Demographers fail to acknowledge the effect of population growth on climate change

By The Overpopulation Project | 1 April 2021
The Overpopulation Project

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A recently published article asked European demographers about their attitudes towards climate change and population growth. It shows that while most demographers are in agreement on the need to act on climate change, the effect of population growth is largely not understood.

An article published in March this year in the European Journal of Population explores  demographers’ attitudes towards climate change and the role of population growth. Titled Population and Climate Change: Consensus and Dissensus among Demographers, its abstract reads as follows:

What role does population play in thinking about the problem of climate change and some of its solutions? In a survey conducted between February and April 2020, we asked European demographers to state their views on the relationship between climate change and population developments, and asked them to rate their concern about climate change and other socio-demographic issues. We found that climate change is at the top of the list of demographers’ concerns, but that their sense of urgency with respect to taking action to redress global warming is not matched by their belief that population policy can make a crucial difference in reducing CO2 emissions: demographers are highly divided on the question whether the global population size should be reduced to lower CO2 emissions, as well as on the question whether family planning is an effective policy instrument.

Probably one of the most interesting findings is described in table 4. The surveyed demographers were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements regarding humanity’s effect on climate change, the effect of climate change on migration patterns, and the effect of population size on carbon dioxide emissions. The majority of demographers fully agreed that climate change is primarily the result of human action (59%) and that saving the environment should be top priority, even at the expense of economic growth (52%). Half of the respondents (49%) agreed to the statement that climate change leads to unprecedented migration flows across the globe, while less of them fully agreed (25%). Even fewer fully agreed that the act of reducing global population size is a crucial part of reducing emissions, only 10%, and the largest group (33%) disagreed that the current world population exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity. There was large variation in the sentiment of effectiveness of family planning in curbing rapid population growth, with only 5% fully agreeing that family planning policies are by and large effective.

The level of agreement to statements about climate change and population. Full statements: “Climate change is primarily the result of human action,” “Saving the environment should be top priority for governments, even if this goal negatively affects economic growth,” “Climate change will generate unprecedented migration flows across the globe,” “Reducing the global population is a crucial in step in reducing global emissions of CO2,” “The current size of the world population exceeds the carrying capacity of the earth,” and “Family planning policies to curb rapid population growth in developing countries are by and large effective.” Based on the results presented in table 4 of the study.

The role that population growth plays in driving climate change emissions and environmental degradation is something we at TOP constantly address, along with acknowledging the effectiveness and success of well-developed family planning programmes. We therefore urge demographers to read the material we provide on our site and learn more about this crucial driver and what measures we can take to humanely reduce our numbers.

Do you want to learn more about the solutions for overpopulation and actions towards sustainability? What actions we need to take on individual, community, national and global level? Check out the Overpopulation Project’s list of solutions!

Reprinted with permission from Frank Götmark – Project leader of The Overpopulation Project (TORP); Professor, Animal ecology and Conservation Biology, University of Gothenburg.

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