Matt C. Abbott
Overpopulation? Climate change?
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By Matt C. Abbott
November 1, 2011

In an Oct. 28 opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, Robert J. Walker, executive vice president of the Population Institute, wrote (excerpted; click here to read his commentary in its entirety):

    'According to the United Nations, world population will reach the 7 billion mark on Monday. More than one commentator has declared that we should 'pop the champagne.' But as much as we should revere human life, this milestone is more cause for concern than celebration....

    '...The challenges now posed by climate change and resource scarcity raise legitimate questions about the capacity of Earth to meet the needs of a growing population.

    'Twelve years ago, hopes were high that fertility rates would continue to fall and that world population would begin to decline by midcentury... Twelve years later, however, as we approach the 7 billion mark, world population is still growing ... with no end in sight. The U.N.'s latest projections indicate that population will reach 10 billion by 2082 and keep growing....

    'Population growth is a formidable challenge, but it's not insurmountable. Domestically, we need to expand, not slash, government support for family planning; nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are still unintended. In the developing world, there are proven, cost-effective strategies for lowering fertility rates and improving the health and welfare of families. They include improving access to contraceptives, providing school lunches to keep girls enrolled in school longer, enforcing laws against child marriage and promoting gender equality....'

I asked Brian Clowes, Ph.D., director of research and training for Human Life International, to comment on Mr. Walker's aforementioned assertions.

Dr. Clowes' response (slightly edited):

    'While we cannot necessarily blame Mr. Walker for the brevity of his analysis given the forum where it was published, we must challenge him on his assumptions, many of which are inaccurate.

    'Mr. Walker is correct in being concerned, but he is concerned for the wrong reasons. To begin with, he says United Nations projections show the world population will increase to 10 billion by the year 2082 and then will continue to 'keep growing.' Very few demographers, however, believe this.

    'What Mr. Walker apparently does not know is that this projection is based on the median variant of U.N. projections, which, as history has shown us, vastly overestimates population growth. The low variant has historically been by far the most accurate. Using this metric, the U.N. Population Information Network shows that the world population will peak at just over eight billion in the year 2045, and then will begin to decline.

    'As for climate change, it is certainly true that the temperature of the Earth has increased by about eight-tenths of a degree Celsius since the year 1880. But this is only a small part of the picture. Climatologists acknowledge that the Earth's temperature has been undergoing a steady cyclic change over a range of about two degrees Celsius for at least the last 4,500 years due to natural causes such as volcanic activity. The current rise in temperature is well within historical variations and is no cause to panic over global warming, any more than the last decades' lower temperatures are reason to panic over an impending ice age.

    'The dogmatic certainty with which Mr. Walker invokes the climate change bogeyman case provides a telling insight into the ideology behind his argument. Resource scarcity is also a legitimate concern as the world's population approaches its peak. A billion people suffer from malnourishment and lack of the most basic conveniences we all take for granted, but this is certainly not because we possess insufficient natural resources. The United Nations and other NGOs have repeatedly stated that our world can grow ample food for everyone, but starvation occurs primarily due to war and corruption.

    'In conclusion, Mr. Walker's concern for the future of this planet is certainly laudable. However, if we direct our efforts in the wrong directions, such as greater promotion of contraception in nations whose fertility rates are already falling, we will inevitably delay that time when everyone on Earth can live in comfort and security. As the nations of Europe know too well, the problem is not how to avoid having too many people on Earth, but how to deal with the fallout from population decline. Russia and Japan are already in net negative population decline and are in a panic because incentives for their citizens to have children are not working.

    'We must direct our efforts into defeating endless wars and corruption. When we succeed, we can all uncork that champagne together.'



Pertinent links:

Human Life International

Population Research Institute

"Demographic Winter"

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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