SWEEPING GLOBAL POPULATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

It’s no secret that the energy sector is the primary source of the polluted air that more than 90 percent of the world’s population is forced to breathe which’s causing more than 6 million premature deaths a year.

According to the World Energy Outlook 2023 published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) while some of the instant pressures from the global energy crisis have been alleviated but energy markets, geopolitics, and global economy are disconcerted and the risk of further disruption is ever present.

Scientists have been warning that a global temperature rise beyond 1.5c above the preindustrial average will trigger catastrophic and irreversible impacts, from melting ice sheets to the collapse of ocean currents.  But year after year, that target slips further away – with the world’s planet-warming emissions still rising and temperatures hitting new heights. Consequently total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels are projected to reach 36.8 billion tonnes by the end of 2023 – another all-time high.

The finding, from the annual Global Carbon Budget report, adds to the long list of alarming climate records that have been shattered over the past few months, and the bad news is that:

  • All of the existing climate pledges around the world aren’t enough to deliver “Net-Zero Emissions by 2050”.

The conclusion was that no country around the world will get to Net-Zero Targets by 2050 without putting an emissions cap on oil and gas.  Regrettably almost every country is faced with the real challenge to deal with the cumulative demand for natural resources which indeed is the direct result of ever increasing global population.  Accordingly these countries are in an impossible position to deal with the population density to say the least.

The global population has been growing massively since the end of the Black Death, around the year 1350. The great epidemic of bubonic plague that called Black Death killed a large part of the population of Europe in the mid-14th century. It originated in central Asia and China and spread rapidly through Europe, carried by the fleas of black rats, reaching England in 1348 and killing between one third and one half of the population in a matter of months.

Source: wordpress.com

The following image illustrates that from the most of human history, the global population was a tiny fraction of what it is today:

It’s worth noticing that it took 124 years for the global population to upsurge from 1 to 2 billion whereas it only took 13 years to upsurge from 7 to 8 billion.

The reason for such a rapid growth was a combination of:

  1. Technological advancements that improved agricultural productivity and sanitation; and
  2. Medical advancement that reduced mortality and increased longevity.

Additionally, the following dynamics also played an important role, directly or indirectly, in the brisk growth of the global population:

  1. Lack of education;
  2. Lack of family planning;
  3. Cultural influences; and
  4. Religious propagation.

As a consequence of rapid growth in global population, the global per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per person average went up to 4.66 metric tons in 2022.

In order to understand the impact of global population on climate change, it’s critical to take a look at the data related to the average emissions contributed by per person in each country. Here’s an example of per capita average CO2 emissions in selected countries:

  • USA                       16.00 metric tons;
  • Canada                15.22 metric tons;
  • Europe                   7.77 metric tons;
  • China                      7.44 metric tons;
  • UK                           4.70 metric tons; and
  • India                       1.91 metric tons.

Just to be on the same page, here’s the definition of Per Capita Average Emissions:

  • It refers to the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by an individual in a given country in a given year. It’s calculated by dividing the total emissions of the country by the total population of the respective country.

Just to clarify the fact that when millions of people migrate every year from a developing country like India to the USA, the number of immigrants shifts from India to the USA without changing the total number for global population. Nevertheless, sooner or later the average per capita CO2 emissions for those immigrants shoot up from 1.91 metric tons to 16.00 metric tons as they become a part of the society and start performing the similar activities to emit CO2 emissions like other US citizens.

Here’s an image which illustrates how Greenhouse Effect is intensified by humans:

Source: braceillinois.edu

One of the factors that affects the world’s environmental conditions is the greenhouse effect. Climate scientists often blame the greenhouse effect for contributing to Earth’s environmental woes, but it has a vital positive effect on the planet as well. Without this atmospheric condition, life on Earth would be vastly different, or even nonexistent.

However, heat waves — an extended period of extreme temperatures — are caused by a buildup of high pressure in the atmosphere. This pressure compresses and heats up the air below it. As the air descends, it pushes out cooler, fast-moving air currents and squeezes away clouds, giving the sun an unobstructed line of sight to the ground.

