Guest blog – The Climate Change Elephant by Ian Parsons

It is great to see so many people, young and old, getting involved in the climate change protests, highlighting the sheer scale of the problem to all. It is great that the United Nations are debating it, talking about the urgent need for action, although of course, some world leaders have their orange heads firmly stuck in the sand.

My concern though, is that none of them are talking about the real, underlying problem. Climate Change is just a symptom of that very real, but seldom mentioned problem and just treating the symptoms isn’t going to cure anything.

This blog might upset you, it raises a subject that is mired in moral and ethical issues, issues that can very quickly be twisted into extremist views by people with hate filled outlooks. I suspect that this is the reason why our politicians (both globally and locally) avoid it. I apologise if this upsets you, I don’t want to upset you, I just want to make you think a bit, but I won’t apologise for saying it, because it has to be said.

Climate change is a symptom, as are the huge losses of species diversity, the plastic pollution of our seas, agricultural intensification, and the increased sprawl of urban development. In fact, pretty much all of the environmental issues facing us today are simply symptoms of the underlying problem. It is a problem that deep down we all know, it is just that we are seemingly very reluctant about mentioning it. It is the elephant in the room in all the discussions, and on all of the protests, about climate change.

It is us. Or rather our numbers, our rapidly increasing numbers.

During the first Industrial Revolution, a time often cited as when the climate change crisis really began, the global population was around 990 million, today, just a couple of hundred years later it is 7.7 billion. Words don’t do that rise justice, so let’s see it in numbers. We have gone from 990,000,000 people in the world to 7,700,000,000 in just 200 years.  In just another eighty years time it is predicted that the world population will have increased by another 3.2 billion to 10.9 billion or, if you prefer, 10,900,000,000.

Every single one of those extra 3,200,000,000 people that are going to appear in the next 80 years are going to consume vast amounts of resources, they are going to require energy, they are going to require food, water etc, etc.  All of these basic requirements have massive impacts on our planet. Look at the energy you consume today (some of you will be able to do that by looking at your energy consuming ‘smart’ meter), look at the water you consume today, look at the food you consume today, think about the environmental cost of all that. Then multiple it by 3,200,000,000.

This is the bit that might upset people. Again, sorry if it upsets you, but I think we need to be blunt if we are ever going to solve the problem.

At the recent climate strike protest in Exeter, there were lots of people making their feelings known. There were many parents there who had removed their children from school so that the children could also take part. I saw one couple proudly telling a journalist how they had removed their three children from school because the children had all desperately wanted to take part… blah… blah… blah. Sorry, I switched off at that point because, bluntly, they are the problem. Two adults producing three children is an increase, they can protest that they want politicians to cut CO2 emissions, but it is they that are the real problem not the politicians.

Climate change is a symptom of our epidemic like increase in population, the symptom will only be alleviated if we tackle the root cause.  We can go out in to the countryside and plant as many trees as we want to offset this, that or the other (by the way the most sustainable way of getting trees to grow is the non energy demanding practice of stopping mowing, grazing and trampling an area and letting nature do what it does best), we can put loads more insulation into our loft spaces and wall cavities, we can switch to electric cars, we can eat less meat, but if the world population increases by another 3.2 billion people in the next 80 years we are, again bluntly, just pissing in the wind.

If we are serious about stopping climate change we have to start talking about the real reason behind it.  It is not feasible to say that we will globally cut CO2 emissions over the next five years if, in those five years, our population has increased by 400 million (roughly), because every single one of those 400,000,000 increases will require significant resources on top of what we already require today.  If you believe we can reduce emissions without tackling the vast increase in our numbers then you are kidding yourself. It is just not feasible.

Don’t misinterpret this as me saying that there is no point in doing anything.  This would be an easy trap to fall into, especially if you are reacting to a touched nerve caused by me saying that having three or more children is the problem. I think we should all be doing something, but that we should also be looking at the underlying issue as well as the symptoms that it is producing.  We need to talk about it, we need to stop shying away from it and start to address it now. I don’t profess to know what the solution is, but I do know that we have to stop ignoring our increasing population and to stop deluding ourselves that we can tackle climate change without saying anything about the elephant in the room.

The human population growth rate is decreasing, but a decreasing growth rate is still a growth rate. Our decreasing growth rate is still going to add another extra 3,200,000,000 people to our planet in just the next 80 years. It is time to release the elephant.

Ian Parsons spent twenty years working as a Ranger with the Forestry Commission, where he not only worked with birds of prey and dormice, but where he developed his passion for trees. Now a freelance writer, Ian runs his own specialist bird tour company leading tours to Extremadura. For more details see

This is Ian’s seventeenth Guest Blog here and you can access all of them through the Guest Blog Archive – click here.

Ian’s book, A Tree Miscellany, was reviewed here.



46 Replies to “Guest blog – The Climate Change Elephant by Ian Parsons”

  1. You can’t blame people for having children, like you can’t blame them for driving a car or using a plastic bag. We are all party of the problem and solving climate change is not going to happen through individual personal choices. We need to change society. We know that family sizes are smaller when people have access to resources and education. We need a fairer world where resources are fairly distributed and not in the hands of super rich corporations. We need to stop chasing economic growth. That’s the much bigger elephant.

  2. Hurray for someone finally talking about this! Our current consumption is a more urgent problem, and possible to change more quickly, but on any time scale the number of people on the planet at one time is biggest problem. We can solve most of our the planet’s problems by taking notice of five words: consume less, have fewer children.
    It’s not enough for the population to stay level though, it needs to go down. What choices should potential parents make then? Let’s see, there are two of them, the population needs to go down. Not hard to think of numbers less than two is it?
    The world’s poorer people will want to live much more like we do as soon as they can. That means the population has to go down. Ultimately I believe we should aim to reduce the world population to 1% of it’s current level. Then nature can flourish and everyone can have a decent, healthy, educated, full life. The 1% goal.

    p.s. the only group that I know of speaking sensibly about this issue is Population Matters, although they aren’t radical enough.

    1. Hi
      I’ve had four children 25 down to 16
      And thankfully they believe that they should have fewer children or none.
      I feel guilty at times. but thankful they are thoughtful and ethical

  3. The highest population growth rates are achieved by the world’s poorest. The wealthier a nation becomes, the more it stabilises and even reverses its population growth. Wealth needs energy, cheap energy. Policies that increase the price of energy, such as alternative energy, keep the poor in poverty for longer, thus exacerbating your elephant Ian.

    1. Such policies also create more poor in wealthy countries while fattening the wallets of those who sign up for “green” energy

    2. Dick, I’m sorry but that is just nonsense. Many of the poorest nations have the highest amounts of sunlight and therefore access to cheap energy. It’s politics that prevents them from using it. Alternative energy in developed countries is already cheaper, or almost as cheap as traditional fuels. March this year; “Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.”. Alternative energy is a new technology and requires investment to get it going and costs are now falling all the time. Oh, and there’s the bonus of cleaner air and water. But you carry on using dirty, finite resources such as coal and oil – good plan!

      1. The evidence is compelling that alternative energy is expensive. Otherwise, why do governments subsidise it? There are so many policies designed to stop “global warming”, many of which cause more environmental damage than any theoretical damage that global warming might cause. Expensive energy is just one example.

      2. “the bonus of cleaner air and water”

        Where did you hear that? Not where the rare-earth metals are mined (muchly by children), where the cement, steel, glass is manufactured, where the toxic dumps full of end-of-life PV panels are located. And matching despatchable reserve is still needed. Just so that people have a nice clean space to park their Volvo EV.

        Sulphur hexafluoride has a CO2e of ~24,000 and its use will increase with the increase in grid complexity. Genius.

    3. Population growth may be lower in the wealthier nations, but each person consumes many times as much as each extra mouth in a poorer country (on average). Campaigns to stablise or reduce population is needed everywhere, but especially in the higher consumption countries like our own.
      And population is a ‘supertanker’ of a problem: it’ll take decades to change much, as we all live for decades. That’s why it’s so urgent to start now.

  4. The problem is there are lots of elephants. You’ve picked one of the bigger ones and (I’m guessing) one where you can take the moral high ground, but also one of the more challenging to deal with. I’d say air travel is another elephant but one that is much easier to deal with. At an individual level ‘we’ could all just agree not to do it anymore (if we are serious about the issue). I’ve got two kids and I can just about opt out of the guilt because of my age. I’d be interested to know how many times you hopped on a plane in an average year? I’d say if we (I guess with this ‘we’ I mean ‘you’) are going to take this issue seriously then we/you should stop the air travel first and then talk more about children.

    1. I agree totally with your point about flying but why make it personal?
      There are many under-reported causes to global warming and possibly the most important is soil quality and because of agrochemical companies it will be another fight against dis-information. It is well reported that soils around the world are severely depleted but not so much about their carbon storage capacity. Combating the soil problem has multiple benefits as does population control. Just about every major problem on earth is related to population growth.

      1. Be careful. You may have an informed and balanced perspective on the climate – don’t let anyone find out. You should know very well that there is only one Big Red Control Knob so be prepared to be smeared, disliked, unfriended, and accused of being a far-right flat-earther in receipt of “dark money”

      1. Madness is people who have had the opportunity to do stuff like that, that the up and coming generation should not have those opportunities. This is another stumbling block, that it is always those who have had opportunities that seem to be lecturing the young and/or the poor that they should never have them. We’ve seen that with the housing crisis, as example, with lots of well off home owning boomers and early Xers saying that people need to get used to life long renting. It doesn’t help matters. Saying that there should be less opportunity to explore the world, to celebrate the world, to experience pleasure in the world, will not help in saving the world.

        Now, wealth redistribution on the other hand from those rich boomers and older Xers… Stop the SAGA generation going on cruises, or owning multiple homes that they flit between; that they should be the ones giving up meat and various other luxuries, because they’ve had their jollies already. That might be helpful.

  5. A very good blog and absolutely spot on. In The Diversity of Life by Edward O Wilson, the author starts his forward (2000 version) by saying that while the population is now 6 billion, at the rate of 2.6 per woman, if we reach 2.1 level quickly, the population will still be 7.7 billion by 2050.
    Well we didn’t and we have added 1.7 billion in the past 19 years. With increasing wealth, health and education, we are there already.
    The biggest elephant for politicians is that without an ever increasing population, who is going to pay the bills in the future?
    Just listen to the howls of protest is a politician suggests raising the pensionable age, something that has been completely mismanaged since its inception.
    Wilson also makes the point that whilst the average ecological footprint in developing countries is half a hectare, in the U.S the figure is 5 hectares. Another two planets please.
    His wasn’t the first warning and yours won’t be the last, but until world politicians learn to focus long term nothing will change.
    Hopefully the new generation (that shouldn’t be here), are more intelligent and insightful than we have been. Over to you Greta.

  6. I’m not sure this is an elephant any more than air travel. Its certainly not a secret. It is part of the general problem that we’d all like to see “them” change behaviour, whether that’s people having lots of kids (helpfully for our self serving narrative these are mostly foreigners and mostly poor people) , people flying a lot (rarely “us” who always have a good reason apparently) or my own current difficulty of eating less meat (working on it but does take more willpower and effort than expected). Just for the record I don’t have kids and have flown less than one trip a year on average for 20 years, but I still live in my glass house in other ways.

    In fact, if we can assume that the author has no kids of his own, its another way of othering the problem. Particularly because we already know the solution to this one, which has many other benefits; empower women and make people wealthier and they have fewer kids. Works every time in every society. The “how” is the difficult bit, esp if we need to make people wealthier without increasing their carbon or ecological footprint.

    btw, where does the 10.9billion figure come from? My understanding has been that population is expected to peak out this century at 9 billion or so, and I’m not aware of new data to overturn this projection. Still a big number I grant you, but a lot smaller than 11b. `More do-able and less “give up now we’re screwed anyway”.

