’s recent story “How to deal with a falling population
” rightly states that a growing global population does not inevitably exhaust the earth’s resources, and that a shrinking population poses several serious threats to nations.
But the article downplays the impact of a large population. The total number of people on the planet has both global and local consequences. On the global level, each additional resident contributes to climate change, and this contribution is growing for citizens of developing countries making the transition to more western, carbon-consuming lifestyles. While 6.6 billion people have not yet run the oil derricks dry, large local populations have already had significant effects on local resources. In many parts of the world, women and children walk for hours to obtain water, firewood, and other basic needs.
The story seems to suggest that we should wait for governments to solve the problem of climate change. Yet many, including the author of one of the articles in The Economist’s September 2006 survey of climate change, are skeptical that politics can single-handedly and responsibly address this issue.
While governments work on large-scale policies, everyday people can influence natural resource consumption and climate change by focusing on population issues. One of the most effective ways to do this is by expanding access to family planning programs. Concerns about the possibility of coercion accompany all family planning efforts, but regulated, well-managed family planning programs tend to produce positive side effects, increasing women’s empowerment and education and expanding employment opportunities for both men and women.
It is important for governments and international institutions to craft prudent, long-term policies to address climate change. Yet we must also remember that the choices that ordinary individuals make can have significant positive impacts on health, economic development, and the environment.