Chapter 2: POPULATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

This introduction to population issues that relate to climate change gives a good description of the recent history of population numbers and policies, useful definitions of some of the most common indices used, such as total fertility rate, and a placement of regions in to various categories and scenarios.

The discussion of possible impacts of a human-induced climate change centers around the "vicious circle model," a neoclassical economic model to which as been added a feature in which high fertility prevents steps to alleviate poverty, thereby continuing damages to natural resources which further deepens poverty and encourages high fertility. The authors examine the great complexity involved in the use of such models to improve understanding of the relationship among poverty or affluence, natural resource use, and the usual economic parameters.

The authors are to be congratulated for making clear the necessity of including and understanding values in the use of an economic approach to any such complex, social problem as population size and growth. Much economic writing admits this need but then proceeds without meeting this need.

The chapter is, however, not without gaps and defects. First, the understanding of meteorological and other scientific issues related to climate change is weak. Droughts are said to be "periodic" while floods are labeled as "one-off events." In fact both of these events recur with considerable scatter in their recurrence intervals. The use of "statistical mechanics" as a way of describing chaotic systems is flawed in that the beauty of statistical mechanics is that, with sufficiently large numbers of similar particles interacting, the results re deterministic, not chaotic.

More serious, perhaps, is the nature of the discussions of issues ranging from policy steps to slow population growth rates to environmental refugees to damages from sea level rise. The discussions consistently downplay the seriousness of each problem, but the reader is not sure such is the intent--the point of view changes from paragraph to paragraph. At one point the opportunity cost of a population policy is listed as weakening the rationale for adopting the policy; later the cost of building dikes in Bangladesh to counter sea level rise is viewed as favoring dike building because of the economic activity engendered by those costs. The reader is unsure about whether such words as altruism, moralistic, individualistic, public health orthodoxy, are being used informatively or pejoratively. The discussion throughout is unnecessarily pedantic; paragraphs are spent in arguing the niceties of the definition of migrants versus that for refugees.

Most readers would assume that populations are involved both with the creation of a human-induced climate change and with adapting to resulting impacts. The chapter, however, discusses the first of these only by recounting the relatively fruitless debate in some fora on whether it is population increase or high consumption that is responsible for environmental degradation including climate change.

The most serious weakness is in the description of the issues surrounding the UN Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. The purpose of such a conference is to make progress on achieving international agreement on policies that stand a reasonable chance of ameliorating current or future problems. The authors are more interested in side issues. They take the opportunity, for example, to brand as "simply untrue" the statement made by some that the policy that emerged from Cairo was a consensus view. They insist that a coalition of economists concerned that high fertility limits the options available to women, children, and the poor, and moralists concerned with empowerment. In doing so the authors forget that a consensus around an international table is frequently an agreement on what to do with each party having a different reason for wanting to do it. In fact few economists were in evidence in Cairo; the meeting was dominated by women from developing countries who had direct experience in their home regions with organizing activities to improve the lot of women.

Because of its problem-solving objectives, the Cairo conference relied heavily on what experience and research indicated are effective steps in slowing population growth. Studies had clearly shown that a majority of women worldwide wish to limit their family size. The delegates were thus freed from considering how to convince women that it was in their own best interest to have fewer children; the problem was to identify the barriers to achieving desired family size and obtaining country pledges of activities and funding to lessen those barriers.


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