The UK Royal Society has published a report on environmental pressures from population and consumption, entitled People and the Planet. The conclusion offers a stark choice:
Over the next 30 – 40 years the confluence of the
challenges described in this report provides the
opportunity to move towards a sustainable economy
and a better world for the majority of humanity,
or alternatively the risk of social, economic and
environmental failures and catastrophes on a scale
We had several discussions on this blog about the issues of alarmism, and about population growth in relation to climate change, highlighting the so called Kaya identity. The Royal Society Report addresses the wider issue of the future of humanity and singles out population and consumption levels (but making frequent comments on climate change). It is in line with many scientists' adherence to Neo-Malthusian principles.
But it is not quite as simple as that. There are some clever people on the author team who would not fall into the category of Neo-Maltusianism, especially the distinguished economist Partha Dasgupta. One of the major policy goals is defined as bringing 1.3 billion people out of absolute poverty, 'and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today.'
And chapter 2 of the report contains all the usual social science insights about the connection between population growth, wealth, health, and education, especially levels of female education.
However, the key recommendations (placed prominently on the homepage of the report) mention education only in passing and put the emphasis on family planning, focusing on contraception.
In line with the old script of climate alarmism, the report states that 'The rise in emissions of
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere has now led to measurable and dangerous climate change.' This is an interesting aside, posing the question what the science basis for the statement was. Note that the statement does not say that it will be impossible to meet the 2 degree target. It says that we already witness dangerous climate change.
The report also makes the unrealistic assumption that the world economy is a zero sum game and that reducing levels of consumption in the rich world would have a positive impact on the environment.
Several commentators have pointed out some of the weaknesses, Mark Lynas on the Breakthrough blog Tim Worstall in the Telegraph, and Leo Hickman in the Guardian. The debate is animated.