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 www.griffonholidays.com
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.