VISUALIZATION: How Earth Got 7 Billion Guests

EZRA KLEIN: A lot of the commentary surrounding the fact that the world’s 7 billionth baby will soon start mewling has suggested that there are “too many” people for the Earth to handle. But context matters. It’s true that seven billion people all using the same amount of energy and raw materials as the average American would utterly demolish the planet’s carrying capacity. But if we can either curb our consumption or learn to use resources more efficiently — so that everyone consumes, on average, one-fifth of what Americans do now — then we could, in theory, survive just fine. Putting this in a climate context, author and political and environmental activist George Monbiot offers another argument for focusing more on consumption than population. A 2010 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that slowing population growth (such as making birth control more accessible and improving sex education and women’s rights) could provide “16-29% of the emissions reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change.” Pretty significant. But that still means that 70 to 84 percent of the solution will involve cleaner energy sources, new technologies, improved efficiency, and (quite possibly) a reduction in overall consumption and waste. MORE

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