There are people who’d argue that overpopulation is the biggest threat to climate change and it’s definitely something to look at. The population has come close to doubling since 1980 but the discussion of over population and climate change, in my experience, tends to focus on the population growth in developing countries – putting the blame of climate change on those living in poverty with large families. (When in actuality, those in poverty are more likely to feel the brunt of climate change than those who are actually most responsible.)
But I’d argue that overpopulation in developing countries isn’t the most pressing issue about addressing climate change but instead, a way to remove responsibility from the ones who are actually most responsible. In reality, the most pressing issue and the things most responsible are capitalism and over-consumption, particularly in developed countries like the United States.
Capitalism requires constant growth and production, two things that often benefit a small minority but at the expense of others and the environment. In the US, we are constantly consuming and throwing away – our materialistic society benefits those at the top who get rich off of people constantly buying or living in poverty. But over production and over consumption is having a significantly large greenhouse gas emission and carbon foot print.
And I’m not the only one who has championed the sentiment that the wealthiest countries are most at fault – the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian negotiators at the current Paris climate talks have also been blaming the US and similar countries for it’s over consumption and significantly larger greenhouse gas emissions. Other countries (even China) have also been pointing fingers at developed countries to take a bigger responsibility in the conversation on climate change.
Sure, over population plays a part in this because more people on the earth means more food production and more greenhouse gas emissions. But the people in poverty and developing nations, the ones most likely to have larger families and the ones most negatively impacted by climate change, aren’t emitting the most greenhouse gases nor are their carbon foot prints any where near that of person in a developed nation.
If every person consumed at the rate of an average person in the US, we would need about 4 earths to keep up. Over population and over consumption do overlap but not in the way you might initially think of. If we decline the population rates in the countries that consume the most, there would be an impact on the greenhouse gas emissions. The LA Times Editorial Board wrote about this in a piece on population growth and global warming, saying in particular that:
Person for person, reducing birth rates in industrialized nations has a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions because affluent people use more of the Earth’s resources.
To truly support the environment, earth, and many of the world’s most vulnerable, the wealthiest and most developed countries (and individuals) need to truly own up and take responsibility. These countries (including and especially the US) have routinely failed to take any sort of responsibility in their role of climate change, in part because of fear for financial reparations. We need to chose the environment over capitalism, chose the earth over profits, because if we don’t, the results will be catastrophic, even more than they already have been.