The Optimum Population Trust
The OPT is a think tank and campaign group concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment. They believe that overpopulation causes many of today’s problems from climate change to resource depletion. Here Brian McGavin and Andrew Ferguson reveal the extent of overpopulation and suggest solutions that the New Generation should take in order to avoid crisis.
For many decades there has been a wilful blindness in recognising that population is one of the pre-eminent problems facing the New Generation. A problem that is driving the astonishing growth of fossil fuel use and its depletion, climate warming, bio-diversity loss and species extinction, the growing shortage of fresh water to meet human needs – and as a consequence of these changes – the prospect that agriculture will be unable to produce enough food to feed us. Together, these changes are the most important immediate challenge to humankind. The threat – still largely unrecognized – transcends all the other problems that transfix our policy makers.
Both the UK and US governments have completely overlooked the conclusions of a past Royal Commission and a Presidential Commission respectively, both of which warned that existing population levels were already high enough.
The Silent Crisis
Most people are unaware that as recently as 1930 world population was barely two billion, not the 6.8 billion now. Almost never do the media portray reduction in human numbers as a beneficial step away from the impossibility of endless population growth.
The UN 2006 Revision of world population estimates makes an often quoted presumption that the human population will reach around 9.2 billion by 2050. This increase of 2.4 billion from today’s level is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will mostly take place in the less developed nations.
But this assumption on population growth may be too low. The 2007 Population Reference Bureau Data shows world population is growing at a rate of 1.2% a year. It assumes that this current growth rate will decline, based on population trends of the recent past. But in many countries, particularly in Africa and parts of the Middle East, populations are rising rapidly, and growth rates show no sign of decline.
If the current rate of global population growth continues at its present rate of 1.2% a year, then by 2070 world population would expand from its present 6.7 billion to reach nearly 14 billion – over 80 million additional people each year demanding ever more resources. Growth does not equal prosperity or life quality.
Saving the Planet and Greenwash
Even if we could make renewables, like wind power, generate 80 per cent of our electricity needs, a probably impossible task, in Britain CO2 emissions would reduce by just 16 per cent and electricity accounts for just one-fifth of total emissions.
Even if the world achieved the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations to cut 1990 emission levels by 60 per cent by 2050, which is unlikely, almost all the effort would be cancelled out by population growth.
The UN now admits that it won’t meet its Millennium Development Goals in Africa. Many countries in Africa already have massive unemployment and not enough food. How will they provide all the schools, jobs, hospitals and food to feed populations that are set to more than double and, in some cases, more than quadruple in size?
Global demand is soaring, arable land and water are becoming scarce – and then there is the impact of climate change. World energy consumption grew by 11 per cent between 1989 and 1999. Most forecasts project energy demand will grow a further 60 per cent between 2002 and 2030, due to rising global population and economic growth in countries like China and India.
Amazingly, politicians and economists are far from convinced that population is a problem. Indeed they become worried as soon as they see a declining population. Which government organisations, NGOs or media consistently carry information related to the following vital matters?
- In the next ten years it is likely to become indisputable that the petroleum geologists were right and that there is going to be a permanent and increasing scarcity of oil.
- Within the next twenty-five years, it is likely to become indisputable that there is going to be a permanent and increasing scarcity of natural gas.
- There is fairly good evidence that during the final quarter of this century the availability of all fossil fuels will be less than ten per cent of what it is today.
- There is good reason to suppose that renewable sources of energy will supply only a small fraction of the energy presently available to us (mainly from fossil fuels).
- Nuclear energy is unlikely to meet our growing energy needs. Along with the huge problems of storing deadly waste, many experts believe there isn’t the commercially extractable uranium available to fuel any significantly increased energy contribution from nuclear power beyond the next 20 to 30 years.
With the above constraints, and others such as climate change, water shortage, and loss of fertile soil, it is unlikely that more than a third of the present world population, and also one third of the present United Kingdom population could be supported in modest comfort.
Unless the New Generation takes steps to tackle this challenge overpopulation will have serious and negative effects. Fortunately, the solutions are not rocket science. Firstly, what we propose is that globally, full access to family planning is provided for the 200 million women who do not have it, that couples should be encouraged to voluntarily “stop at two” children to lessen the impact of family size on the environment, and that this should be part of a holistic approach involving better education and equal rights for women.
Secondly, we believe that in the UK, population should be allowed to stabilise and decrease by not less than 0.25 per cent a year to an environmentally sustainable level, by bringing immigration into numerical balance with emigration (zero net migration), by making greater efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies, and by encouraging couples to “stop at two” children.
Follow population updates from the OPT website.