One in a hundred of all people on Earth live in the UK and the population density of England is higher than almost any other country in the world.
For the prosperous clergyman Thomas Malthus, writing in 1798, the problem of population growth arose from the fecklessness of the labouring classes.
Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, the presentation twisted, with eugenicists warning that other races would outbreed white people. A mix of racism and classicism still perpetuates the simplistic myth that rising population figures alone is the problem.
Whilst, it is true that the World Food Programme is struggling to find the supplies it needs for emergency famine relief, a combination of failing harvests, accelerating industrialisation/ consumption by countries such as China and India, and use of crops for fuel are adding to the pressures on food production. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that global meat production will double by 2050 - growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers, and requiring cereal crops in an ever increasing thirst for luxury meat and dairy produce.
To claim the poor are to blame for the excessive consumption habits of the rich and developed parts of the world is patently absurd. The population of the UK consumes more resources than the land can produce. Our way of life is only possible by using more than our fair share of global resources.
1. Adopt Children
A strategy to reduce the number of people living in the UK is needed. The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) makes the link between population and carbon reduction by suggesting that a key way of "offsetting" carbon dioxide emissions is having fewer children.
For the UK, a sustainable population is estimated at between 17 and 27 million - less than half the current total and between a third and a fifth of the 85 million who will be living in the country in the last quarter of this century, according to the most recent Government projections.
Optimum Population Trust - 12 Meadowgate, Urmaston, Manchester, M41 9LB.
Tel: 07976 370221, www.optimumpopulation.org
It has been estimated that for every child not conceived a lifetime carbon dioxide saving of nearly 750 tonnes is made. Based on a "social cost" of carbon dioxide of $85 a tonne, it is estimated that the climate cost of each new UK based citizen over their lifetime is roughly £30,000. On this premises a 35p condom, could avert £30,000 cost from a single use, representing a "spectacular" potential return on investment of around nine million per cent!
Population growth in the rich world is more environmentally damaging than an increase in population in the poor world. The environ-mental impact of an inhabitant of Bangl-adesh or Estonia, or any materially poorer nation is considerably lower in terms of their carbon footprint. This changes when s/he moves to a wealthier country. It is not hard to see that rising economic activity - not just human numbers - is the immediate and overwhelming problem.
The OPT details that by 2050 "the population of the most developed countries is expected to remain almost unchanged, at 1.2 billion". The population of the EU 25 (the first 25 nations to join the union) is likely to decline by 7 million. The OPT advocates a reduction in the UK population by almost half of the current number.
The UK government expects numbers in the UK to rise from 61 million to 77 million by 2050. According to the OPT, eighty per cent of this anticipated growth is the direct or indirect result of people migrating to the UK from other parts of Europe and the world.
George Monbiot points out that total population growth in England is responsible for only about 35% of the demand for new homes. Most of the rest is created by the current increase in people living alone, people remaining single for longer, living longer and spending less of our time in the same dwelling as our parents and family.
British Association of Adoption and Fostering - Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London, EC1N 8TS. Tel: 020 7421 2600 www.baaf.org.uk
Barnardos - Tanners Lane, Barkingside, Ilford, Essex, IG6 1QG. Tel: 020 8498 7735 www.barnardos.org.uk/adoption
2. Support universal sex education
In the 1970's the world's two most populous nations took action to curb their growing populations. China instituted a one-child policy, and India introduced sterilisation and forced vasectomies. The impacts of these draconian policies ranged from human misery to female infanticide.
It is now widely recognised that since poverty and gender inequality are key factors in population increase, the best way of slowing the birth rate is by creating a social climate receptive to messages about family planning.
Sex education, access to contraceptives, better schooling and opportunities for women are the key to a more sustainable population in the developing world. Stabilising and actively encouraging a reduction in the human population would ameliorate almost all-environmental impacts. The use of contraception also increases protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Marie Stopes International (MSI) - sexual and reproductive healthcare services
Tel: 0845 3008090 www.mariestopes.org.uk
Brooke Advisory Centre - Sexual health Young People (under 25) information helpline: 0800 0185023 24hr Information helpline: 020 79507700 www.brook.org.uk
Family Planning Association - Helpline 0845 1228690
United Nation Population Fund - 220 East 42nd Street, New York. www.unfpa.org
Practical Action - The Schumaker Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, CV23 9ZQ. Tel: 01926 634400. www.practicalaction.org
Briefing funded by the Norfolk Independent Waste Trust and Cobb Charity
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