Connecting the Population-Climate Change Dots

Starving children in Budapest. But let’s have more!

Why would anyone want to force a woman to give birth to a child she doesn’t want? Don’t we have enough problems? It’s not like we’re running out of people. The U. S. population currently stands at 331.9 million and is expected to reach nearly 370 million in the next thirty years. Tired of traffic? Crowded city streets and sidewalks? Having to wait in line for what you need?

There is a direct correlation between population and pollution: more people, more trash, more car exhaust, more use of chemicals to produce food. There’s also the increase in taxes required to support social programs that keep people from starving. Homelessness isn’t a result only of mental illness or addiction, but also the need for affordable housing in a competitive culture where there aren’t enough houses for all the people. More population, more homelessness.

But wait! There’s more!

The global population growth rate is around .8% per year. That might not sound like much, but it translates in real numbers to an additional 67 million people PER YEAR, increasing by nearly 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from the current 8 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050. And while we might feel briefly smug that this mostly isn’t happening in the United States, the fact is that it IS happening on our southern border.

It is only logical to acknowledge that an increase in the world’s population will cause additional strains on resources. More people means an increased demand for food, water, housing, energy, healthcare, transportation, and more. And all that consumption contributes to ecological degradation, increased conflicts, and a higher risk of large-scale disasters like pandemics. 

Throw into that mix the effects of climate change.

  • Climate change is one of humanity’s most critical challenges. The warming of the planet threatens food security, freshwater supply, and human health. The effects of climate change, including sea level rise, droughts, floods, and extreme weather, will be more severe if actions are not taken to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While the link between human action and the planet’s recent warming remains an almost unanimous scientific consensus, the links between population growth and climate change deserve further exploration.
USA Today
  • With 2 billion people to be added to our human ranks by 2050 and an additional 1 billion more by 2100, demographic trends and variables play an important role in understanding and confronting the world’s climate crisis. Population growth, along with increasing consumption, tends to increase emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Rapid population growth worsens the impacts of climate change by straining resources and exposing more people to climate-related risks—especially in low-resource regions.
  • Including population dynamics in climate change-related education and advocacy can help clarify why access to reproductive health care, family planning options, girls’ education, and gender equity should be included in climate interventions. Increased investment in health and education, along with improvements in infrastructure and land use, would strengthen climate resilience and build adaptive capacity for people around the world.[1]

These facts are ignored in the evangelical push behind rightwing politics that have terminated U.S. efforts to promote birth control in Third World nations and continue to attempt to enact similarly restrictive laws in the U.S. After steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting nearly 10% of people globally. From 2019 to 2022, the number of undernourished people grew by as many as 150 million, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the scale of the current global hunger and malnutrition crisis is enormous, with more than 345 million people facing high levels of food insecurity in 2023 – more than double the number in 2020.

And, the policy change backfired.

  • In countries that depend heavily on U.S. support for family planning and reproductive health programs, contraceptive use decreased 14 percent, pregnancies rose 12 percent, and abortions climbed 40 percent when the policy was in effect relative to countries less reliant on U.S. support. The evidence suggests that the policy leads to a reduction in contraceptive use and increased pregnancies and abortions.[2]

Wake up time! Despite FOX News propaganda, the crisis at our border is not created by drug cartels pushing fentanyl. It is about the same issues that have driven people to leave their homelands since prehistory: the need for opportunity to obtain food and safety. If economic conditions are unfavorable and appear to be deteriorating further, an increasing number of people will migrate to countries with a better outlook.

As noted in this 2022 report from the National Academy of Sciences:

  • Although family planning services are crucial for global health and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, their funding remains controversial. We document the health consequences of the “Mexico City Policy” (MCP), which restricts US funding for abortion-related activities worldwide. Since its enactment in 1985, the MCP has been enforced only under Republican administrations and quickly rescinded when a Democrat wins the presidency. Our analysis shows that the MCP makes it harder for women to get information on and support for reproductive health and is associated with higher maternal and child mortality rates and HIV rates worldwide. We estimate that reinstating the MCP between 2017 and 2021 resulted in approximately 108,000 maternal and child deaths and 360,000 new HIV infections.

Genius.

We have yet to hear a definitive solution from conservatives who seem to prefer an unlimited number of births even if such population growth exacerbates climate change and its many effects on humanity. What do they propose to do about people starving? Nothing? Just let them starve? What about people driven from their homes by rising sea levels? That is already a big problem in low-lying areas which are home to over 900 million people. What do we do about all those fetuses and babies, not to mention half-grown children, women and men?

The United Nations warns:

  • Between 250 and 400 million people will likely need new homes in new locations in fewer than 80 years, [the UN President] also warned of devastating impacts for the world’s “breadbaskets,” especially fertile deltas along the Nile, Mekong and other rivers.

Apparently this won’t be a real problem until people can’t live in U.S. coastal cities. Oh, wait…

Flooding in Florida 2023 Photograph: Orit Ben-Ezzer/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

[1] https://populationconnection.org/resources/population-and-climate/

[2] https://siepr.stanford.edu/publications/policy-brief/how-us-government-restrictions-foreign-aid-abortion-services-backfired

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