10 Million by 2050

The future ain’t what it used to be.
—Yogi Berra

There’s no doubt that an ever-increasing global population plays a big part in global warming and climate change. More people means more land to live on, more land for crops, and more livestock for food. Clearing all this land and the construction, agriculture and livestock that go along with it generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. As the global population increases and as technology continues to progress with populations either living according to first-world standards or at least trying to, the emissions per person steadily increase as well.

According to the United Nations, on October 31, 2011 we reached a global population of seven billion people and it’s currently estimated that we are fast approaching 7.5 billion less than six years later. With more births than deaths, the number continues to climb. Our species has had many ups and downs in population over the centuries, but ever since the plague finished doing its damage around 1350—leaving us with about 370 million human beings at that point—our numbers have been steadily rising. Better sanitation, antibiotics, vaccination, and modern medicine (especially pertaining to childbirth) have all led to less premature deaths than we used to experience. Before modern medicine, a couple needed to plan for about five children simply to keep the population count neutral. Those days are long gone.

And slowly but surely, women’s rights are steadily improving around the world. There is certainly room for improvement in many parts of the globe, but ensuring that women are educated and able to be part of the workforce, and that they have control over their own bodies with respect to family planning have contributed substantially toward the steady decline in birth rates seen all over the world in the last fifty years. Only the poorest war-torn nations continue to have higher birth rates, in part to offset the higher mortality rates those countries still continue to experience.

Since birth rates are declining, might we ever expect to reach a plateau in the rising global population?  Continue reading

Malala: Changing the World

“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation.”
~African proverb

In this next post in my series dedicated to women and climate change, you may wonder why I picked Malala Yousafzai. Despite being the youngest Nobel laureate in history (co-winning the Peace Prize in 2014), you’d be right to question what it is that she’s done to help the environment or to fight climate change. It’s not like she’s a climate scientist, or has discovered some new way to use renewable energy, and she hasn’t invented a new battery that’s smaller and more efficient. So why do I give her this distinction?

Quite simply this: Malala is fighting for women’s righst to an education all over the world. And that has the potential to make a significant impact on climate change in the future, perhaps even more than new sources of renewable energy or better batteries. An increasing global population is one dramatic cause of increasing emissions on Earth. In my book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis” I explain some of the larger societal changes that can help to tackle population growth, thereby curbing emissions:

An expanding global population leads to an increase in greenhouse gases at every level. All of these various activities lead to increased emissions of carbon dioxide along with the other greenhouse gases. This raises the point that one way to help tackle the problem of global warming is to somehow curb the rise in the global population—easier said than done, but progress in the developing nations can help. This can include better sanitation, immunization, and health care… Also, improved education, equal rights for women, and the growth of democracy all have the potential to alter the continuing trend of a rise in global population.

Mark my words, but this brave young woman who was shot in the head by the Taliban because they didn’t want her and her friends to have the same kind of education the boys in her village had is already changing the world. A brief biography below comes from her own website:

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in Mingora, a town in the Swat District of north-west Pakistan. Her father who has always loved learning ran a school in Swat adjacent to their family’s home that provided girls an education. He was an advocate for education in Pakistan which has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and so he became an outspoken opponent of the Taliban’s efforts to restrict education and stop girls from going to school.

Malala shared her father’s passion for learning and loved going to school. In 2009, as the Taliban’s military hold on her region of Pakistan intensified, television and music were banned, women were prevented from going shopping and her father was told that his school for girls had to close. They found out that Malala had been writing a blog under a pseudonym advocating for girls’ rights to an education, and both Malala and her father received death threats but they continued to speak out for the right to an education for everyone anyway.

In 2011, she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and was nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. In response to her rising popularity and national recognition, Taliban leaders voted to kill her. On October 9, 2012, as Malala and her friends were travelling home from school, a masked gunman entered their school bus and asked for Malala by name. She was shot with a single bullet which went through her head, neck and shoulder. Two of her friends were also injured in the attack.

Malala survived the initial attack but was in critical condition. She was moved to Birmingham in the United Kingdom for treatment at a hospital that specialises in military injuries. She was not discharged until three months later by which time her family had relocated to the UK.

The Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala received worldwide condemnation and led to protests across Pakistan. In the weeks after the attack, over 2 million people signed a right-to-education petition, and the National Assembly swiftly ratified Pakistan’s first Right To Free and Compulsory Education Bill.

Malala became a global advocate for the millions of girls being denied a formal education because of social, economic, legal and political factors. In 2013, Malala and her father co-founded the Malala Fund to bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change.

Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2014 along with Indian children’s rights and education advocate Kailash Satyarthi. Malala contributed her entire prize money of more than $500,000 to financing the creation of a secondary school for girls in Pakistan.

Malala is an impressive young woman who will turn 20 this July. As women become educated, as they acquire rights equal to men, and as they achieve control over their own reproduction, population growth will diminish. Malala is helping to make that happen. And the planet thanks her for it.

David Suzuki: Nonstop Growth is Population Suicide

I just got to see Dr. David Suzuki speak in person when he was at Georgian College on Earth Day, in fact the first Earth Day he hadn’t spent in British Columbia in many years so we all felt honoured and privileged to hear his inspiring words on such an important day.

One of the key messages Dr. Suzuki passed along was one I’ve cared about as well: namely that our economy is something we invented and can change to suit our needs. (Think: the failure of communism in the Soviet Union.) The environment is something on which we depend, and that provides us the necessities of life such as air, water, and food ultimately powered by photosynthesis, the ultimate in solar energy. And yet we constantly try to make the environment bend to our needs to preserve the economy we invented, so often polluting the air, water, and soil in the process. Corporations too conveniently ignore these issues as “externalities.”

In follow up to this point, Dr. Suzuki addressed the main focus of the economy, namely growth. Nonstop growth can’t work with finite resources. To illustrate that point, he referred to the nonstop growth our own population has been experiencing. When Dr. Suzuki was born, he mentioned there were only about two billion people on Earth. In the span of one lifetime our planet’s population has more than doubled.

He used a brilliant analogy to explain why our species may be headed to suicide. I thought about trying to put it into words, but this video explains it so much better than I could by Dr. Suzuki himself.