Addressing Over-Population as Climate Change’s Root Cause

Over-population is root cause of climate changeOver-population's key role in causing climate change [ark] is again emerging as a central component of the debate on global warming solutions [search]. Too many people, many of which consume to dreadful excess while others live on $1 a day, are the root cause of virtually every global ecological crisis [search] including food and energy. I agree with Paul Ehrlich and James Lovelock that “we have grown in number to the point where our presence is perceptibly disabling the planet like a disease.”
Seven billion people now, when a bit over a century ago there was one billion — and each needing to be fed, housed, and clothed — and virtually the whole world embracing democratic conspicuous consumption as the way of life. How could this not possibly be the root cause of ecosystem loss [search], ocean dead zones [search], scarce water [search] and an increasingly inoperable atmosphere? And of course, one American is equal to the environmental destruction of many in the not-yet-over-developed world, as it is not just raw numbers, but aggregate consumption (population x per capita consumption) that matters in terms of resource over-use and resultant ecosystem loss.

Thankfully common sense is finally breaking through social taboo, and discussion regarding how to stop and reverse population growth is once again central to efforts to achieve ecological sustainability. The fact that dire famine and death predicted from Malthus [search] to the Population Bomb [search] have not yet happened globally (but are well along regionally in Haiti, Darfur and elsewhere), because of technologies that have delayed the inevitable while ensuring the collapse will be all the more severe, does not mean people and inequitable consumption can grow forever. Indeed, in a world of ecological overshoot, if any of us and life itself is to survive, there is no such thing as the right to have a baby [ark].
It is absolutely crucial that population controls [search] that respect human rights are embraced immediately, with a goal to shrink the human population over a few generations to one billion — the best estimate of human numbers that can live well forever. We know what works: educating women, free contraception and community advancement. Much more can be done to promote one and two children families including tax incentives and preferential access to education and social services. This will ensure a long-term future full of plenty for the human family, and anything less will assuredly ensure the population bubble bursts hailing in apocalyptic global ecological collapse [search].

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20 Responses

  1. Do you think the children will ask those in my not-so-great generation of elders, "When did you see the good scientific evidence of what everyone knew? Why did you not say anything, even though you did not know precisely what to do? How on Earth could you stand by, as if hysterically blind, willfully deaf and electively mute, and allow "

  2. Eric Coupey says:

    Dear Sir, Madam,
    Thank you for your consistent and determined efforts.
    Best regards,
    Eric Coupey

  3. haran says:

    I very much agree with the auther, reproduction should be decreased worldwide.

  4. idan says:

    I consider myself a green person and i think drastic measures should be taken to prevent our eco system from collapsing, but i cannot stand for this madness.
    it's ideas like this that regress the green revolution back to the days it was considered a radical and anarchist movement. life is a sacred principle, and yes having a baby is an elementary right.
    the problem is not the number of people but their life style…
    clearly there would be no enviromental problems if we all lived like the average african/asian. but even 500 million more american/europians could be too much for the planet to handle.
    we need to change our ways and adapt to this planet, generational suicide is a mad and dangerous idea.

  5. crystal says:

    I'm sorry if my English is not prefect, I'm no an American.
    Althow I agree with the notion that over pop' and over conception is abig problem this article laces a base for it's clams. It pass of as fandmlistic and only acts to block the debate.

  6. Moose says:

    Nothing to worry about – GOD and OBAMA will help us!. Keep on pumping kids!

  7. ZEHAVA says:


  8. nadav says:

    The idea is very self evident, like 1+1=2. in the long run the the balance will be achieved, either by hunman efforts, or by catastrophy. I dont subscibe to the idea that human population is a disease – the planet is not a living organism that can be killed, and human life upon it is natural. The whole eco crisis is really a stage of human cultural and mental evolution – being consious of our power and taking responsibility over it, and understanding of our true place within life

  9. betsey butera says:

    hasn't the bush administtion and the supreme court put into place a way to control population?
    give the mice the traps….
    guns and drugs and illusions of hatred.
    but it wasn't working fast enough…so war.
    that wasn't working fast enough…so legalize guns.
    what will be next?
    what ever happened to kindness?
    why are we programed with illusions to hate each other?? and fear each other?
    don't you get it yet?
    they want you to kill each other….

  10. dbryan says:

    There is a serious problem with the math in going from global population of 6.5 billion persons to 1 billion, no matter what time frame – in terms of age, income and social programs. Please expand. Or is this a figure of speech.

