How do we improve peoples lives and decrease harm to the environment at the same time? Our high standard of living is maintained by digging up minerals and changing the landscape for farming and city planning. Do the solutions of one problem create barriers to solving another?
Lets go down the rabbit hole a bit further with our assumptions: Increasing the standard of living of many nations has lead to a decrease in their birth rate. As women get jobs they have children in their 30's instead of their 20's or not at all. Decreasing poverty, at least in theory, should lead to a decrease in population. And whats the best thing we can do for the environment? How about decrease the population?
The Demographic “Crisis”
If policy makers focused on making their peoples' lives even better there should be an eventual population reduction.
We've see this happening already. An array of nations as diverse as USA , China, Russia (along with much of Europe) and Japan have experienced decreasing birth rates. The lowering of their populations has only been offset by nations able or willing to drastically increase immigration. Many refer to whats going on as “the demographic crisis”. But, to my mind it's not a crisis if its our goal to lower the population. If we focused on standard of living instead of GDP growth as a political target we would also have a goal that doesn't directly include having a greater population as part of what its calculation rewards.
At the same time, poverty reduction, as suggested by demographics expert Hans Rosling, is leading to a long term downward trend in population, of the impoverished countries targeted. Areas of the most extreme poverty, such as, Bangladesh, have already shown a big difference. Population growth didn't decrease right away because of the increased number of people surviving sickness; but, birth rates did. The long run projection of population is that it will eventually follow suit.
So those of us who care about the environment should not just jump on the extremist bandwagon just yet: It's not quite time to start sterilizing the population in mass numbers. At the same time, we can't just sit on our laurels and hope things will solve themselves. Poverty reduction has been something of an active goal by many charities and other NGO's, and other forces outside the populations receiving the help.
Underlying this all we have to think about the unique character of human beings and how the principle of unintended consequences tends to put what we would think of a direct cause and effect result into question: After all, The Black Plague lead to an *increase* in population.