I anticipate that this will be a deeply unpopular post, but somebody has to make this point.  The most fundamental problem facing us as a species and the ecosystems of this planet that we call home is that the human population has grown and continues to grow out of control.  To suggest this in recent years has become politically and socially unacceptable.  Nevertheless it remains a fundamental ecological truth that, for any species, the ecosystems it occupies have limited  resources and capacity to deal with the wastes that they produce.  Ultimately, when the population of the species reaches that limit (the carrying capacity), mortality rates increase and fertility rates decrease as a result of, for example starvation, disease or indeed the toxic effects of their own metabolic waste (pollution).  From that point onwards population sizes may oscillate around the carrying capacity, undergo dramatic cycles of decline and re-growth or collapse altogether.


Up to now, for most of the recorded history of our species, we have been able to inflate the carrying capacity of our ecosystems through our application of technology in agriculture, civil engineering and medicine. However, the costs of these technological fixes have been huge in terms of biodiversity loss and massive increases in the release of greenhouse gasses.


Fundamentally further expansion of the human population will result in:

  • Increased demand for food, resulting in huge amounts of GHGs being released as a result of land cultivation, machinery use, fertiliser and pesticide production etc
  • Continued clearance of forests etc for more crop production further reducing the capability of the planet to buffer the increased emissions of GHGs
  • Pollution of water courses and therefore oceans. This again will further reduce the GHG buffering capacity of the planet
  • The pollution of and loss of natural habitats will drive further loss of biodiversity
  • Increasingly dense human populations  will be much more vulnerable to epidemics
  • Human incursions into previously uninhabited or very sparsely inhabited habitats brings the risk of introducing previously unknow pathogens into the human population


No-one can be sure what the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans might be.  However the consequences of exceeding that capacity are awful to contemplate.  Surely we cannot wish them on our children or grandchildren.


Of course, population control on a global level is not any Scottish government could effect directly and attempts at population control in some countries have resulted in scandalous abuse of Human Rights. Any measures to encourage population controls will meet huge opposition from some political and religious entities.  But the Scottish Government should any any influence and power that it may have to highlight the problem of population growth and to facilitate and encourage locally appropriate programmes.


How does one begin to address the population problem?  I would suggest two important starting points. Poverty and education, especially education of women.


In general, average fertility rates in populations have been inversely related to general wealth.  As with so many environmental problems, overpopulation will not be addressed effectively unless the significant inroads are made into alleviating global poverty.  

At the risk of a gross oversimplification, it does seem that the better educated society member are then the smaller the average family size is. This might be because within that society there will be less poverty.  It might also be because there is a better understanding that large families are not necessarily beneficial and that smaller families means more resources available to each family member. Education of the women in society would seem to be especially significant.  It was shown some years ago that the more women understood about their own biology and fertility the more likely they were to try to limit their family size.  Of course, at a practical level, this depends upon the men in the society having sufficient respect for their women partners to honour their fertility wishes -more work for education.


In the context of education, there is another area in which both governments and private individuals can play a significant ‘educational’ role.  Fertility control is anathema within a number of religions/denominations.  Religious leaders and local clerics alike should be lobbied to encourage a re-assessment of the doctrines that discourage fertility control.

Why the contribution is important

The hyper-exponential growth of the human population is one of the key drivers, if not the ultimate driver of the processes that are leading to climate change.  Therefore climate change cannot effectively be stemmed without addressing the issue of overpopulation at a global level.

by MarkColyer on October 26, 2020 at 12:35PM

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  • Posted by Paul October 26, 2020 at 14:31

    Using population as a route to tackling the climate crisis is deeply flawed. It ignores the primary drivers of the crisis of consumption, economic growth, oppression etc, Also, any policy relating to population is a very slow long term approach and so cannot deliver changes quickly enough. plus, possibly most importantly, it opens the door to ecofacist ideas. As a result it should be ignored as a way for Scotland to effectively tackle the climate crisis.
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