    For change to happen, we need governments to lead not follow. Greta and XR and the rest are changing the mood music so that, if they choose, Govts can take the steps needed to make big changes. I can’t think of a faster way to prevent this and utterly discredit the environmental movement than by adding intervention in family size – that really does have a nasty totalitarian track record. Getting Govts and individuals to curb flying and energy waste and rethink consumerism is difficult but do-able. Let’s do it. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the balls before we have.

  7. We humans are so good at deflection strategies, we have an innate ability to avoid topics we are not comfortable with. That is the problem. We are scared of talking about human population growth and therefore as soon as it comes up we try to avoid discussing it by raising other issues instead.
    To say that human population growth is ‘one of the’ elephants or that there are ‘bigger’ elephants is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Whatever other ‘elephants’ are mentioned the simple, inescapable fact is that they all stem from us and our population size. They are all linked to the fact that our population has grown from under a billion to over seven and a half billion in just 200 years and is continuing to grow.
    I wrote this blog to raise awareness of the fact that we are simply not talking about the single most important factor in all the environmental problems we face. I didn’t write it to take the ‘moral high ground’, because that is just petty. I didn’t write it to criticise individuals and their lifestyles, I wrote it to try and stimulate people in to accepting that we really, really need to talk about human population growth if we are serious about tackling the symptoms it causes such as climate change.
    But, as a question was asked, I will answer it. I take between six and eight short haul flights a year. Each flight according to quick calculations is the equivalent of 0.3 tonnes of carbon, therefore an average of 2.1 tonnes of carbon annually. Having two children, in the UK and assuming average life expectancy/lifestyle, ‘costs’ around 100 tonnes of carbon annually (over their lifespans), obviously this rises dramatically if they have two children and then they have two children etc etc. These figures aren’t the most rigorously produced, I have just sat here counting fingers for a bit, but they do illustrate why we need to be talking about human population growth if we are going to talk about climate change. Let’s stop with the age old diversion tactics and accept we need to talk about human population change now, not later.

    1. I wasn’t seeking to deflect attention from your point, rather to make a related point. That being that we all have handy arguments to justify our own selfish behaviour – and that’s a huge problem. If someone wants kids they are going to have them. And if someone wants a holiday abroad then they are not easily going to be dissuaded. You ‘switched off’ from a discussion over climate change because the person you were speaking to had kids. Fair enough, but others may switch off from your argument (especially on such a sensitive subject) if you are taking eight flights each year. And to address Prasad’s point, I made it personal because this whole debate is about personal decision making. We wince when BP sponsor an art gallery but it seems most of us are happy to top the car up on their forecourt.

      1. It is personal because even if someone spoke about climate change and took loads of flights it wouldn’t make the argument less wrong. The distances Al Gore and David Attenborough fly doesn’t make them less or more right but they are attacked in a similar way constantly. It may make them look hypocritical and that may make a difference when trying to get your message across but not sure the world’s billions are going to hear about Ian Parsons. The ‘moral high ground’ remarks are just not necessary to make a point. I can be nasty and frequently am BTL but i choose my targets and Ian is not one of them.

