According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (and reported here by the BBC) there is nothing that we can do about the world’s burgeoning population.  What about starting a global conflict? Surely that will halt population growth I hear you say.  What about if we implement a strict one-child policy like China has? That will surely help, won’t it?  Well, the authors of this study who used data from the World Health Organisation and the US Census Bureau’s international database, even a “catastrophic event” that killed “billions of people” would “have little effect” on the number of people in 2100 dropping below current levels.  Even if China’s one-child policy was to be implemented worldwide, the world’s population would be anything from between five and 10 billion people.  The study concludes that attempts to curb our population as a short-term fix “will not work”. 

“‘We’ve gone past the point where we can do it easily, just by the sheer magnitude of the population, what we call the demographic momentum. We just can’t stop it fast enough,’ said Prof Corey Bradshaw from the University of Adelaide.

‘Even draconian measures for fertility control still won’t arrest that growth rate – we’re talking century-scale reductions rather than decadal scale, because of the magnitude.’”

Apparently, even a global catastrophe (war, climate disruption, global pandemics) that killed a cool “two billion people” would still leave around 8.5 billion people in 2100. What a shame. Why can’t we think up a better, more destructive catastrophe??

“‘Even if we had a third world war in the middle of this century, you would barely make a dent in the trajectory over the next 100 years,’ said Prof Bradshaw, something he described as ‘sobering’.”

Is there a twinge of disappointment hinted at in that “sobering” assessment? I for one am thankful that we do not think we will be able to wipe out all of humanity in one war. Or indeed make a dent in our population trajectory. But I might just be old-fashioned in that respect. 

What is interesting is that the team of scientists reach similar conclusions to those that we have often pushed on this blog: that the answer to environmental problems caused by humanity is not to go for the easy, evil option of population control in some country over there (usually in Africa or Asia) but to go for the much harder option of reforming our own consumerism and lifestyle.

“The scientists said the issue of population and its impact on global consumption was often described as the ‘elephant in the room’ – a problem that the world ignores as it is politically and ethically difficult to tackle.

But the research shows that curbing numbers will not deal with environmental challenges in the short term… the world should focus on curbing consumption and designing ways to conserve species and ecosystems.

‘Society’s efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation,’ says Prof Bradshaw.”

Of course, according to Physics, this is potentially all moot anyway…

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...