“Half the truth is often a great lie.”
– Benjamin Franklin
By failing even to mention population growth in the thirty-three-page “Summary for Policymakers” of its new publication, Global Warming of 1.5°C, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offered less than the whole truth. This is despite the fact that a 2010 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that by the end of the century, slower population growth could reduce total fossil fuel emissions by 37–41 percent.
The IPCC “Summary for Policymakers” finds room to call for ecosystem-based adaptation, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity management, sustainable aquaculture, efficient irrigation, social safety nets, disaster risk management, green infrastructure, sustainable land use, and water management. But not one single word about population stabilization.
Ignoring the impacts of soaring population growth on climate change is like failing to mention the Himalayas while describing Nepal.
Overpopulation remains the elephant in the room. Why the silence? The hard truth is that many experts worry they might offend someone, somewhere. This is a shameful betrayal of reason.
What will they tell hundreds of millions fated to become stateless environmental refugees, pushed to relocate due to climate change? What will they say to subsistence farmers forced to watch their families starve as meager plots become arid wastelands? And what about the countless, voiceless species doomed to extinction because so many authorities tremble at the very possibility of a negative reaction?
Benjamin Franklin, the redoubtable author of Poor Richard’s Almanack, warns, “You may delay, but time will not.”
There is no excuse for timid temporizing in the face of a global crisis. When climate experts fail to address population growth — arguably the single biggest driver of climate change — they place far more than their own reputations at risk.
What is so hard about letting the world know that if every woman and every couple had unfettered access to all reproductive health services, we’d see population challenges evaporate? Then maybe, just maybe, we’d have a fighting chance to save Earth as we know it. End this silence, now!
Four years ago, I had lunch in the San Francisco home of a hero. Dr. Thomas Hall was awarded that honor by Research!America in recognition of his lifelong leadership on reproductive health and other population-related issues. He shared some of those experiences with me along with tales of sailing adventures. A longtime member of Population Connection, Dr. Hall died last year at the age of 85. He graciously directed a posthumous donation of $250,000 to support our work. His legacy will enable us to reach many thousands of young people so they, too, might in some way help chart the course to a less-crowded future.