everywhere, and educate everyone about the needto have fewer babies. Population will fall, so emissionswill fall, and global warming will slow. Britain’s Op-timum Population Trust describes population limita-tion as the “most e
ective national and global climatechange strategy.”
As H.L. Mencken famously said,every human problem has a solu-tion that is neat, plausible, andwrong. The overpopulation argu-ment is a powerful case in point: itis based on misleading statistics,it depends a false view of the roleof individuals in environmentaldestruction, and it ignores the realenvironmental criminals.
At some point in every introduc-tory statistics course, the instructortells students about a Europeancity where increases in the stork population weresupposedly matched by increases in the number of new babies. The point of the story is that
—storks don’t bring babies, no matterwhat the numbers seem to imply.Similarly, the fact that both population and pollutiongrew dramatically at about the same time doesn’tprove that population growth
the pollution. Infact, when we break the statistics down, what seemsto be a correlation disappears. The countries thatproduce most greenhouse gas emissions and otherforms of pollution are those with the lowest rates of population growth: most have fertility rates that areat or below replacement level.And the countries with the highest populationgrowth rates — particularly those in Africa — are thelowest polluters. Between 1980 and 2005, poor coun-tries had 52% of the world’s population growth butonly 13% of the greenhouse gas emissions growth.In the same period, rich countries had just 7% of theworld’s population growth but 29% of the emission/sgrowth.
The Role of Individuals
too many people
explanation for global warminghinges on the belief that global emissions are simplythe sum of emissions produced by individuals. If that were true, then reducing the number of peoplewould certainly slow global warming, but in realitymost emissions are not caused by individuals.It’s been calculated that if every single person in theUnited States faithfully did every single thing thatAl Gore recommends in his book
An Inconvenient Truth,
total U.S.emissions would fall only 22%.
fths of U.S. emissionsare caused by corporate, military,and government actions, not byindividuals. Even 22% greatly over-states what most individuals reallydo, because such overall averagesignore critical class di
erences.Globally, a few very rich countriesproduce most of the pollution— and within each country a fewvery rich people have most of the wealth and use most of theresources. But when we look at thepolicies promoted by populationists, we always
ndthat they target the world’s poorest people, thosewhose impact on the environment is negligible. Re-ducing their birth rates will make no contribution tosaving the earth.
Ignoring the Real Criminals
Ironically, while populationist groups and authorsfocus attention on the 7 Billion, protestors in theworldwide Occupy movement have identi
ed the realsource of environmental destruction: not the 7 Billion,but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaireswho own, consume, control, and destroy more thanall the rest of us put together.In the United States, the richest 1% own an absolutemajority of all stocks and corporate equity, givingthem control of the corporations that are directlyresponsible for most environmental destruction.
A recent report prepared by the British consulting
rm Trucost for the United Nations found that just3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environ-mental damage every year.
Only seven countries have annual GDP higher thanthat — but it is still a substantial understatement,because Trucost excluded events such as
shery orecosystem collapse, as well as damage done by the
... when we look atthe policies promotedby populationists, wealways
nd that theytarget the world’spoorest people, thosewhose impact onthe environment isnegligible.