It's Not Them, It's Us: Developing World Population Growth Not Adding Much CO2


photo: Geof Wilson via flickr.

Yesterday it was Fred Pearce saying that overconsumption of natural resources was the bigger problem than overpopulation, and here's another voice backing that point: Times Online reports that the International Institute for Environment and Development has found that growing populations in the developing world (at current consumption levels) are not contributing to rising carbon emissions anywhere near as much as developed nations:United States = 12.6% of Global Emissions Rise
Researcher David Satterthwaite found that between 1980 and 2005 sub-Saharan Africa had 18.5% of world population growth, but only 2.4% of growth in carbon emissions. Conversely, the US had only 3.4% of world population growth but accounted for 12.6% of emission increases.

Half of World = 13% of GHG Increase
Overall, developed nations accounted for 7% of population growth, but 29% of emissions growth; developing nation had 52% of population growth and 13% of emissions growth.

Which is frankly something, in the broad stroke, that we've known for a while. Although rising populations themselves are an environmental burden at some point, it's really when more and more people start trying to consume natural resources and consumer goods at levels now normal in the United States and (to a lesser degree) the rest of the developed world that the problem arises.

One Child in the US Has Much Larger Footprint Than Elsewhere
This discrepancy in consumption was my prime motivation in pointing out a few weeks back that, if you live in the United States, one of the best ways you can go green is consider having fewer children (not none, as some tried to characterize the situation; still less government coercion...). The average child born in the US will have an incredibly larger environmental impact than one born in most other places.

China's Emissions Increase While Population Growth Slows
This is backed up by another stat that Satterthwaite points out: While China's one-child policy did result in a decline in population growth, GHG emissions still rose 44.5% over the study period, due to increasing levels of material consumption among segments of the population -- and China becoming the factory for the rest of the world... Keep in mind that, by some accounts, one-third of China's manufacturing (and consequently, dirty energy use) is tied to exports destined for Europe and the United States

It's important to note though, that China's per capita carbon footprint is still among the lowest in the world, but with a billion people, it still adds up to world-leading levels -- pointing to the fact that both addressing population growth and resource consumption are important.
Two Days in US Equals a Year in Tanzania
If you need another reference point: The New Economics Foundation -- whose work you really ought to follow -- found that by 4am on January 2nd of a given year, a typical US resident had already emitted carbon emissions equivalent to of the average Tanzanian in a year. A UK resident hit the same level of emissions two days later.

Not that anyone is suggesting that we should be lowering standard of living to the poorest of the poor in the world, but clearly the ecological balance point in terms of material consumption is far lower than what is considered normal in the developed world today.

More: International Institute for Environment and Development
Population Growth
Resource Overconsumption Not Population Growth the Real Environmental Problem: Fred Pearce
When Population Growth and Resource Availability Collide
UN Ups Its Low Population Growth Scenario for 2050: Developed World Birthrates Increase

Tags: Carbon Emissions | China | Developing Nations | Population Growth | United States

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