Sue Greenwald, mayor of Davis, Calif., asked a question that becomes inevitable when more than one environmentalist is in the room: does "population control" have any role in the climate movement? People laughed nervously.
Gore immediately said, courteously but firmly, that if you go to developing countries using the term "population control," they’re going to see that as … well, his term was "aggressive." I probably would have used something stronger.
Then, in characteristic fashion, he said, "let me back up."
First, he said, it’s true that the population explosion is one of the principle causes of climate change — we’ve quadrupled our numbers in the last 100 years.
However, population is not one of the principle “policy levers” we need to grab to fight the problem. Population is (I paraphrase) going to solve itself — human population is expected to top out at just above 9 billion. Folks are fairly confident of that projection. It’s already started leveling off in developed countries. The grandparents of people in the room probably thought nothing of a family with eight kids; now Gore, with four, is considered to have an enormous family. The same changes are getting underway in the developing world.
Demographers used to think it was industrialization that causes population growth to slow. Throw in some factories and the problem’s solved. They now realize that’s wrong. In fact, what slows and levels off population growth is:
- education of girls,
- empowerment of women, and
- increased child survival rates (so people don’t need big families to insure they’ll be taken care of in old age).
Those things are spreading in many parts of the developing world, and we need to continue fighting for them.
(Faithful readers will note that Gore’s answer on population is eerily similar to mine, which proves his brilliance yet again.)