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James McBennett

Founder & Designer, Assmbly.com

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The use of population control in the fight against climate change

Total energy used on this planet can be calculated by TOTAL POPULATION x TOTAL CONSUMPTION. Considering the amount of energy consumption on this planet as too excessive to sustain, and addressing the challenge to reduce this number in the fight against climate change, three arguments are made.

Firstly that technology or behavioural change can lower total consumption bringing down the energy used.

Secondly that technology will increase our capacity to produce energy. (Nuclear Fusion??)

Thirdly Population Control to curb further population growth and reduce the global population.

As the first two arguments depend on the rather uncertain strategy of technology being invented and adopted, do you think population should be controlled in rapid population growth regions?

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  • Feb 16 2011: Unquestionably population control should be used, because it would be far more humane than allowing the natural culling that will occur if we do not. Unfortunately the question is moot, because as a species we do not have the ability to reduce our fecundity soon enough. It is far too late to hope that the demographic transition in the affluent countries can eventually lift all the other boats out of poverty; the world does not have that much land and resource.

    I feel that purely technological solutions that allow us to continue increasing the population are going to fail eventually and catastrophically, as limits are surpassed. If the technology is so wonderful as to actually succeed, the world will be transformed into a horror, without a scrap of the nature that gave us birth.

    I would very much love to hear any kind of practical, workable methods of population control, which might actually be adopted by most governments.
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      Feb 16 2011: Let me say that I'm not necessarily against population control, but I think you're severly overestimating the problem.
      As Hans Rosling has pointed out (see my other post), population growth declines steadily. Also, consider the massive trend towards urbanization. People living in cities have a much smaller footprint on the environment, and - closer to the question of population - when people move to cities there's also a significant drop in children per woman. So, while there're always many things to worry about, the population isn't amongst them.

      An another note: You only have to look at China to look at a large-scale method of population control that worked. I'm however quite certain that a 'one-child-policy' isn't easily possible in other cultures (the question of desirability is another). An interesting issue culturally raised about this (I believe I heard it first asked by Christopher Hitchens, but I might be mistaken) is that China has now raised generations of only-children. Literally a whole culture for whom the word "sibling" / "brother" / "sister" has no direct meaning. Thats an fascinating cultural byproduct to me (although, as I realize now, slightly off track, so excuse me ;-) )
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        Feb 17 2011: I absolutely agree.
        More children per family are more common in rural areas than in cities and there often is a reason for that (e.g. more family members to help on the fields).
        On the other hand, more and more people are moving to the cities. Not only is life more expensive in the city, hence having a large family really puts significant pressure on the wallet, but space is also more restricted (how easy is it to find an apartment to accommodate a family of 10 at a reasonable cost).
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    Feb 15 2011: This just reminded me of a question asked by Hans Rosling earlier: http://www.ted.com/conversations/39/why_do_so_many_think_that_popu.html

    The fact is, as countries escape the poverty trap and women are empowered, population growth is no longer an issue. The only measure we have to undertake to "control the population" is indeed to empower women in the bottom billion countries and help them escape the poverty trap.
    The "Total consumption" in your equation then has to be tackled by addressing energy efficiency, new energy resources and maybe social engineering to create environmentally conscious behaviour (the problem with this is of course, that often enough we have created seeminly green trends that aren't so green at all, or indeed the opposite, like the 'organic food movement')
  • Feb 18 2011: There is a crucial distinction to be made.
    A: Population controll as allowing people to decide about how many children they want to have.

    B: Population controll as a process of preventing some people to have not as many children as they want to have.

    The second one has a strong fascist undertone and is frequently used by people from "developed" countries. They say basically - we have about two children per couple so the rest of the world should adapt and have less children to save the Earth's resources. At the same time, "developed" countries are by far the biggest polluters, energy spenders and consumers. Earth's resources is not about population but about the way of life. Earth can support much more people than today if they consume less (just have a look at traffic in any western city - millions of cars with only one person sitting in them).
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      Feb 21 2011: Your comment seems based on the present, with no conscious on future.

      Trends have the developing world polluting as much as the developed as everybody is getting richer. It becomes not an issue of what one's footprint on the planet is, but a question of how many feet are standing. Earth's resources are about population, the more people on this planet, the less food or water is available and and ultimately way of life dies.

      If they consume less has not been sucessful up to now. Vegetarianism being a key example. The argument for environmental vegetarism has been around for a long time, with a small fraction of the world following.

      We don’t want a future where mass-murder, genocide, infantcide and mass abortion are necessary for tools for survival, at the same time I don’t like a future of famine, world war, and starvation. Population control is a sensitive issue that can often be associated with: racist, communist, sexist or biased against the Third World, but is needed for us to choose the humane version of population control before we are forced into the unhumane, or uncontrollable reduction of world population.
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    Feb 17 2011: I don't think population control is the the path we should go. It only would postpone our predicaments but not solve them.
    Personally I believe more in new technologies as well as change in behavior as long term solutions.