According to a recent report, the impacts of the heat are mounting. Warmer seas and a warmer atmosphere contributed to events that brought death and destruction at an alarming rate. In Libya, more than 10,000 people died when a flood swept a city into the sea. Fires burned through Greek islands and Canadian forests. Tropical Cyclone Freddy battered communities in east Africa already pummelled by poverty. Drought and heat made some regions uninhabitable.

The impacts of the climate crisis due to a sweeping growth in global population are briefly summarized below:

  • Wildfires, Floods, Droughts and Typhoon: Have been wedged all over the map and it affected the economy, infrastructure, health, and overall well-being. The 20 costliest climate disasters of 2023, revealed – including one that cost over $4,000 per person. A new report revealed the 20 most financially costly climate disasters of the year – and all six of the world’s populated continents are on the list;
  • Plastic Pollution: Oceans’ plastic pollution which kills one million seabirds, 100,000 marine animals and turtles each year. With more than a third of coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific area being covered in plastic debris, plastic pollution is the second biggest threat to the survival of our coral reefs after climate change;
  • Waste: The waste sector which is one of three key methane emitting sectors — following agriculture and oil and gas — and is responsible for about 20 percent of human-driven methane emissions globally. In the short-term, methane is more than 80 times more potent than CO2 as a climate pollutant and accounts for nearly half of the 1 degree Celsius of warming we’ve experienced to date;
  • Rising Seas: Consequences about the rising seas include increased intensity of storm surges, flooding, and damage to coastal areas. In many cases, this is where large population centers are located, in addition to fragile wildlife habitats. Therefore, people may become displaced and will need to seek safer homes;
  • Ecosystems: Changes in the Earth’s climate are affecting ecosystems by altering the water cycle, habitats, animal behavior—such as nesting and migration patterns—and the timing of natural processes such as flower blooms. Changes that disrupt the functioning of ecosystems may increase the risk of harm or even extinction for some species; and
  • Human Health: Research shows that 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to climate change. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone.  The direct damage costs to health are estimated to be between US$ 2–4 billion per year by 2030.

The fact of the matter is that our lifestyles have a profound impact on our planet. Earth’s natural resources include air, water, soil, minerals, fuels, plants, and animals. All the things we need to survive, such as food, water, air, and shelter, come from natural resources. Some of these resources, like small plants, can be replaced quickly after they are used. Others, like large trees, take a long time to replace. These are renewable resources.

Needless to say that the growth in the population also means that the greater demand on the consumption of resources. There’s a common misconception that natural resources are going to last forever. Had we practiced conservation at a greater level, it could have helped to better manage the scale of consumption but our lifestyles turned out to be the major inhibitors for doing that.

Source: lifestylepreuryairmail.blospot.com

On a personal level, the life-style affects depending upon:

  • What kind of home we live in, how do we power it, and what we eat and how much we throughout;
  • What do we do with the garbage that we produce, do we recycle some of the garbage;
  • Where we work or go to school and what kind of transportation do we use;
  • Where we go on vacations and whether we cruse, fly, or drive; and
  • A large chunk of global GHG emissions are linked to private households – the consumption of goods such as clothing, electronics, and plastics.

From a general point of view, the following are the major sources of GHG emissions which indeed is the result of growing consumption of resources to support the life-styles of ever growing global population:

ELECTRICITY:

  • Generating electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels causes a large chunk of global emissions. Most electricity is still generated by burning coal, oil, or gas, which produces CO2 and nitrous oxide – powerful GHG that blanket the Earth and trap the sun’s heat;
  • After falling by about 1 percent in 2020 due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, global electricity demand was set to grow by close to 5 percent in 2021 and 4 percent in 2022 – driven by the global economic recovery – according to the latest edition of the IEA’s semi-annual Electricity Market Report. The majority of the increase in electricity demand was expected to come from the Asia Pacific region, primarily China and India; and
  • Fossil fuel-based electricity generation was set to cover 45 percent of additional demand in 2021 and 40 percent in 2022, with nuclear power accounting for the rest. As a result, CO2 from the electricity sector – which fell in both 2019 and 2020 – were forecast to increase by 3.5 percent in 2021 and by 2.5 percent in 2022, which took them to an all-time high.

