Since 1978, mainland China has restricted couples to one child, attempting to thwart population growth under a misguided premise. Couples who could afford the associated fine paid it, while those who could not faced forced-abortion. The enforcement bureaucracy, employing nearly 8 million people, has been rampant in corruption. On October 29th, China increased the limit to two children across the country. This is no drastic switch: there were already loosened restrictions in rural areas, for ethnic minorities, and parents without siblings. Only a third of the population remained restricted to one child. The policy is described as a failure and an unnecessary encroachment of human rights by many. Though some claim population control can decrease pressure on the environment, the true driving force in global warming is over consumption by the few, which is mostly present in developed nations with stagnate populations.
Under the draconian policy, China’s population has aged to about 30% above 50. Gender-selective abortions, though outlawed, became common practice, leading to a severe gender imbalance, with 33 million more under 20 year old males than females. That’s the population of Canada. The working population is in decline, but with an increasing life expectancy, the total population isn’t anticipated to fall until around 2030. The under-25 population has been falling since 1990 (BBC).

Maya Wang of the Human Rights found little to celebrate, stating, “As long as the quotas and system of surveillance remains, women still do not enjoy reproductive rights”.

Other critics doubt the policy shift will significantly change projections due to social norms. University of Oxford processor Stuart Gietel-Basten believes the reform won’t make significant change. He posits that while there might be a short term mini-baby boom, culture is ultimately the bigger force at play, stating, “In fact the change is really a very pragmatic response to an unpopular policy that no longer made any sense. And much like the introduction of the policy in 1978, it will have little impact on the country’s population level” (The Conversation).

China Africa Europe US India UN medium population growth projections 2015 2100Population growth around the globe has slowed. In 1970, the average female had 5.5 children, while today it’s down to 2.6. It’s below replacement level in Europe, much of the Caribbean, Asia, and the middle east. The growth isn’t just slowing in wealthy and educated countries: the current generation of mothers in Bangladesh have just three children, halved from the previous generation. Everywhere that’s experienced gains in healthcare and sanitation–helping the infant mortality rate–has slowed in population growth. Iranian women had eight children just twenty years ago, today it’s 1.7. Within a generation, the world’s population will stop rising, and by some projections is expected to begin falling by mid-century.

Considering this, if population were the direct cause of global warming, things would look hopeful. They aren’t. The richest 7% of world population creates half of CO2 emissions. The additional 2 billion people we’ll see before the stagnation will predominantly be in the heavily underdeveloped world: people who have a very minimal effect on climate change. They’re hugely affected by climate change–in access to clean water, receding shorelines, and growing deserts–but with the poor half of the world contributing just 7% of emissions, they’re effectively at the whim of the developed world. One American does as much damage as 250 Ethiopians (Prospect Magazine).

With under a quarter the population of China and far stronger regulations on industry, the US has carbon emissions nearly as high as China. In the developed world, we’ve built private domain lawns and tarmacs, transportation capsules with an engine for every commuter, layers upon layers of single-use packaging for our food, and a reliance on meat that consumes hundreds of times its fruit. Corporations with vested interests have forced us to hold on to unsustainable tar sands and coal technologies long past necessity. The US Military supposedly protects this way of life by using 350,000 barrels of oil every day, more than any other entity in the world (DLA Energy, BLS).

Overpopulation is not a big climate problem facing the world, but over-consumption and inequality certainly are, and can be solved without violating human rights. Technology can make lives easier, more efficient, and more sustainable. Hopefully, climate change will push us to move it in that direction.

Featured image: By JerryofWong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Aging China: Bloomberg

World Population: Tyler Simpson