  11. R. Gates says:

    The population of any species is directly related and proportional to the energy use and availability for that species. In natural balance, the energy used by a species comes from the current, or immediate past growing season (i.e. it is recent sunglight striking the earth and being converted into plants and animals). In a naturally balanced system the numbers of a species will not, and cannot reproduce beyond the energy available.
    Now humans have found a way to use ancient sunglight to use more energy than is available natually. This fossil fuel age puts atn”out of balance” energy equation onto the ecosystem of the planet, and is of course, not supportable.
    It is noble to ask people to voluntarily have less kids, etc….but in the end, it will be the energy balance of the earth that will determine what must and will happen. When the oil age comes crashing to a close, human numbers must and will decrease.
    If somehow humans should find a way to usefully harness fusion, then an unlimited amount of energy becomes possible, and human numbers could expand to fill the cosmos.
    As no species seems to have filled the cosmos, we can assume that fusion power will not come to pass, and that some sort of energy cliff is in the very near future for humans, and populations will collapse back to levels that can be sustained through the use of immediately available sunlight.

  12. dbryan says:

    I appreciate and agree with Crystal's comments above. The intention and tone of some of these comments may be to motivate but are without support and come across as point of view. Sweeping generalities made in the declarative as universal and unquestionable fact do not inform and are not helpful. On the point above that "the population of any species (talking about we humans?) is directly related and proportional to the energy use and availability for that species," is a generality, is plain wrong, and confuses cause and effect. Standards of living and lifestyle increase energy consumption and are related to birth rate and death rate. Empirically birth rates and death rates decrease with standard of living. College educated married working couples have fewer children, take care of themselves better and have access to better health care including old age. To better understand, split carbon emissions into the five components that are more or less independent: 1) population, 2) income, 3) total energy per unit of GDP, 4) hydrocarbon based components of total energy use that contribute to CO2 generation, and 5) CO2 efficiency of the hydrocarbon based component. The data to look at this are all in the public domain. Moving away from hydrocarbon based fuels for transportation, industrial and residential heating to e.g., nuclear is a 1:1 reduction and has a corresponding 1:1 effect on CO2 emissions, witness France and Japan experience among others. Going to hybrid vehicles is much less than 1:1, especially if electricity is hydrocarbon based, but still a step in the right direction although perhaps an interim one.
    Population is important. To say "when the oil age comes crashing to a close, human numbers must and will decrease" is simply rhetoric and I assume must just be bait for serious response on this blog. The major sources of economic growth and hydrocarbon consumption are China and South Asia including India. The major source of population growth is in developing economies although not especially China. China's population is large but is not growing rapidly (now around 0.5%/yr peaking around 2025 – 2030 (United Nations Population Division). South Asia's population is projected to continue to grow at a high rate (around 1.7%/yr). Population of many OECD economies is already shrinking, except for the US (0.7-0.8%/yr) which reflects past US immigration policies (number and reproductive characteristics of immigrants). Talking broadly about a national policy to reduce world population from 6.5 billion to 1 billion persons is "not even dumb." Education and incentives on birth control in developing countries is being done and needs to be stepped up, great idea! Additionally, centrally planned economies in particular China have mandated population control in the past but with very serious consequences not to speak of human rights issues. China is facing – within 1-2 generations -; huge problems in funding pension programs for the aged, as the working class proportion available to fund pay-go or partial pay-go pension funding schemes shrinks to a smidgeon (source: WB Economic Research and Economic Policy papers). The world has a lot of problems related to economic growth, population and managing our environment and these need to be addressed globally with a coordinated approach. My opinion, we have done a bad job of this and I believe that fact based science and public policy is needed.

  13. Steven Earl Salmony says:

    Dear R. Gates,
    Thanks for your steady and careful contributions to the work of this day, the work being ignored or else censored by most of our not-so-great generation's leaders. These “professional stonewallers” are readily identifiable: the talking heads in the mass media, the economic powerbrokers all of their minions and surrogates, and bought-and-paid-for politicians.
    Please do “keep soldiering on.” Given the potentially catastrophic circumstances looming before the family of humanity, our 'soldiers' will ultimately have to prevail, I suppose, because if 'our side' ahould somehow fail, then all is lost. That is to say, a colossal wreckage could occur on the surface of Earth, a unimaginable cataclysm the likes of which only the King of a thousand greedy little kings, Ozymandias, has seen.
    Perhaps leadership in our time is doing a disservice to the human community, to life as we know it and to Earth's body by maniacally pursuing a course of unbridled and unrelenting global economic growth. This “biggest business is best” growth madness appears to be a particularly foolish and soon to be destructive form of frenzy that will likely become as serious a threat to the human family in the days ahead as the elective mutism of our leaders is today.
    Let's keep going.
    All my best,

