Global Warming – Over-Consumption, Not Over-Population, is the Main Threat

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Popular Western Myth:  Population growth of poor countries is putting severe pressure on limited resources of the planet and increasing global warming.

This is a wonderful lie spread by the ‘experts’ of the so-called ‘developed’ nations.  This is a terribly convenient argument — rich “over-consumers” of developed countries can blame the poor “over-breeders” of developing nations for all the ills of the planet.

Essentially, they are saying that humans (particularly poor ones) are bad for the planet and its environment – they eat away resources beyond planet’s capacity to replenish and aggravate pollution that is warming the earth beyond human comfort.

This is the standard wisdom showered on the poor humanity which is already suffering from poverty driven inferiority complex – and of course, exploitative policies of the rich nations! It is designed to make them feel further rotten for sickening the planet with increasing temperature as well.

It is an utterly deceptive argument, rooted in the 200 year old Malthusian overpopulation theory that the elite rich world loves!

Let’s look at the facts.

Global population increased in last 100 years from 2 billion to the current 7.3 billion. It may reach 9 billion by 2050, although since the end of the 20st century, fertility rates around the world have started declining rather sharply. The UN expects global fertility to fall to 1.85 children per woman by mid-century, from today’s around 2.5.  Chinese fertility (1.5 per woman) is already in the sub-replacement regime; India’s current fertility (2.3) is under sharp fall and will easily reach replacement level of 2.1 by 2020 and then its population would peak by 2050 at around 1.5 billion. Various recent estimates strongly suggest that the world population is likely to peak around mid 21st century and then start to decline.

Therefore, the traditional Malthus phobia of  global ‘population explosion’ and ‘the potential scenario of too many mouths chasing the limited food supply of the planet’ is just a hoax to berate poor humanity for their higher birth-rates.

Over Consumption of Rich

Connecting global warming and population of poor countries confuses things: it makes it seem that people of the rich and poor countries consume and pollute alike. It is at best a big joke! There is simply no comparison between the resource guzzling lifestyle, of say, an American or a Canadian and the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, with the life of a Nigerian or Bangladeshi who merely struggle to survive on meagre resources.

In fact, folks from the rich nations consume too much of everything and produces too much pollution.  There is simply no comparison.

Here is the eye opener.

Some years ago, Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculated that the world’s richest half-billion people (roughly about 7 percent of the world population) cause almost 50 percent of the global CO2 emissions. And in striking contrast, the poorest 50% humanity contributed just 7% towards greenhouse gas emissions !!

Looking at the comparative carbon emission, today an American emits equivalent to around 4 Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians, or 250 Ethiopians.

In fact, the resource guzzling lifestyle of the rich societies does more harm to the planet than merely adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So we go beyond carbon footprint to “ecological footprint,” which estimates the area of land required to provide everything we need and also to suck up our pollution. This metric also has some inherent problems, but serves for comparative purposes.

Here is the land required to sustain the lifestyles of different nationals:  An average American needs around 9.5 hectares, an Australian 7.8 hectares, a Canadian 7.1 hectares, a Briton, 5.3 hectares, a German  4.2 and a Japanese 4.9 hectares. In comparison, the world average is only 2.7 hectares!

Even China is still below the global average, at 2.1. India and much of Africa (where most of the future population growth would take place) are near or below 1.0.

Americans are the largest per-capita consumers of everything. For instance, an American eats up over 120 kg of meat per year, compared to just 6 kg by an Indian.

Future Projections

By 2050, around 2 billion (or 40%) extra people are likely to be added. Practically, all of them will be added in the poor half of the world. They will raise the population of the poor world from around 4 billion to about 6 billion, making them the poor two-thirds.  In fact, most of the population growth will take place in just 5 countries: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.

In comparison, the global economic output will multiply several times – predicted to rise by 500-600 percent – by 2050. As usual, the dominant contribution would come from the big economies of the rich world. Population increase, being added to the poor countries with small economies, should have only a minor contribution towards future economic growth and hence pollution.

If we assume for the purposes of argument that the per-capita emissions in all country stay where they are today — those extra 2 billion people would only increase the share of emissions from the poor world from 7% to 11% ! Realistically speaking, the per capita emission is likely to increase in the poor world as their economies expand. But that is an issue of consumption, not population.

Fast increasing populations do create serious local environmental crises through loss of farming land overgrazing and deforestation. But they don’t pump gases into the atmosphere to the extent of the industrial activities of the ‘developed’ nations.

If environmental experts want to limit the global temperature rise to within 2 degrees – and demand emission cuts by 60 percent by mid-century – the rich nations have to take the lead. It is their wrong development model that forces them to over-consume and spew enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.

Now of course, emerging economies like China, India, Brazil etc are also adding significant amounts of greenhouse gases. But ironically, they are only following the same faulty model of development that the West still wants to continue with.

How do we get an idea about environmental behaviour of the future generations?

A statistician at the Oregon State University, Paul Murtaugh, has given the climatic “intergenerational legacy” of today’s children, assuming the UN’s fertility projections and current per-capita emissions.

He calculated that an extra child in the United States today will, down the generations, produce an eventual carbon footprint seven times that of an extra Chinese child, 46 times that of a Pakistan child, 55 times that of an Indian child, and 86 times that of a Nigerian child.

Therefore, the message is clear. Western over consumption is risking the planet; not so-called over population happening the poor nations. Every talk of rising head counts in India or Africa takes the environmental debate in the wrong direction – the so-called ‘developed’ nations should know.

About Goodpal

I am a firm believer in healthy people (mind and body both), healthy societies and healthy environment. Please feel free to comment, share and broadcast your views -- I like rational and intellectual discussions. Thanks for stopping by. Have a Good Day!
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