Population Matters

The Missing “P” Word at Copenhagen

December 16th, 2009

In his “Dot Earth” blog, the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin reports today from Copenhagen on the absence of any mention of population in the draft agreements that are being discussed at the climate conference.  He notes:

If you scan the most recent  drafts of the climate agreement that delegates here are trying to complete, you’ll have a hard time finding the word population. I’m quite sure it’s not there. (Please let me know if you find it.) This is politically unsurprising, given how discussions of population growth inflame those  fearing control measures, those with religious  concerns about contraception and sometimes those  seeing underpopulation where others see a problem.

Later in his post, he describes the simple math of climate change and population:

Overall, it’s clear that in a world heading toward +/- 9 billion people seeking decent lives, both numbers and habits matter enormously. In my  recent chat with Ed Miliband, the lead British climate official here, I mentioned my piece from awhile ago examining how even a  best-case scenario for emissions of carbon dioxide in a world with that many people leads to an enormous buildup of the gas. In that post, I’d picked 10 tons per person per year — Europe’s current emissions level — as the middle ground. Suppose the United States saw emissions drop to 10 and developing countries, with emissions typically 1 to 5 tons a year, rose to that level. You’d have 90 billion tons a year of carbon dioxide produced (emissions are now well over 30 billion tons a year).

With Mr. Miliband, I mused on a world achieving Europe’s planned 2020 target of 6 tons per person per year (which is also where China’s emissions are projected to be around then). At 9 billion people, that’s 54 billion tons a year.

As Revkin and others have made clear, population is far from the only element in the climate change equation–we have to reduce the monstrously over-sized carbon footprint of people living in the U.S. and other developed nations.  But if population is omitted altogether from the climate change equation, it’s going to be very difficult–if not impossible–to balance our climate change aspirations with our desires for a more prosperous and just world.

Educating and empowering women in the world  and helping them avoid unwanted and unintended pregnancies is, whether or not world leaders choose to mention the “P” word in Copenhagen, a good strategy for helping to achieve what seems increasingly impossible:  a climate change agenda that actually works.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

One Response to “The Missing “P” Word at Copenhagen”

  1. perceptions_now Says:

    Anthropogenic Golbal Warming – Does it Matter?

    Let’s say that the science, as well as the Political & Financial backing behind AGW is corrupt and as such, we should abandon any & all attempts to “fix the climate” and that we should simply continue with the Status Quo.

    That will get rid of the proposed massive taxes (ETS/Cap N Trade), which is an unwanted impost on both business & all private individuals.

    So, that should mean better times are ahead, right? Well, even if AGW subsequently proved to be incorrect, which is unlikely (given the balance of scientific information available), we (humans) would be far from out of the woods, so to speak.

    That said, there are many, probably a majority at this point, who look at “the world as we knew it” and try to fit it into “Economics as we knew it” Those people would say that our past history suggests that the Economy will bounce back, after all we’ve had Recessions before and we always bounce back!

    I say to everyone, try fitting “Economics as we know it now” into “the world as it is likely to be in 20 years time”. You will find both the world and economics, will be vastly different in twenty years, even if AGW did turn out to be incorrect!

    But, JUST FOR A WHILE, LET’S PRETEND THERE IS NO AGW, so what is going to stop the economy from doing its usual recovery?

    Well , there are a number of interlocking factors which are coming together, in a really short period of time, which will change the face of Economics, how & where business is done, how & where our leisure time is spent and in fact, every facet of our lives, including what & how much food is available to eat!

    Whilst it is true that there are many factors that come into play, as the Economy moves up and down thru the usual Business Cycle, on this occasion there are also a number of UNIQUE, ONCE IN HISTORY FACTORS AT PLAY –
    1) POPULATION GROWTH (The Major Driver of Economic Growth)
    The total Global population is about to Peak or bump into the glass ceiling of sustainable growth, if I can use that analogy.
    We have gone from 1 Billion in 1800, to 2 Billion in 1930, to nearly 7 Billion now.
    A continuation of the status quo of the last 80 years, would see 25 Billion in 2090 and 85 Billion in 2170, clearly that is never going to happen!
    But, just a clearly, there will be major dilemma’s between over-population and population decline.