  14. R. Gates says:

    While it may be a generalization to say that human numbers have increased to the point they have by “borrowing energy from the past” it is not the rhetorically useless generalization that some might suggest.
    The use of fossil fuels in all the various forms have allowed the growth and expansion of modern civilization. When you eat corn, wheat, and a the whole range of food stuffs that have been grown literally from petrochemical fertilizers, you are eating the energy of millions of years ago. Futhermore, the mere application of that borrowed energy fertilizer, and the eventually harvesting of the crops, requires the broad use of fossil fuels.
    The expansion and continuation of current human numbers requires that we keep using this borrowed energy– there simply is no other way to keep the billions of hungry humans fed.
    Now then, it is quite true that responsible reproduction is proportional to the degree of education, but it is also quite true that the use of fossil fuels or borrowed sunlight is also proporational to this educational status as well.
    Rich and well educated people have a far greater carbon footprint and rely on massive use of borrowed sunlight for their mode of existence.
    The botton line, sustaining billions of humans requires the input of a certain amount of energy. The only way forward, if human numbers are not to collapse completely (and they certainly might) is to find carbon neutral ways of converting energy into food, and this energy cannot come from the burning of fossil fuels.
    What complicates this entire issue is the rapid depletion of top soil worldwide, the depletion and destruction of fisheries world wide, the rapid depletion of clean water, and the list goes on.
    In short, the discussion of energy use (and source) is quite useful for a broad and wholistic look at the human population issue.

  15. Lime says:

    One day I hear: “propagate or perish”, another day “it's too many people on Earth”.
    The universe is abundant. Soon we will be able to tap into the resources of other planets of the Solar System. But even before we are able to do that, there's plenty we can to make sure EVERONE ON THIS PLANET HAS A COMFORTABLE PLACE TO LIVE. We just need to live cleaner and simpler lives, buy less – and thus need to recycle less.
    It's like my house – if it's in a state of Augian mess, it's both hard and unpleasant to fit more people in there. Clean it up, and it becomes a joy to host a whole crowd.

  16. roman says:

    the author of this article is wright and anyone who cant see it should wake up and smell the gas tanks,why dont people understan that the solutio is simply aducating people that small and well educated societies are the best solution for most of the problems of our world.and not to forget religions roll in insuring that we stay dumb and destroy our inviorment(sorry for my poor english)

  17. Thanks for standing up for truth. Overpopulation is the elephant in the room that we refuse to deal with.
    More resources:

  18. Letter to the Editor
    Chapel Hill (NC) Newspaper
    July 29, 2008
    What purpose do bigger families serve?
    We in the town of Chapel Hill are implicated in a daunting global threat, a colossal problem that appears to involve every citizen on the planet. No one is to blame for this human-driven predicament; yet all of us could be enjoined by the requirements of practical reality to humanely and voluntarily take responsible, self-limiting action to meet the challenge, I suppose.
    Please note that annual birthrates of newborns in the human community are rising precipitously in the United States as well as in many other countries worldwide. For example, more than 4.3 million newborns joined the American family in 2007. That is more births than occurred in 1957 at the height of the post-WWII baby boom. Would someone please point out what advantages the American family derives from such rapid growth in its population numbers? The total number of human births last year exceeded the highest annual number of births ever achieved in the United States. How much longer can the United States sustain the momentum bound up in the skyrocketing growth of the human population? How long can the frangible ecosystems and finite resources of Earth be reasonably expected to sustain the human species, given the determination of people in most countries, not to regulate the growth of human numbers?
    Many capable scientists are validating the projection that the human population on Earth could increase from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in the next 42 years. That is a 40 percent increase in our global population. Given its current and anticipated growth, it appears to me that the human species may well ravage the Earth between now and 2050 unless meaningful individual and collective efforts are made to slow the growth of human numbers.
    Perhaps someone will kindly explain how much longer a planet with the relatively small size and make-up of Earth can be sensibly expected to support the well-established and easily discernable over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation behaviors of the family of humanity.
    — Steven Earl Salmony, Chapel Hill

  19. Nathaniel says:

    I find myself disagreeing with this article. Consumption is something that has been increasing in not just democratic states but also China. This is notable because China maintains the strongest population control program worldwide. The result has been overtaking the USA in global warming gases emitted. China has had many people in China for a long time, but it only overtook the US in emissions after embracing both population control and greater consumption.
    This indicates that believed benefits of whatever population control is put in place would end up being massively overtaken by consumption related environmental damage.
    Also the math equation (population * per capita consumption) in that it is simply dividing total consumption by population and then multiplying the answer to by population to imply that population determines consumption. One could do the same thing with trees to imply a relationship be trees and consumption. The truth of the matter is that consumption can rise alongside decreased population as there is no stable ratio between population and consumption. This last point is why the developed world uses and pollutes so much more than he more populated developing world.
    What we should be worried about is that the consumption of the developed world is already environmentally unsustainable. As the rest of the world (and the article is correct about that point) tries to embrace this already unsustainable model ecological damage is likely to reach unsurpassed levels. But that is because of the embrace of the high level of unsustainable consumption, not population levels.

  20. ProfBob says:

    I find in reading those sites that say that population problems are a myth that their evidence is very sparse and inconclusive. Recently I read Book 1 of the free e-book series “In Search of Utopia” (, it blasts their lack of evidence relative to their calling overpopulation a myth. The book, actually the last half of the book, takes on the skeptics in global warming, overpopulation, lack of fresh water, lack of food, and other areas where people deny the evidence. I strongly suggest that anyone wanting to see the whole picture read the book, at least the last half.
    The outdated fertility replacement rate of 2.1 is also clarified.

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