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)