Climate change and population

Sir, – A literal translation of anthropogenic is "springs from humankind", so when John Thompson (Letters, February 21st) writes that human population is the obvious and universally acknowledged driver of anthropogenic climate change, it is semantically equivalent to saying triangles are the obvious and universal three-sided shapes. Such circumlocutions do not progress an argument.

The “restraint of population growth” has been a much-discussed and oft-explored course of action since at least the wayward projections of Rev Thomas Robert Malthus in the early 1800s. When it has been deployed, it invariably seeks to protect the interests of the powerful and further suppress the marginalised. The “means of addressing poverty” he proposes sounds a lot like limiting the basic human rights of people who suffer poverty. When the average Irish person emits more CO2 in a week than the average Rwandan in a year, maybe we can acknowledge that the problem isn’t pregnant women, babies, or hypothetical projected population graphs. The consumption of the world’s wealthiest 10 per cent (which includes most of the readership of The Irish Times) makes up half of our global emissions. I strongly agree with him that urgent and serious action is needed to address climate and biodiversity breakdown, but it must be just, equitable, and aimed at making our world a better and fairer place instead of relying on oppressive technocracy to protect the comfortable. – Yours, etc,


Jesuit Centre for Faith


and Justice, Dublin 1.

A chara, – John Thompson writes that the world population is predicted to grow to around 11 billion by the year 2100, a growth of about 40 percent.

The UN’s World Population Prospects 2019 projects that by 2100, world population will be 10,394,875,000, 33 per cent above today’s. This, however, masks significant differences.

The population of Europe is projected to drop from 743,666,000 to 629,563,000 – a decrease of 118 million. And while the population under 15 is projected to drop from 16.1 to 14.4 per cent, the population over 65 is projected to increase from 19.1 to 30.4 per cent. If these projections are realised, it will have very serious implications for society and the economy. Children born today will be living in that scenario. The overall picture is much more complex than may seem at first.

As for climate change, the situation is also very complex, with enormous variations of CO2 emissions. At least 10 countries in Africa have emissions of 0.1 metric tonne per capita, whereas Canada has 15.7 tonnes per capita – 157 times as much; and at least 10 other countries have even higher emissions. The Central Statistics Office says Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 were just under 13 tonnes per capita.

The UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019 said that “the political leadership of 70 countries which committed to deliver more ambitious national climate plans in 2020 in line with net zero emissions by 2050 strategies. While these countries represent a significant portion of the world’s population, they account for less than 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions”. The “plan” by governments at present is dangerously defective.

“A future for the world’s children?”, a report from World Health Organisation – Unicef – Lancet Commission published on February 18th, 2020, quotes Greta Thunberg: “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” That action must be clear-headed and urgent and just. Otherwise we cause great suffering for our children and grandchildren. – Is mise,


Sandyford, Dublin 16.