        The only point which hasn’t been mentioned and perhaps it is such a big elephant that is doesn’t need mentioning is the urgency of action.
        Population Control was something we should have been doing 50 years ago. We still need it desperately for two or more generations down the line but it is too late for the most important crisis we have to face within the next 10 years. We need to keep fossil fuel in the ground now and we have to start capturing the CO2 in the atmosphere now.
        If we don’t we may not even need population control!
        We should be on a war footing. The IPCC must be given more power and must be elevated beyond an advisory role. The IPCC must become more independent from political pressure to water down it’s recommendations and it should be able to broaden its remit to include anything which effects climate change including population control, economic models, trees, soil, war, social upheaval, social inequality, migration etc. That is obviously a general direction i am suggesting. More intelligent minds needs to be brought to the issue and given power to make things happen. But it needs to be like a world war cabinet!
        The situation is so extreme that perhaps there should be a certain percentage of scientists from all fields and from all countries enlisted into solving the problem. For example that link i gave from a soil scientist suggests that cows can be a major player in the solution not the problem. That is news to me but we need experts to get together and find out and agree on a plan of action. We need radical solutions based on the earths natural systems.
        Right now it is like a SF film where the aliens are attacking or an asteroid is heading our way and we are standing watching and the film reel ends half way, sorry no more reels and no money back.
        Do i believe we are going to solve it? No. There is no way that the agrochemical companies are going to stop killing the soil and by the time the oil industry is out-priced and government subsidies stop and we stop driving and flying like we have 4 planets, we will still be heading for +4 degrees. Mega companies will hijack any attempt to solve the problem adding more hi-tech fudges with one aim, making profit. Perhaps this year is a turning point and for the first time there is hope but reading the comments here, which show very little sense of urgency, i think the most likely scenario is that we get to that 1% population that Ian mentions but by catastrophe not choice. Perhaps that isn’t so bad, there will be lots of space for cheetahs, elephants and rhinos.

        The other question not mentioned is: why do people get so defensive when the topic of population control arises?
        Surely we now live in a society where an individual’s choices are not just their own when they impact on everyone else.
        Getting people to think about it is a taboo worse that criticising religion. China is considered barbaric for having a one child policy and Indira Gandhi is the devil.
        Today in the UK this taboo has got even worse. If you watch tv dramas from the 1960s, the choice of having abortions was normal it wasn’t ‘bad’, it was a new topic admittedly but i don’t know when i last saw a drama where the main character decides to have an abortion. It always ends with a happy ending and a baby and if you are really unlucky a marriage too. In the EU maybe not (Spiral – not happy but the heroine) but not in the UK.
        Very odd. Having children is a god-given right with a few hormones and reproductive instincts thrown in. The Selfish Gene in action.

    2. I’m glad you take between six and eight flights a year, because you can’t take between six and seven. It has to be a whole number, no matter how it ended.

      You should take advantage of the indifference of the Maldives governance to their ongoing drowning crisis. They are opening 5 new airports in 2019.

    3. Ian, your 100/tonnes per year for a UK per capita CO2 output is out by a factor of 10. A “quick google” gave me per capita CO2 for the UK of between ~6 and ~9 tonnes per year which accords with what I found when I looked properly a while ago. Pick your source but its the order of 5- 10 tonnes not 100. Maybe you meant 50 t each but the point stands… you’re wildly exaggerating per average per capita cost to mentally justify your flying.

      In fact your flights alone are at least 1/5th of the total average per capita UK output. What job do you do now that requires so much flying? Oh, running a tourism business in Spain ? – say 6 people per group, 20 groups per year, =360 tonnes/yr, or the same CO2 as at least 36 UK based individuals produce per year on average. That’s why I’m very uncomfortable with the wildlife holiday industry and wince when I see it advertised alongside CC articles in magazines etc.

      But the biggest point of difference in our viewpoints is that I simply don’t accept that no-one is talking about population. I think its a common topic now, amongst the young people I know anyway, not least because the fear the world their kids would be born into. But, unlike flying, it has no simple solution. Why don’t you start by marketing your product only to Spanish people? That would offset 36 UK kids at a stroke, probably 360 Kenyans. Be the difference you seek.

  8. Good point, well made. I see comments above saying ‘there are other points’ – yes, of course there are, causes and remedies for climate change and biodiversity loss is a huge subject! In this particular blog, you are talking about one part and I applaud you for it. I already know a fair few young couples and singles who have decided not to have children for this reason and those are just the ones who verbalise it.

