Japan's nuclear disaster got me thinking about energy demand. Nuclear power advocates justify the decision to power plants with uranium as the best way to meet energy demands that are increasing because world population is growing. I couldn't help but wonder: why aren't we talking about reducing population as part of our global strategy to minimize dependence on power sources that pollute the environment and threaten people's health?
I asked Bob Engelman, a Vice President at the Worldwatch Institute and one of the country's most respected experts on the link between population and the environment, to weigh in. Read his post, then let us know how you think population should figure into the calculations we're making about our energy future.
Always sensitive to talk about, the topic of population is hard to keep under wraps when news keeps reminding us that we live in a finite world. The costs of food and energy are rising despite a global economy in low gear. The likelihood of stemming the rise of the atmosphere’s greenhouse gas concentrations seems farther away than ever. And as Japan’s nuclear nightmare has reminded us yet again, there is no truly safe way to provide the energy that 6.9 billion people need to live decently. We’re pressing hard against limits set by the laws of physics and biology. The idea that we can easily trim our individual consumption to come into balance with nature—worthy as that effort is—looks increasingly naïve.
If people in the developed world slash their per capita greenhouse emissions by half, their effort could be counterbalanced by people in developing countries boosting theirs by just 11 percent. Global per capita emissions would still be inequitable—and unsustainably globe-warming.
Are there too many of us?
When I ponder how hard it will be to save the global climate, the oceans, forests, fisheries and non-human species, the answer seems obvious. But that answer is dangerous. To say we are too many is to imply some of us should go away fast, or at least that people should be made to have fewer children than they’d like.
The conversation looks easier if we start with some core values: