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ss triple helix - Christmas 2009,  climate change, population and health - The problem is consumption, not numbers

climate change, population and health - The problem is consumption, not numbers

The Copenhagen Climate Change Talks happen in December, and at the time of writing media comment suggests that the chance of meaningful agreement on curbing emissions rests on whether the West can persuade India, China, Brazil and much of the developing world to sign up.

At the same time, recent reports express concern about the role a growing population will have on climate change, poverty and development. (1) Many activists like Jonathon Porritt (2) are calling for drastic reductions in birth rates to save the planet. Others raise the concern that growing third world populations will not only add to climate change but set back development by spreading meagre resources too thinly. This trend needs to be challenged.

Recent research has shown that, far from contributing to climate change, the poor barely have any impact but are disproportionately affected. (3) The problem is not population growth, but the emergence of developing world middle classes who aspire to Western consumer lifestyles. This raises two awkward questions. First, what sort of development do we want? Is it to turn Africa and Asia into continents that consume and pollute like Europe and America? And if not, then what right have we to deny them what we permit ourselves?

Calls to curb the population in the developing world smack too much of the rich trying to control and demonise the poor, while sidestepping the consequences of our own love of cheap credit and conspicuous over-consumption.

Climate change is happening – whether we can alter it is open to debate, but like the global economic crisis (which will swell the ranks of the poor by 100 million this year 4), the poor are not responsible but are the first to suffer. Floods, droughts and forced human migration are real climate change threats to the health and wellbeing of the poor. (5) Jesus and the prophets warned strongly that sitting back complacently makes us culpable in the exploitation of the poor. (6)

  1. Population growth driving climate change, poverty: experts., 21 September 2009
  2. Templeton SK. Two children should be limit, says green guru. The Times, 1 February 2009
  3. International Institute for Environment and Development. Study shatters myth that population growth is a major driver of climate change. 29 September 2009
  4. Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report. Despite Signs Of Economic Growth, World's Poorest 'Still Not Out Of the Woods,' U.N. Secretary-General Says. 18 September 2009
  5. Costello A et al. Managing the health effects of climate change. The Lancet 2009; 373:1693-1733
  6. eg Amos 4:1; Matthew 25: 31-46
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