  9. For some insight into what is happening Robert Wilson is a good provider.

    Net population increase results from infant mortality reduction and adult longevity increase and is driven by philanthropy whereas neo-Malthusians clearly favour misanthropy

  10. You can’t talk about this subject without mentioning capitalism. That process of turning the earths natural resources into waste for the enrichment of the few. Most people live in the poor south but the pampered 20% in the north use most of the resources and most of those resources are used by a tiny number. To just focus on the number of people is to grasp only one aspect of the problem.

  11. People who say we need a higher birth rate to support an ageing population ignore the fact that, once the bulge/baby boomers have passed on, then the ratios are more supportable again. As part of the bulge myself, we need to put up with less help from the young, if we can, and try and help each other more. Also consume less and help poorer nations to provide family planning and better education and equality, especially for women. We can’t go on as we have in the past.
    NB: The ‘likes’ aren’t working for me.

    1. Carole the “likes” (and “dislikes”) no longer work for me unless I refresh the page after “liking” I use Google Chrome.

  12. I don’t think it is true to say that population is an ‘elephant in the room’ – it is frequently mentioned and recognised as an extremely serious issue that we face. I don’t suppose that anyone would disagree that it would be better if there were drastically fewer of us on the planet if we could magically achieve that. The trouble is that such a magical way of achieving it does not exist. How do you propose that we bring about the rapid reduction in population that you think is necessary? How (and how quickly) does M Parry wish to reduce the world population to 1% of the present total?
    As pointed out by several commenters above, the birth rate does tend to decline naturally as countries become more economically prosperous and this has been happening around the World (indeed I believe around 80 countries currently have birth-rates below replacement level) but this is not a rapid process and there remain large parts of the world where birth-rates are high and population increasing and it is likely to be some while before this stabilises.
    China and India have both in the past pursued policies aimed at stemming population growth but these involved what many would see as serious abuses of human rights. Are you proposing that we should implement similar policies or do you have some other human-rights-friendly solution up your sleeve?
    I find it a bit sad that you apparently feel that the person with three children you saw interviewed at the extinction rebellion demonstration somehow has no right to protest or campaign about climate change ‘because they are part of the problem’. I daresay many people at the ER protests do see themselves as part of the problem but also hopefully contributing to finding the solution. You can’t ‘un-have’ your children any more than you can ‘un-consume’ the various resources you have consumed during your life but anyone can surely decide at any point in their life to take actions to make the world better whether by reducing their own impacts, campaigning for wider change in society or, hopefully, both.
    Of course the average birth rate in any country is made up of some people with below average number of children, some with above average and some with no children at all. For those that choose to remain childless for environmental reasons I would say, sincerely, well done for living by your principles but you should not be disparaging of those who did not make such a choice if you expect your pension to be paid when you are no longer economically active and to be cared for when you are old and sick.

    1. We don’t accept coercion I presume (and hope), so the only solution is for people to choose a better way. As an example, at one child per couple, roughly: 1000 -> 500 -> 250 -> 125 -> 60 -> 30 -> 15. That’s pretty close to `1% in six generations. We only have to choose.

      And to the person lower down who talks about Britain’s birth rate dropping, I believe it is now going up again. The demographic transition is not necessarily the end of the story.

      Do you have anything to say Mark? I think most of us would be interested in your perspective. (I’m going away for 10 days now [not on a plane, or with a car] so won’t be replying to anything for a while.)

      1. “We only have to choose”.

        It sounds so easy but when “we” is more or less the entire population of Planet Earth it is far from easy. Pleased to hear that you want the population decline to be entirely driven by voluntary personal choice with no coercion but I rather feel your six generation decline to 1% is very unlikely to happen especially given that the economic value of children in a shrinking population will rise.
        I would suggest that such an abrupt reduction in World population would itself give rise to some serious societal problems. The issues we currently have in various developed countries of dealing supporting an ageing population would be greatly exacerbated and more widespread.

  13. The idea that increased wealth leads to reduced population growth is a dead duck as far as I can see. It just leads to increased immigration to boost the cheap labour element of the work force. See UK, Germany and Sweden. That changes the culture and green middle class values are not important to poor people. Sooner or later nature will bring human numbers under control, one way or another.

    1. Migration between countries obviously affects the numbers in the country into which the immigrants are moving but doesn’t increase the numbers of the overall global population. If affluence increases in the countries from which the migrants are moving their motivation to emigrate decreases. It is in poor countries outside Europe and North America that you need to look for wealth to increase in order to have an impact on population growth, not in Germany, Sweden or the UK.

  14. I am sorry I have not had time to read all of the replies above.
    There are so many people, very often in my own social media bubble and social set which hold the same view as you.

    Population increase is not exponential in the world today. It is following a logistic curve. That means that it is evening out. In a diminishing number of regions of the world population is indeed exponential but is falling towards a point where on average each person has about 1.1 offspring, the replacement rate or fewer.

    Even in such places the population still rises while life expectancy rises but then falls if as in ever increasing areas of the world where the replacement falls below 1.1 per person.

    While I would like to see a steadily falling world population it could not be realistically achieved very quickly without decreasing life expectancy, and you don’t have this in mind.

    So look at the two key parameters that will determine the speed of decline of population if present trends continue, life expectancy and replacement rate. You can find assessment of these here:

    Note that births are less than 2.2 per couple in all the countries below Morrocco which is evens.

    So for example, in countries such as the UK, when the large population surge that started in the post war baby boom die, the population will start to fall unless there are more immigrants. This goes for all the equivalent countries.

    In the countries such as Japan the deaths are already exceeding births.

    So why are we having such environmental degradation?

    Take the UK.
    Population was ~ 50m when I first heard of it in the 1950s. Now lets say 60 years later it is 65m; an increase of 15 million or a bit under 30% increase.

    Now in that time degradation of the environment has increased very greatly more than that. This is caused by our massively increased consumption of stuff.

    I write this because so many people are so convinced that the problem is too many people, and often they feel therefore it is other people’s fault. It is not.

    So you may look at the figures for the developing world. Now in nearly all cases the fertility rate is diminishing. Look at the figure for South America and most of Asia. See in Africa the correlations between poverty, poor education and high fertility.

    To understand these nuances i recommend:

    1. When i first went to India the population was half a billion now it is 1.3 billion and it is estimated to plateau out at 1.75 billion in about 2060.
      Already there is terrible human/wildlife conflict including just about every nature reserves and endemic hot spots like the Andaman Islands. I know people who were advocating birth control when the population was a third of a million in the 1950s and earlier but were ignored.
      China on the other hand, like it or not took action and in the 1950s had a population of half a million and even with the one child policy is only now stabilising at about 1.4 billion.
      So India is set to increase its population by approx 1.4 billion since the 1950s before stabilising whilst China increased by 0.9 billion.
      I have heard Indian politicians and media openly boasting about becoming the highest population in the world.

  15. The reason we don’t talk about human numbers is because last time someone did with any great seriousness, it was Adolf Hitler. And whenever it has been brought up since, it has always resulted in a variation on a similar theme. We just cannot be trusted to have that conversation, so we’ll just have to keep on treating the symptoms until we can talk about it without it being used as a power trip for nasty smallminded xenophobes and homophobes (and pretty much every other ‘phobe’ too) to enact their perfect vision for society.

  16. It’s hard to talk about arresting population growth without mentioning several even bigger elephants. Religions that prohibit contraception and abortion. Laws that prevent voluntary assisted suicide. The ethical issues behind artifical insemination or other assisted fertility practices. There’s currently a 6 month waiting list for vasectomies on the NHS due to the lack of resources caused by our overly high population. I wonder how many happy accidents occur within that time frame? If you don’t have children they can refuse you the operation too.

