Population growth promotes climate change, studies show


Cars emit clouds of exhaust fumes during a traffic jam.

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A social media user recently took to Instagram to say that overpopulation is a myth that has been used by environmentalists to induce fear. Using a photo of a city surrounded by water and a river, the user said that there is so much room on earth.

“The lie that we are overpopulated is spread to induce fear of scarcity over the masses, and to justify ways to lower the population,” wrote Mushrooms_onda_brain. 

Studies have shown that population growth, which often accompanies increased consumption, tends to increase the emission of climate-changing greenhouse gases, and that it worsens the impacts of climate change by straining resources and exposing more people to risks related to climate change.

“Every additional person increases carbon emissions, the rich far more than the poor, and increases the number of climate change victims, the poor far more than the rich. At the national level, there is a clear relationship between income and per capita carbon dioxide emissions, with average emissions for people living in industrialised countries and key oil-producing nations topping the chart,” says Population Matters, a charity based in the United Kingdom.

“High-consuming lifestyles and production practices in the highest-income countries result in much higher emission rates than in middle- and low-income countries, where the majority of the world’s population lives,” it adds.

The organisation further notes that slowing population growth can significantly bring down future greenhouse gas emissions, adding that if the world were to slow down population growth by focusing on reproductive health, more than a quarter of emissions would be reduced.

High poverty rates

Emissions aside, the organisation notes that people living in poor regions of the world are more vulnerable to the disastrous impacts of climate change, exacerbated by high poverty rates, social inequality and food production challenges.

“In Pakistan, population pressures have led to land clearing, which exacerbates flooding when more people have been crowded into flood-prone areas. In Malawi, where 95 per cent of agriculture is rain-fed, severe droughts and floods reduce agricultural yields. Climate change is expected to deliver more rainfall in extreme events there, with increased flooding interspersed with droughts,” it states.

Population growth also affects the ability of the earth to absorb greenhouse gas emissions because of factors such as deforestation.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, population growth is an immediate driving factor of greenhouse emissions, which makes it important to make policies to reduce emissions, advance gender equity and ensure access to affordable reproductive healthcare. 

“Through a large national survey conducted by the centre in 2020, we learned that more than 60 per cent of people believe the climate crisis is a very or critically important issue, just behind healthcare. Climate change is being cited by young people as a reason to have fewer children,” says the centre.

‘Breaking the taboo’

“According to a 2018 New York Times poll, men and women aged 20-45 are having fewer children than their ideal number because 33 per cent are worried about climate change and 27 per cent are worried about population growth. By breaking the taboo of talking about sex, family planning, abortion, and other reproductive health topics, we can better advocate for reproductive rights and justice while supporting people who are already bringing concerns about our climate future into their family planning decisions,” it adds. 

The United Nations notes that rapid population growth, besides making it more difficult for low-income and lower-middle-income countries to commit adequate resources, also reduces their capacity to adapt to threats of climate change.

This fact check was produced with support from Code for Africa’s Pesa Check, International Fact Checking Network and African Fact Checking Alliance Network