Overpopulation 'is main threat to planet'

A A A

Climate change and global pollution cannot be adequately tackled without addressing the neglected issue of the world's booming population, according to two leading scientists.

Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, and Professor John Guillebaud, vented their frustration yesterday at the fact that overpopulation had fallen off the agenda of the many organisations dedicated to saving the planet.

The scientists said dealing with the burgeoning human population of the planet was vital if real progress was to be made on the other enormous problems facing the world.

"It is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about" Professor Guillebaud said. "Unless we reduce the human population humanely through family planning, nature will do it for us through violence, epidemics or starvation."

Professor Guillebaud said he decided to study the field of human reproduction more than 40 years ago specifically because of the problems he envisaged through overpopulation.

His concerns were echoed by Professor Rapley, an expert on the effects of climate change on the Antarctic, who pointed out that this year an extra 76 million people would be added to the 6.5 billion already living on Earth, which is twice as many as in 1960.

By the middle of the century, the United Nations estimates that the world population is likely to increase to more than nine billion, which is equivalent to an extra 200,000 people each day. Professor Rapley said the extra resources needed to sustain this growth in population would put immense strains on the planet's life-support system even if pollution emissions per head could be dramatically reduced.

"Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human environmental 'footprint', the truth is that the contribution of each individual cannot be reduced to zero. Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing," Professor Rapley says in an article for the BBC website.

"So if we believe that the size of the human 'footprint' is a serious problem - and there is much evidence for this - then a rational view would be that along with a raft of measures to reduce the footprint per person, the issue of population management must be addressed."

Professor Rapley says the explosive growth in the human population and the concomitant effects on the environment have been largely ignored by many of those concerned with climate change. "It is a bombshell of a topic, with profound and emotive issues of ethics, morality, equity and practicability," he says.

"So controversial is the subject that it has become the Cinderella of the great sustainability debate - rarely visible in public, or even in private.

"In interdisciplinary meetings addressing how the planet functions as an integrated whole, demographers and population specialists are usually notable by their absence.''

Professor Guillebaud, who co-chairs the Optimum Population Trust, said it became politically incorrect about 25 years ago to bring up family planning in discussing the environmental problems of the developing world. The world population needed to be reduced by nearly two-thirds if climate change was to be prevented and everyone on the planet was to enjoy a lifestyle similar to that of Europeans, Professor Guillebaud said.

An environmental assessment by the conservation charity WWF and the Worldwatch Institute in Washington found that humans were now exploiting about 20 per cent more renewable resources than can be replaced each year.

Professor Guillebaud said this meant it would require the natural resources equivalent to four more Planet Earths to sustain the projected 2050 population of nine billion people.

"The figures demonstrate the folly of concentrating exclusively on lifestyles and technology and ignoring human numbers in our attempts to combat global warming," he said. "We need to think about climate changers - human beings and their numbers - as well as climate change."

Some environmentalists have argued that is not human numbers that are important, but the relative use of natural resources and production of waste such as carbon dioxide emissions. They have suggested that the planet can sustain a population of nine billion people or even more provided that everyone adopts a less energy-intensive lifestyle based on renewable sources of energy rather than fossil fuels.

But Professor Guillebaud said: "We urgently need to stabilise and reduce human numbers. There is no way that a population of nine billion - the UN's medium forecast for 2050 - can meet its energy needs without unacceptable damage to the planet and a great deal of human misery."

Crowded Earth

* The human population stands at 6.5 billion and is projected to rise to more than 9 billion by 2050.

* In less than 50 years the human population has more than doubled from its 1960 level of 3 billion.

* China is the most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people. India is second with more than 1.1 billion.

* By about 2030 India is expected to exceed China with nearly 1.5 billion people.

* About one in every three people alive today is under the age of 20, which means that the population will continue to grow as more children reach sexual maturity.

* Britain's population of 60 million is forecast to grow by 7 million over the next 25 years and by at least 10 million over the next 60 years, mainly through immigration.

* This is equivalent to an extra 57 towns the size of Luton (pop 184,000)

* By the time you have finished reading this column, an estimated 100 babies have been born in the world.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea