Environmental problems such as global warming can be tackled only if the
international community addresses the problem of population growth, a
leading scientist warned today.
Professor Chris Rapley, the director of the British Antarctic Survey, said
the 76 million annual increase in the world's population threatens "the
welfare and quality of life of future generations".
But he said population growth was the "Cinderella" issue of the
environmental debate, because its implications are so controversial that
nobody dares to raise it.
Scientific analysis suggests that the Earth can sustain around 2-3 billion
people at a good standard of living over the long term, wrote Prof. Rapley
in an article for the BBC News website.
But the current global population of 6.5 billion - expected to rise to 8
billion by the middle of the century - means mankind is imposing an ever
greater "footprint" on the planet.
Advances made in the battle to rein in climate change, such as last month's
Montreal agreement, threaten to be wiped out by the need of each additional
person for food, shelter, transport and waste disposal facilities.
"Imagine organising the accommodation, feeding arrangements, schooling,
employment, medical care, cultural activities and general infrastructure -
transport, power, water, communications, waste disposal - for a number of
people slightly larger than the population of the UK, and doing it each
year, year on year for the foreseeable future," wrote Prof. Rapley.
"Combined with ongoing economic growth, what will be the effect on our
collective human 'footprint'? Will the planet cope?
"Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of
critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human
environmental 'footprint', the truth is that the contribution of each
individual cannot be reduced to zero.
"Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing.
"So if we believe that the size of the human 'footprint' is a serious
problem (and there is much evidence for this), then a rational view would be
that, along with a raft of measures to reduce the footprint per person, the
issue of population management must be addressed."
Prof. Rapley acknowledged that population control and reduction was "a
bombshell of a topic", raising profound moral and ethical issues.
Consequently, the issue was rarely raised when politicians, scientists and
campaigners discussed what needs to be done to protect the environment, he
But he warned: "Unless and until this changes, summits such as that in
Montreal which address only part of the problem will be limited to at best
very modest success, with the welfare and quality of life of future
generations the ineluctable casualty."
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited