1. corinja said:

    Another really important and well-argued blog post. As a follow up, and I’m not suggesting this is something you would want to do, Tom, but perhaps others could think about, I would like to see some analysis of the ideological or psychological tendency behind the wish to argue against our rational, sensible, ecologically minded population policy.

    I’d speculate it comes from two places.

    The first would be a determination to not be seen to be on the same side in any way as some of the notoriously right-wing anti-immigration/pro-population control groups. I’d guess the feeling is that any hint of agreeing on this issue with those groups fatally undermines the Green claim to be a muscularly Leftwing party. ‘Real’ leftists don’t blame anything other than capital for the social and ecological crisis, so population must be a red herring.

    Secondly, I think people want to avoid any accusation of misanthropism. The claim would be that arguing for a reduced or stable population denies the fundamental greatness of human people, and we don’t hate people so surely we can’t want to restrict their numbers. This, I think, is a more interesting philosophical position, which can’t be glibly dismissed, but I’d argue something along the lines of a preference for a smaller population of very much equally well-provided for humans, sustainably integrated into local and global eco-systems, over a larger much less well-provided for population similarly integrated.

    Of course, I am only speculating. Perhaps the concern does not arise from either a need to fit the party into a particular historical tradition, or from a lack of ecological orientation. Perhaps those arguing against any attention being paid to population really do just want the best for people and planet and have decided, having weighed up the pros and cons, including the evidence you have analysed above, and come to this conclusion. I hope that’s the case, because then the door is open to mutually agreeable debate from flexible positions.

    3rd November 2013
    • Tom Chance said:

      Hi Corin,

      I think those are really good points, though as I said I am hoping it’s my last blog post on the subject so I’m going to decline your offer!

      It doesn’t help that Population Matters speakers apparently turn to anti-migrant rhetoric, and that there are many unsavoury types who tak about population.

      I’m not actually interesting in focussing on population as a big issue, but I got drew into this because it seems to be of a piece with increasingly vocal and effective attempts to excise the Green Party of aspects of its philosophy and policy which distinguish it from more traditional left wing parties.

      3rd November 2013
  2. Chris said:


    Can you explain why you say, “It doesn’t help that Population Matters speakers apparently turn to anti-migrant rhetoric”. I’m a pretty active member of Population Matters and am at a loss to know why you say this. Can you provide a quotation of the kind of thing you have in mind?

    4th November 2013
    • Tom Chance said:

      Chris, my only direct experience of Population Matters is at that conference panel. But it’s something I’ve been told anecdotally by people I trust – I should have qualified it to say “some speakers sometimes turn…”.

      4th November 2013
  3. Chris said:

    Tom, it is very much out of the character of your blog to rely on a non-specific, vague second hand report, even from someone who you trust. I have never encountered any PM speaker saying anything that could justify that comment. It is very much out of character of the organisation and would receive very swift censure internally if it was brought to the attention of the board that anyone speaking on behalf of it, had expresses an anti-immigrant sentiment. There is certainly concern at current high level of immigration into the UK, but the importance of the distinction between being concerned at this, and being anti-immigrant at an individual or group level is clear to any decent person, and always made very clear. There are many people who want to believe this kind of thing, and it greatly concerns me that you should be spreading false rumour.

    4th November 2013
  4. legjoints said:

    There seems to be a misprint in the State of the World Population Report you refer to in its quotation from the paper “Global demographic trends and future carbon emissions”. If you look up the original paper on PNAS they say in the abstract “we show that slowing population growth could provide 16–29% of the emissions reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change”, whereas you and the UN quote this as between 16 and 19%.

    However, I think what’s more important is what they mean by “slowing population growth”. Do they mean that because population growth is slowing, which it is, then this will result in lower emissions than would be the case if population were to continue growing at its current rate? Or do they mean that by taking action to slow population growth we could cut emissions by the stated amount?

    From the title of the paper and the rest of the abstract (the full paper is behind a pay wall) it seems clear to me that the first reading is correct since they’re addressing how emissions scenarios have not properly taken current demographic trends into account – and they do seem to be talking about a number of demographic trends, not just numbers of people but also the effects of an aging and increasingly urbanized population.

    It would be worth reading the full paper, but since (as mentioned in the UN report) the poorest 50% of the world’s population account for only 7% of its emissions it’s hard to see how reductions in their birth rates could account for much of that 16-29% emissions reduction. It’s in the rich countries where the birth rate is below replacement level and in the poorest countries where the birth rate is above replacement level, so we’re seeing a reduction in population coupled with an aging of the rich world, and that I’d guess is what’s responsible for most of that 16-29%.

    So if you want to bring about reductions in emissions via reductions in birth rates you’d need to focus on the places producing those emissions and persuade women in wealthy developed countries to have even fewer children than they’re currently having, which on average is well below replacement level of 2.1 per woman.

    6th November 2013
    • Tom Chance said:

      Hello there,

      Thanks for the correction. Actually the full paper can be read free of charge here:

      The authors look at the impact of the global population growing in the low, medium and high growth scenarios published by the UN, and consider these population pathways as exogenous to their emissions model. But they do discuss, right at the end, that policy levers such as economic development and access to family planning could help bring about the lower population pathway of just over 7 billion people in 2050 and 5.5 billion in 2100, while the lack of such policies increases the likelihood of the medium or high scenarios.

      So your guess is wrong.

      This gets to your point about where the emissions arise today. That isn’t in question. The relevant question is where emissions will arise, cumulatively, between now and 2050, or 2100. Do you imagine the per-capita income of every country will remain unchanged over the next forty to ninety years? Just look at these annual growth rates:

      In fact, the authors mention two example countries where these population-stabilisation policies could have a big impact – the United States and China.

      As the papers on food I reviewed in my original post point out, much of the rising demand for food is coming from the rapidly developing economies. If liberal, socially just policies to stabilise the population in those countries sooner rather than later can be implemented while helping to increase their per-capita income as per the contraction and convergence model, that will – according to the “Global demographic trends and future carbon emissions” paper – have “a substantial environmental cobenefit”.

      It’s also worth noting that the natural rate of population change (i.e. excluding migration) is strongly positive in developed countries like the UK and USA, and so policies to stabilise these populations sooner rather than later will also have a significant impact.

      6th November 2013
  5. Chris P said:

    Where the report refers to slowing population growth is there anything to imply that this refers only to slowing growth in the poorest 50%, as Legjoints seems to have inferred? I suspect not and this probably explains the apparent mismatch he sees in the figures. It is wrong to see population as a rich world vs. poor world issue, as many seem to do. Growth occurs across the range of wealthiness of countries, and growth everywhere ultimately affects everyone.

    Also, I think there is a misunderstanding where Legjoints asks:

    ‘by “slowing population growth”. Do they mean that because population growth is slowing, which it is, then this will result in lower emissions than would be the case if population were to continue growing at its current rate? Or do they mean that by taking action to slow population growth we could cut emissions by the stated amount?

    The projections are a range of figures, not one simple extrapolation of a “current rate” (which is a moving figure anyway). All involve assumptions over the actions that will be taken in the future. The question is which actions, or how much action, the world will take, those that lead to the higher projections or those that lead to the lower ones? It is not “this is what is going to happen if we do nothing”., “I wonder what will happen if we do something?” So Lj’s first option is a misunderstanding. I think many people do not appreciate the very great extent to which birth rates are already influenced by actions , actions taken under government policies. These are necessarily taken into account in projections.

    6th November 2013

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