Addressing Over-Population in an Overheated World

Temperatures on earth have rapidly moved outside of human experience. The earth is warmer today than it’s been in 100,000 years and because of the long lag times of temperature momentum, much more warming is already baked in. Current carbon dioxide levels are sufficient without ongoing carbon pollution to push the earth to hit the highest temperatures experienced in the past 2 million years.

With the election of Trump, climate change is now considered a hoax and a plot by the Chinese to make the U.S. non-competitive by the one who will soon lead America. He promises to renege on the Paris Accord and abandon EPA’s Clean Power Plan. He will end what he called the “Obama Administration’s war on coal’ and eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while giving most of his tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. He also wants to end restrictions on energy production on federal lands and he supports fossil fuel developments across America including the Keystone XL pipeline and other ill-conceived pipeline developments.

Even if the Paris climate deal is somehow achieved and all signatory nations do their part to further limit carbon dioxide emissions to hold worldwide temperatures to the so-called “safe” limit of 2 degrees C, the earth will experience water scarcity, droughts, crop stresses and fish and shellfish suppression from hot acidic waters. These degrading changes will pose an enormous threat to much of the world’s population.

We are leaving the climate regime that watered our crops and provided fresh water to support nearly 8 billion people and provided a wonderful context for human civilization and for nature. As an example, 1 billion people currently rely on fish harvested from coral reef systems which are in rapid decline and collapse worldwide from carbonic acid, warming waters, pollution and poor fisheries and coral reef management. One study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that over 600 million people will face new or aggravated water scarcity if the world hits 3.5 degrees C. of warming above pre-industrial levels, as it is projected to do under current climate pledges. Nearly a half billion people, particularly in the Near and Middle-East will experience severe water scarcity. About 668 million people will either live in water-scarce river basins or find existing water scarcity is aggravated as the earth overheats.[i] Water scarcity, food shortages and sea-level rise will trigger growing numbers of climate refugees year by year.

An ongoing population explosion in the face of these threats greatly compounds the danger. Human numbers have doubled since1970, food consumption has tripled while energy use has quadrupled while the numbers of fish and wildlife populations have been cut by more than half worldwide, falling by a staggering 58 percent between 1970 and 2012 according to a recent report by the WWF and the Zoological Society.

In the face of climate change, ocean acidification, fisheries depletion, coastal dead zones, deforestation, and with the fast-approaching sixth great species extinction, it is clear that human population is out of balance with nature and life support systems. Internationally respected naturalist Sir David Attenborough has warned of the many dangers facing the Earth’s ecosystems from climate change, pollution and habitat changes associated with profound population growth. The Population Reference Bureau calculates that if current trends continue that by 2053, human populations could hit 10 billion. In the light of such projections, it’s clear that as world populations continue to grow, while the world’s capacity to provide food and water and to sustain vulnerable communities. is shrinking and severely strained in many regions calamity is in our future.

The world’s capacity to supply food and water is shrinking while the number of mouths to feed is continuing to grow. So many of the major threats facing our planet would be less challenging and more manageable if there were fewer people and no threat is lessened by an exploding world population, yet there seems to be a taboo on bringing over-population into the open. Sir David challenges those who pretend that population is not a problem. His compelling views are presented in his 2011 RSA President’s Lecture:

With growing evidence of a worldwide environmental crisis, more, more and more young men and women are struggling with questions about starting a family in greater numbers than ever before. A recent NPR segment, asks “Should we be having kids in the age of climate change.”

I am increasingly asked by informed young people alarmed by the recent election and deeply worried about the declining environmental conditions on earth, “Should I plan on having children?” It’s a hard question and I believe each must make their own decisions with their eyes wide open. As a father and a grandfather, I grieve over the Hobson’s choice many now face on family planning that we are leaving to the next generation.

Rhonny Dam, a climate speaker, tells her powerful personal journey, including sometimes painful and flawed relational choices on her path as a childfree “atypical chick”. Dam shares her personal struggle as a childfree-by-choice person in a very transparent way. She explores that after many struggles how she came to believe that childfree women and men must be willing to create a new path. By creating a paradigm shift, childfree leaders can confront the urgent need for a smaller population on earth and ease the adaptation to our rapidly changing world by serving others. Read more: For those who consider being childfree, I would encourage those who do to devote themselves not just to being childfree but being childfree for service to the world. Nature desperately needs to be nurtured now more than ever before. Low-lying populations and those regions with strained food and water supplies are particularly in need of more support and leadership. Dam’s very provocative book should stimulate a deeper conversation about important issues and can be purchased:

[i] Dieter Gerten1, Wolfgang Lucht1, Sebastian Ostberg, Jens Heinke, Martin Kowarsch, Holger Kreft, Zbigniew W Kundzewiczl, Johann Rastgooy, Rachel Warren and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Asynchronous exposure to global warming: freshwater resources and terrestrial ecosystems, September 12, 2013, Environmental Research Letters, Volume 8, Number 3,


About Larry Schweiger

Larry Schweiger is the Past President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for PennFuture. Previously, he was President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and earlier the CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Larry also served as the Executive Secretary of the Joint (House and Senate) Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He returned to the National Wildlife Federation in March 2004 with a commitment to confront the climate crisis. He is passionate about protecting nature for our children's future. Larry continues the climate work as the battle moves to the states. Previously, Larry served for eight years as President and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where he pioneered watershed restoration and promoted ecological research, land conservation, community outreach and Fallingwater restoration. In the past, Larry was the Executive Secretary of the Joint House/Senate Conservation Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs at National Wildlife Federation, and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Larry wrote a book warning about climate change impacts on nature entitled: "Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth" that won 1st Prize for the best non-fiction at the 2011 Indie Book Awards. Larry started volunteering at age 14 and is an active community leader, having served on more than 40 governing boards, commissions and committees. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Climate Reality; the John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. In 2012, He was honored by the Blue-Green Alliance for the Federation's leadership on the auto rules and was selected as Pennsylvania’s Environmental Professional of the Year in 2002, Pittsburgh of the Year in 2000, and he received a Conservation Service Award from the Christian Environmental Association in September 1995. Larry is married and is blessed with three daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandsons.
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