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Elephant in the greenhouse part II

By Michael Kile - posted Friday, 4 December 2015

Half a century ago, the big scare was dangerous anthropogenic population change. So why is climate alarmism now centre-stage?

Fast forward to New York City and the UN General Assembly  Special Session on 22 September last year and the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Cairo population conference.

Cairo was described as a ‘global turning point’ because it affirmed the importance of reproductive health and rights. It was there

the world agreed that when women and girls get the education they deserve, societies are more productive.  When their rights are protected, societies are more just.  And when they are empowered to determine their own future, societies become stronger.

No mention, however, of the P-word. In any case, the Secretary-General’s attention was elsewhere - on opening Climate Week: “We need all hands on deck. Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Now is the time for action.”

Pope Francis was on the same page. His recent Encyclical Letter - the 38,000-word Laudato Si' - given in Rome at Saint Peter’s on 24 May this year, had only one paragraph (50) on population.

 “Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate….To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.

As for humankind’s problems today, they were due to the ‘inequity’between individuals and countries, and the ‘true “ecological debt” that exists, particularly between the global north and south’ (paragraph 51).

Against this background, it is not surprising that what was once described as the ‘defining issue of our time’ - the less developed world’s population problem - is absent from the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - and its 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals –  agreed by 193 countries in New York on 25 September this year. For SDGs are all about implementing programs that extend human life.


Yet the demographic challenge remains, at least according to a UN System Task Team Thematic Think Piece compiled two years ago.

 “Population dynamics, particularly in the context of persistent inequalities, will have major influence on development processes and on the inclusive and balanced growth and outcomes in the coming decades. They also challenge the capacity of countries to achieve broad-based development goals.(page 4)

Two months after release of the Pope’s Encyclical, the UN Population Division (UNPD) published its 2015 Revision of World Population Prospects. Humankind was now expected to grow by much more than the previous estimate of nine billion people by 2050. Whatever the impact of female empowerment during the two decades after Cairo, it did not slow global growth.

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About the Author

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature's Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He has an MSc degree from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London and a Diploma from the College. He also has a BSc (Hons) degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Tasmania and a BA from the University of Western Australia. He is co-author of a recent paper on ancient Mesoamerica, Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice, and author of The Aztec solution to climate change.

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