Sunday, 12 October 2014

Plea for clearer thinking on the population vs environment issue

Classified as: reflective journal - discourse analysis, evidence

(This is a cut and paste of a comment I just made at The Conversation, in response to this article.)

No offence to Professor Beeson, but I would really like to put in a plea for a better quality of debate about this. There are two key facts everyone should look at before talking [about population vs environment]: what's the fertility rate of a country? and, what's the emissions rate per capita of a country?
You can get it from Wikepedia, I guess it's reasonably reliable. Anyway if you look at that, you will see, for example:
  • Many wealthy countries, like Australia, have fertility rates below replacement rate (Aust is 1.77 per women, replacement is c. 2.1), but very high emissions rates per capita (Aust 18.8 t CO2e)
  • Many poor countries, like Afghanistan, have very high fertility rates (5.43), but very low emissions rates (0.29).

So while both issues are important, reducing our emissions rates is proportionately more important for the environment. And the big question is, how do you simultaneously lower emissions (particularly in rich high emissions countries) while raising living standards and the status of women in poor countries like Afghanistan?
Indonesia is an example of a country that seems to doing well - they have got their fertility rate down to 2.18, while CO2e per head is 1.8 t CO2e. India is also making a lot of progress, fertility down to 2.51 (from very high not long ago), CO2e per head 1.67t.
Almost no wealthy country seems to have low per capita emissions. Singapore looks the best with 2.67 t CO2e, and their fertility rate is apparently an amazingly low 0.8, so their total emissions look set to decline really rapidly as their population falls.
Obviously there are some examples worth looking at. Not sure how reliable Wikipedia is on all this, but it's very interesting. Maybe I should write an article on this! I get so frustrated by people over-simplifying the issue.
(I fell asleep very early, and woke up in the middle of the night, and have been browsing the net and looking up things on Wikipedia, especially here and here. This issue has been bugging me a bit, especially since I heard some similar claims at the Climate Action Summit - arguments made without any clarity about where fertility rates are high and where emissions rates are high. As I've suggested above, there seems to be an inverse relationship in general. Will try to do some more checking on this from original figures and update the post if needed, but just wanted to get something down on this).