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Can we lower climate change by lowering population?

A New York Times article today tackles the problem of carbon emissions from a new angle: overpopulation.

The fight against manmade climate change has thus far largely centered on energy efficiency and curbing emissions of ozone-depleting gas. The article argues that we overlook the human element in the equation: the fewer people there are, the less energy we’ll need to generate overall and the less damage we’ll do to the atmosphere.

Using United Nations projections of world population, scientists have proposed huge reductions in carbon emissions are possible if birth rates slow through 2050:

An article published in 2010 by researchers from the United States, Germany and Austria concluded that if the world’s population reached only 7.5 billion people by midcentury, rather than more than nine billion, in 2050 we would be spewing five billion to nine billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

This alone would deliver 16 to 29 percent of the emission reductions needed over the next four decades to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above that of the late 19th century, the threshold scientists predict could lead to severe disruptions to the climate.

The NYT cites food production and reduced deforestation, as well as power generation, as major impacted areas.

Population policy is a controversial subject, owing to shockingly recent practices like forced sterilization in many countries. China’s one-child-only policy, though still in effect, is widely-considered a human rights violation.

However, there are humane methods of curbing population growth, including better access to contraception. Better education, particularly of women in countries that maintain traditional gender roles, also leads to lower birth rates and infant mortality rates.

Click here to read the New York Times article: Reducing Carbon by Curbing Population

Related: Putting a number on oil population is hard

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