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Population

 

Anthropogenic climate change is real.  Mankind (in our present form) has only been around since the last glaciation. Some Stone Age peoples were geographically isolated by very rapid sea level rise and the climate has been getting hotter throughout our recorded history.  Once we developed significant broad-acre agriculture and began mining and smelting metals (over the last 10,000 years) we began to have an increasing and compounding impact on the microclimate in many local areas of the planet.  Large cities further compounded this impact.

But for most of this period, human numbers have been under half a billion and our impacts, and even the longer term trends, have been masked by natural fluctuations.

The climate changes naturally and cyclically both in the short medium and longer term.  There have been many glacial and interglacial periods in the life of the planet and within these cycles wind and ocean currents, and a naturally chaotic interaction of forces, produce wild variations on an annual, monthly, daily and hourly basis. I outline some of the reasons in the paper.

The underlying problem today is that human numbers have reached such plague proportions that we are now having an impact not just on the micro-climate of say, the Sahara, Oklahoma or Europe but on the whole planet.  CO2 is very likely a sideshow in this carnival. The fundamental cause of anthropogenic climate change is just too many people on the planet.   

Now, as predicted, we are beginning to see a number of extreme climate events that have already killed many hundreds and cost billions in property damage.  The faithful will no doubt find comfort in hearing that the Pope is praying for themin this time of hardship.  But they should also consider that it was the Vatican that went on an active campaign to circumvent any attempts to limit world population in 1964 when it may still have been possible to mitigate some of these outcomes.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union  from  1974:  'This spring the Vatican has started a campaign to propagate its viewpoint on birth control.  Thus it takes an overt stand against the 1974 World Population year, proclaimed by the UN. According to The Times newspaper in London the Vatican resists all efforts to develop a system of world population control.  It rejects contraceptives, sterilisation and abortion.  In view of this startling campaign I cannot but repeat the statement I gave at the Brussels meeting with the Vatican Secretariat for Unbelievers on October 1,2 and 3, 1970: "The official Catholic policy influences through Catholic political power to a high degree the policy of nations even if the Catholics represent a minority of the population."'

Catholic On Line  website hails population growth as a positive outcome as in 'Vatican stats: Catholic Church growing, especially in Asia, Africa'.  So keen on eliminating any form of birth control was it that the Vatican persisted in its claims that condoms don't stop Aids  until late last year.  Since then claims to this effect such as that previously found at http://www.cathnews.com/news/310/53.php  (Church in Africa continues AIDS fight without condoms) have miraculously disappeared. 

Brazil where over 600 are reported dead in recent flooding has the largest Catholic population in the world; together with Mexico and the Philippines it accounts for a third of all Roman Catholics.  Of course this death rate pales into insignificance against the numbers of poor who die each day due to malnutrition and disease as a result of overpopulation.

But it is unfair to put all these miserable deaths at the Vatican's door.  Islam is equally to blame; although there is no single organisation heading that religion that forms an easy target; and in the US, fundamentalist Protestants have conspired with Catholics to prevent US Aid being tied to population control programs or incentives.  The US has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world but Protestants outnumber Catholics by more than three to one.

According to current UN projections we are already committed to another two, and probably at least four, billon of these before 'something' calls a halt to exponential growth. This 'something' causes the graph to roll over and then fall back to some sustainable number. 

 

image003  
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia 

 

  

 

In a number of developed countries that 'something' is declining fertility; apparently for cultural reasons; in many cases to below replacement levels.   

This is extraordinary.  Successful species do not normally spontaneously decline in numbers.  They do so because of the failure of their food supply; loss of, or dramatic change in, habitat; disease; or competition from a more successful species (or culture).

So what is causing this in humans now?  It appears to be the changed habitat or cultural environment due to technological and scientific advance, bringing new options and knowledge.   

  • Some say this has led to higher 'aspirational' standards of living and the need for multiple incomes and reluctance to engage in costly child rearing. 
  • Some say better education for girls has led to increasing equality in female workforce participation, greater career awareness and the sidelining or delaying of child bearing. 
  • Some say the relative un-competitiveness of boys in a communications driven culture (and their consequence emasculation or, alternatively, lack of sophistication) has led to a reduction in those attractive to girls as potential life partners. 
  • Some say children are now seen as a luxury by many with the diminishing importance of dynastic secession; children as property; children as social security; or the need for a family labour force.
  • Some simply call all this increasing selfishness, love of money and materialism. 

In population terms, this declining fertility is offset by longer life spans; resulting in the general aging of these populations, further amplifying the trend. 

But in places like India, Egypt, most of Africa or parts of South America there is no evidence that things are getting sufficiently better for most women, or in education, for these to have an impact on fertility. The very population growth militates against any improvement in their living standards or education.  The populations are typically very young and often getting younger as mortality rates rise. The prevailing religions are antipathetic to a greater role for women (and/or fertility control) and to cultural change in general; and religious adherents are increasing in number and proportion as these classes grow. As a result, there is a rapid growth in 'fundamentalist' religions across the world.

Even in rapidly developing countries like China (and before them Japan) with low or falling fertility, the aging of the existing population means continuing population growth for many decades. 

In these places we know that the 'something' mechanism for a stabilising and then reducing population will be much higher death rates occasioned by the depletion of resources, water, food, energy and so on; increasing contamination of food and water; more and more environmental damage; and very likely, significant new climate impacts.  

In the worst case (the UN low projection model) world population growth will be its own undoing through total resource collapse and this is going to happen within the next century. This will be managed or un-managed. In the later case many more will die and civilisation itself may well be seriously compromised.

It would be nice to avoid the less unpleasant scenarios.  But our politicians continue to fail to do the things they could do to help.  They need to work to suppress the factors subjugating women or preventing them their controlling their own fertility. They need to put big resources into the urgent universal and compulsory secular education of depressed minority children. 

They need to put more resources into the technology options that have some prospect of delaying the worst case outcome long enough for the above options to take effect.  By turning to technology we might come up with a fusion reactor, or some alternative, in time to solve the energy issue. Solving the energy issue may in turn solve the water issue. GM crops and/or algae might help solve some food and transport fuel issues.

 

Richard McKie

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