The Green Spot: Is it a People Problem?

During last week’s Green Spot post the comments ended up on a side track of if the world’s problems are really population related.  So to test that theory out I ran some numbers.  You see in Canada we love to blame the oil sands for our hugely increasing green house gas (GHG) levels, but is that the only reason?  So today we start with a quiz.  How much has Canada’s GHG emissions increased on a per person basis from 1990 to 2007?

Is the answer:

  1. 0%
  2. 5%
  3. 10%
  4. 20%
  5. 30%

I’ll post the answer later in this post.  You see I’ve got a theory that the issue isn’t so much related to what we are doing? (Yes in North America we are wasteful, so don’t consider this an excuse.)  Yet is related to the number of us doing it.

Each person in the world requires a certain amount of energy input to produces the basics of life for them and luxury items for the rich of the world.  So by increasing the number of people on the planet we are consuming more and more finite resources like fossil fuels which is driving up our CO2 numbers.  In addition there are more and more stresses on local food production which causes overworked top soil and uses up fresh water resources.

People for what ever reason tend to glaze over the concept that in 1970 we had half the world population we have today.  Is it any wonder things seem to be getting worse in the world? Also should I point out we are expected to increase to about 9 billion people by 2050.  So just imagine that we are going to cap CO2 emissions and reduce them by 80% by 2050, but also increase the world demand for energy by 33% via population growth.  It’s not looking very good and it’s plain to see why.

Perhaps global warming is really just a symptom of a bigger issue.  There are too many of us on the planet and we are stressing the systems that keep this planet running.  I’ve also wonder how applicable this is to other stresses in human populations.  Are wars, metal illness and crime increasing as well on a per person basis?  I’ve yet to find that out, but I’ve only started looking at this a bit in the last week.  Interesting quesions, oh, speaking of which the answer to the quiz is #2, 5%.

So what do you think?  Is there a people problem and if so what are all of its effects?

6 thoughts on “The Green Spot: Is it a People Problem?”

  1. You may well be onto something. Too many carbon units on earth. A few thoughts.

    To determine the true cause of a problem one should ask a few common questions. For example.

    Where else is this problem occurring?

    Where else might one expect to find a similar problem?

    If it is happening at one location but not at a similar locations, what are the differences between the two locations.

    A biologist might reasonably argue that human populations would be expected to mirror animal populations in many respects. Planet earth is a sort of limited space and resource “people-pen”.

    What happens in a monkey group when the population reaches larger numbers? Gorilla’s might be another cousin example. How about a large rat population?


  2. CM,

    To my knowledge there isn’t a comparable animal example since animal’s populations adjust with food supply and they don’t plant food like us.

    We’ve tinkered with the basic equation and still learning about the results.


  3. I used to subscribe to the population overgrowth theory until I had my own kids. When we talk about population problems it is also usually the poor people in the third world … those people who have 5 kids but can’t even feed themselves. Like they’re the cause of any problem.

    Now I believe that part of our purpose is to bring new people in. After all, if I think that population reduction would help the planet then shouldn’t I commit suicide to help the human race?

  4. I think the problem is advances in medicine and lack of world war. Not that it’s a “problem” per se, but human population has been kept in check in the past by things like the Bubonic plague, drought, World War I and II, etc.

    It is the Western world that is also the most wasteful with resources. A radical change would have to happen in order for people to change their consumption patterns here.

  5. GH,

    I understand the feeling. After my own kids this entire theory took on a whole new meaning.

    Actually the fact they can’t feed themselves to me is a bit of the issue. The area can’t support the population so we send food aid. Lives saved, yes, but then it just gets worst the next time. So are we really doing any good in the long run?

    I don’t think population reduction is all the realistic of a goal, so save the suicide. Halting the growth should be the goal in my mind. Otherwise it’s the classic question of who lives and how dies and who gets to pick.


    Medicine has helped to increase life span which is a factor, but I don’t think World War II actually slowed things down much at all. Population estimate world wide was just under 1.96 billion in 1939 and I’m having a hard time finding a number for 1945 exactly, but about 2 billion. So even with 50 to 72 million deaths (direct and indirect) world population still went up.

    I agree Western society is the most wasteful and that isn’t helping, but the total number of us is also an issue.


  6. Them not being able to feed themselves is an issue, however the sad thing is that they probably could if given the chance.

    There’s the who lives who dies issue, and also the who can have kids or not issue. Kids used to be a form of wealth when people worked the farm .. it’s how the farm was worked and expanded. Same thing in the developing world villages. People get old and sick fast, so you need young people to scrounge for food and care for the dying parents, other siblings, and the village in general.

    Right now the rich parts of the world have replaced people with machines, so we don’t “need” people anymore to maintain a lifestyle. There are some places where machines are still more expensive than people, but that is turning now. Most of us produce nothing, only provide services or “produce” items that are services in the end like software. Then we have our economy which is based on providing services to each other mostly.

    We’ll have even a bigger surplus of people when enough Chinese and Indians don’t want to be slaves anymore, then they’ll get replaced by machines and have no ability to earn money, not any land to sustain themselves.

    There is enough to go around though. Some people have a lot and others get the short end of the stick.

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