The Dominion Post 11 May 2007
The battle over who can do the most about carbon emissions is the popular cause of the day, as global warming fever sweeps the world. Hollywood stars are lining up to prove their green credentials by eschewing limousines for hybrids at least while the photographers are around; former United States vice-president Al Gore is more popular than he ever was, on the back of a documentary on the subject; and the fashion accessory of the day is the re-usable shopping bag, especially if it is made from something recycled, The Dominion Post writes.
However, the hard realities are being ignored by most. The truth is that there will have to be a drastic reassessment of the way humans live their lives if there is to be meaningful change. That involves unpalatable choices, not least over population growth. A British green think tank, Optimum Population Trust, has issued a paper suggesting the greatest thing any Briton could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one fewer child. The resulting savings in carbon emissions over a lifetime would be 744 tonnes of carbon dioxide the equivalent of 620 return flights between London and New York. There is no reason to believe the same basic equation does not apply to New Zealand. Predictably, there have been howls of outrage, with one mother of 10 harumphing «how dare they suggest how many children we should have»
At noon yesterday local time the United States census bureau estimated the worlds population at 6,594,083,223. The growth has been phenomenal. It took till 1900 for the world's population to reach 1.6 billion. It took only 65 years to double again, and now a mere 42 years later it has nearly doubled again. Unless there are drastic changes, by 2050 it is predicted there will be 9.2 billion humans.
The population growth is taking place at the same time as there are ever-increasing expectations, especially among the emergent middle classes of China and India. The impact of that spreads far beyond carbon footprints. Increasingly, there is not enough clean water to go around, intensive agricultural practices are destroying soil fertility, forests are being destroyed, fisheries depleted and pollution of all types is growing.
The reality is that there are simply not enough resources in the world to meet those expectations, and no way that the lifestyles of the rich Western nations including New Zealand can be made universal. One commentator has estimated that if all the world adopted the lifestyle of even a frugal Westerner, another three Earths would be needed to provide the resources needed.
It is neither just nor realistic to expect the rest of the world to curb its growth simply to allow those in the West to continue to live the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. Chinas one-child policy is fraying among the urban middle classes, whose members are willing and able to pay the fines and pick up the costs of educating extra children privately rules can bar second and subsequent children from the state education system. Chinas population is expected to reach 1.437 billion in 2050. By then India is expected to be the most populous nation, with an estimated population of 1.628 billion.
The pressures that will result from growth in those countries and elsewhere are frightening. Addressing them requires accepting that, because the worlds resources are not infinitely expandable, neither is the human population.