    Why the Global population will Peak is probably obvious to some but not to some, but we will cover the major factors, shortly.
    When the population ceases to grow, is likely to happen within the next 20-30 years, as the major driver of economic growth, then goes into decline.
    How we plan or do not plan for the transition, over the next twenty years, will be the number one factor that will dictate the future of humanity!

    2) AGING POPULATION (a Major Driver of Economic Decline)
    We are now approaching the Peak of human Population, after which the population will go into irrevocable decline, due to the current population levels not being sustainable, over the long term.
    But on the road to that point, we will have experienced, since 1930, the greatest Population growth, in human history. As already shown, we went from 2 Billion of us in 1930, to nearly 7 Billion of us now.
    Along the way, came the Baby Boomer generation, which was officially between 1946-1964. During that 18 year period the human population grew by over 1 Billion people, which is more than the human population had grown by in the 130 year period, between 1800-1930!
    We can expect that almost Baby Boomers will have retired, by 2030! And, given that the Global average human lifespan is around 66 years, with the more advanced countries up to the mid 80’s, we should also expect that around half of all Baby Boomers will have died, by 2030!

    Why is this vital? Because it takes away the Greatest Economic Driver in history and we can not simply go back to having more babies, as we will see shortly.
    When will the Aging Population start impacting the economy? It already has.
    How do we know that? Because retirees change their spending & savings habits, a full 10 years before they retire and the first official Baby Boomers will turn 65 in 2011!

    3) PEAK OIL (a Major Driver of Economic Decline)
    As we are about to discover, Energy, like Population Growth, is a two edged sword. On one side, like a fast growing population, Energy, whilst it is cheap & abundant, is a tremendous enabler of Economic Activity & Growth.
    However, like Population, Energy, in the form of Fossil Fuels, has limitations, as it is a Finite Resource.
    That said, the limitations for Fossil Fuels do not start as the last Barrel of Oil, nor the last ton of Coal, is used.
    As with Economics in general, the market perception of Supply & Demand of Fossil Fuels in general & Oil in particular, will be a significant indicator. However, Fossil Fuels in general & Oil in particular, are not the same as any run of the mill products, they are one, of only a few Major Economic Drivers and as the Supply/Production Fossil Fuels in general & Oil in particular Peak, then start to irrevocably decline, as they are not (effectively) a renewable Energy resource, the prices of these Energy sources will move substantially higher.

    Whilst there is talk of new Production sources, involving new Deep Sea fields, Canadian Tar Sands & Shale Oil production, these can be put into perspective by saying that these new sources would need to be the equivalent of Discovering & bringing into production, another Supplier as big as another Saudi Arabia, every three years, between now & 2030.
    From a Populations perspective, a continuation of the status quo of the last 80 years, would see Oil Production need to increase from 84 mbd (Million Barrels a Day) to 294 mbd in 2090 and to 1,029 mbd in 2170. Clearly, again, this is not going to happen and therefore Population Growth will have to cease and then decline to match the supply of Energy.
    From a Climate perspective, a similar continuation would see Carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning/industry will go from 9 billion tonnes per year in 2010, to 31 billion tonnes per year in 2090 and to 110 billion tonnes per year in 2170. Again and just as clearly, this is also never to going to happen.

    Why is this vital? Because the scope for continuing Population Growth declines, as the availability of Cheap & Abundant Energy declines and the Economic impact alone will see a cycle of higher Energy prices, followed by a Collapsing Global Economy, as the Energy Price/Global GDP Ratio becomes too high for the Real Economy & Share Markets alike, repeated over & over again. And that puts aside the Climate issues altogether, which will also involve serious impacts.
    When will Peak Oil start to impact on the Economy? It already has, starting back around 2005 when Oil Production Effectively Peaked.
    How do we know that? Because Production of Oil, whilst it did go marginally higher in 2008 in real terms, it did not keep up with inflation or population growth, Production has since declined and the rate of Production decline is expected to be around 5-8% per year, initially!

    4) PEAK FOOD
    Massive Production increases of these life sustaining foods, since the start of the Industrial Revolution has enabled our Population growth to soar and this Production increase can be largely attributed to Oil, which has been a cheap & abundant supply of Energy, as well as Oils use in the production of modern fertilisers and its use in the manufacture & running of, modern farm machinery.

    There are several major impediments to future Food Production and these will be cause for great concern, as Food Production fails to match Population increases, over the next 20 years or so, particularly in areas such as Africa, India, China and other areas that will be particularly affected by Climate Change.
    An increasing amount of arable land is being taken up with the Production of Bio-fuels, as Peak Oil bites.
    As Peak Oil bites further, the quantities of Oil that will be available for agriculture will start to fall, unless a replacement can be found for Oil & other Fossil Fuels, SOON.
    As the Population continues to increase over the next 20 years or so and Food Production falls instead of increasing, which is already the case in grains, then the Food/Population rati, will get very tight.

    Why is this vital? It is said that an army marched on its stomach, it could also be said that, hunger creates armies.
    When will Peak Food start to impact on the Global Population? It already has, but it will become more & more noticeable, particularly as Climate Change & Peak Oil take a greater hold.
    How will we know that? Developed country Food price increases will be abnormally high and places such as Africa, India, China and other areas that will be particularly affected by Climate Change & Peak Oil, will see mass starvation!

    But wait a minute, we’ve had an Economic downturn and now things are looking up again? Well, what’s actually happened is that the global Economic system all but went belly up and the Politicians & Central Bankers, Globally, then bailed the system out, by vastly increasing the massive Debt that has already built up on the back of the Baby Boomer Boom. These Debt levels are now mounting and in some countries, including the US may default on that Debt or Cause a massive Devaluation of their currency, as a consequence.

    The US situation is of particular interest, as the size of the US GDP is roughly equivalent to the next three largest countries GDP combined, the US Debt (Overt & Covert) has risen dramatically in recent times and that is without taking into consideration their massive unfunded Liabilities, for Social Security and Health issues related to the baby Boomer generation. In addition, government statistics are corrupted, making it impossible to fairly judge the real current situation in the US & some other countries. Even the pot of gold at the end of the Kansas rainbow, more commonly known as the US Federal Reserve, has limitations and it may be caught out?

    The actions generated by Global Politicians & Central Bankers, caused an eye in the Financial Hurricane that provided some breathing space, but the establishment failed to take the full line of remedial medicine, they were/are hell bent on the next election or they have something else in mind.

    As we near the end of this story, and it’s been a long one, it is usual in Hollywood epics to look for the cavalry to ride to the rescue! To that end, I hold out the hope that some new Innovations &/or Technologies, may yet solve the multiple dilemma’s that already with us, in the case of an Aging Population & Peak Oil and those other dilemma’s that are nearly here, in the form of a Population & Food Production Decline.

    Is the cavalry there, waiting to save us, at the last moment? It would be great to see some unknown Energy source spring from its hiding place or some other wondrous Innovation, Technology or Invention, BUT would we want to put all of our eggs, all of our bets, on that one unknown, last minute rescue?

    If we want some control over this process, then a Global Manhattan style project to deliver the next source of Abundant Energy, would be the right starting point. At the same time, a PLAN to transition

    For now, we need to understand that reality has left us much more to do, than we had thought! The job ahead of us is massive, even without AGW, but I suspect strongly that Climate Change is likely to haunt our future!

    Whatever the outcomes in the near to medium term, I can guarantee that Economic Activity over the next 200 years, will be nothing like the last 200 years!

    Good luck & watch the Debt!

Leave a Reply