    1. Hmm. Contraception is certainly an important and necessary tool with respect to population control as well as being an important tool to enable women to make their own choices with respect to reproduction. It should be available everywhere. Abortion is not a tool that has or should have a significant role to play in population control but it is an important right for women to be able to control their own bodies and should be available everywhere alongside other health services. Religions should not be interfering with women’s reproductive rights.
      Assisted suicide is not a tool that I think should have any role whatsoever in population control. I believe that people facing difficult, painful terminal illness should have the option to put an end to their own suffering but this should be associated with tight controls to ensure that the decision is absolutely voluntary on the part of the person concerned. There should be no possibility of coercion and assisted suicide, if allowed, should be strictly for the benefit (ie to end suffering) of the patient only.
      I very much doubt that the availability of vasectomies on the NHS has a significant impact on overall population growth in the UK. It would be good if vasectomies were always available when required but this has to be seen in the context of the overall resources of the NHS and what its priorities should be in spending them. I am all for the NHS receiving more money but personally would not put availability of vasectomies very near the top of priorities for spending that money.

    1. Clear your cookies for this site. It happens every so often, and they just need cleared to get them working again.

  17. Thanks for your blog, Ian and the many comments.
    Others have already mentioned the empowerment and education of women which should be a cause in its own right, and the disparity between the consumption of the rich and the poor.
    I’ve understood that large families are in part an insurance policy against child mortality and for old age, though also a labour force in subsistence farming. The idea has prompted me to speculate on the cost of global health care and old age pensions. Anyone with a ball park figure?

  18. Humankind and the natural world face a swathe of vastly complex and intractable issues, most of which are getting more pressing by the year. I think it is wrong to identify any one issue as ‘the’ issue – positive progress on any of them would be a step in the right direction. To oversimplify, progress needs to be made in three broad areas:
    1. Human production and consumption needs to be made less damaging – less wasteful, less polluting, less unfair.
    2. The scale of human production and consumption needs to be reduced. Most activities simply cannot be made non-damaging – many need to be scaled back, some need to be stopped altogether.
    3. The growth in the human population needs to be slowed, stopped and ideally reversed.
    It is not clear which of these three will be the least intractable to achieve or the most effective in reducing environmental damage. No doubt the answers will be different in different part of the world and over different time scales. What is probably true is that progress in one area can be wiped out by lack of progress in the others.
    I don’t know which is the biggest ‘elephant’ – all need urgent attention.

      1. Thanks for confirming. Of course “climate scientists” (“Tamino” isn’t one) consistently ridicule economists, statisticians, engineers, geologists, software developers et al – it’s what they do.

        1. How would you describe ‘Tamino’? For me, he is the most respected academic researcher of statistical issues in climate science, with a string of major publications in that field.
          I know it’s trendy to despise experts, but it can let you get things so, so wrong.

  19. Actually, getting grip on world population growth comes from raising the living standards of women in the third world, including making a world class education freely available to them. This has always been and always will be the dominant socioeconomic driver for population reduction.

    The blaming others argument is part of an output of oil industry think tanks designed to mute the environmental movement by dividing and actually muddying the water about the underlying causes of the problems we face. So whilst you blame the parent with 3 kids and switch off, because of that?? you are also failing to address and deal with the issues.

    We have to work with what we have, but we also need to reorganise society and societies in a number of ways to meet necessary environmental objectives. Only collective action will achieve this.

    The neo-liberal, free market economics model of society management has failed and, as I have said repeatedly since I was a young teenager, the way that society is organised need rearranging to maximise the efficiency and utility of public transport. Eg, UK Housing has been organised upon the assumption of indefinite cheap petrol to propel individuals between work, home and various retail parks and indeed for some, the odd Yellowbrowed Warbler. UK housing is incredibly energy inefficient and planning regulations stifle the development of energy efficient housing stock. So mock Romano/Greek facades yes, but no no no to modern energy efficient walls and windows.

    I think the UK population is expanding but not due to birth rate, rather immigration exceeding emigration or this has been the case historically until only recently. But that is the UK and as ever I have a raft of complaints about the way the country has evolved over my lifetime. Global populations are a separate issue and are actually the main argument of my reply.

    Raising the life quality and education of third world women is the real elephant in the room.

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