all live with nothing, like villagers in Niger or Mauritania? That's not going to go over well.

Pixie said...

The West has historically contributed the most to climate change and the third world countries are the most impacted. People suck, at least that's my opinion today sadly.

ellen abbott said...

what a wonderful garden you have. I need to start growing more food. and your yellow plumeria is gorgeous. I've been wanting a yellow for years, have asked several people for cuttings which they never come across with but yesterday I did score a cutting!

I have railed against our wasteful throwaway culture all my adult life. use something once, throw it away; something needs repair, throw it away; have a perfectly usable serviceable item, throw it away because you just want a newer one. our grandparents would be horrified. I hope things aren't as dire as they seem, that my grandkids won't be faced with an imploding environment but even so there is going to be a great upheaval.

ellen abbott said...

and yeah, the orange trumpet flower vine is invasive. it will take over everything and is damn near impossible to get rid of. ask me how I know.