MANUFACTURING:

  • Manufacturing and industry produce emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels to produce energy for making things like cement, iron, steel, electronics, plastics, clothes, and other goods. Mining and other industrial processes also release gases, as does the construction industry. Machines used in the manufacturing process often run on coal, oil, or gas; and some materials, like plastics, are made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. The manufacturing industry is one of the largest contributors to GHG emissions worldwide; and
  • Manufacturing – especially of the cheap construction staples steel and cement – accounts for about a third of global GHG emissions. That makes manufacturing more polluting than the power or transportation sectors, which receive far more attention in policies and investments. And the manufacturing sector is set to grow, as the global population climbs and countries further develop.

DEFORESTATION:

  • Greater threat on natural habitats as a greater population has greater demand for housing and farmland. This will increase pressure to cut down forests to make way for farming and housing. Cutting down forests to create farms or pastures, or for other reasons, causes emissions, since trees, when they are cut, release the carbon they have been storing. Since forests absorb CO2, destroying them also limits nature’s ability to keep emissions out of the atmosphere;
  • Deforestation, together with agriculture and other land use changes, is responsible for roughly a quarter of GHG emissions. Furthermore, new research published in the journal Nature suggests the world is home to more than 3 trillion trees. Humans throughout history have played a key role in determining the number of living trees, researchers note. People cut down 15 billion trees each year and plant only 10 billion trees. The global tree count has fallen by 46 percent since the beginning of human civilization; and
  • According to a report compiled by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), approximately 80 percent of the deforestation in the world today is attributed to agriculture (i.e. 48 percent to subsistence agriculture and 32 percent to commercial agriculture). Of the remaining 20 percent, roughly around 14 percent is attributed to logging, 5 percent to the use of firewood and remaining is utilized for other purposes.

TRANSPORTATION:

  • Most cars, trucks, ships, and planes run on fossil fuels. That makes transportation a major contributor of greenhouse gases, especially CO2 emissions. Road vehicles account for the largest part, due to the combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines. But emissions from ships and planes continue to grow. Transport accounts for nearly one quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions. And trends point to a significant increase in energy use for transport over the coming years;
  • Domestic and international transport already contribute 20 percent of global GHG emissions. As populations, economies, and the need for mobility grow, GHG emissions from transport could increase by as much as 60 percent by 2050, if left unchecked; and
  • Aviation GHG emissions have doubled since the mid-1980s. But, they’ve been growing at a similar rate as total CO2 emissions – this means its share of global emissions has been relatively stable: in the range of 2 percent to 2.5 percent. Global aviation – both passenger flights and freight – emits around one billion tonnes of CO2 each year.

FOOD PRODUCTION:

  • Producing food causes emissions of CO2 , methane, and other greenhouse gases in various ways, including through deforestation and clearing of land for agriculture and grazing, digestion by cows and sheep, the production and use of fertilizers and manure for growing crops, and the use of energy to run farm equipment or fishing boats, usually with fossil fuels. All this makes food production a major contributor to climate change. And GHG emissions also come from packaging and distributing food;
  • Population growth is rapidly accelerating, intensifying the pressure on food production. This, in turn, leads to higher food insecurity, more GHG emissions, and large-scale environmental degradation. Food production, therefore, needs to adapt to accommodate a growing population and a changing climate; and
  • Contemporary agriculture is already facing several challenges to keep up with rising demand. From climate change to the degradation of soil health and the rapidly decreasing availability of arable land, the environmental impacts of food production are unsustainable. Current studies also highlight that population growth reduces the quality and quantity of natural resources through overexploitation, intensive farming, and land fragmentation.

BUILDINGS:

  • Globally, residential and commercial buildings consume over half of all electricity. As they continue to draw on coal, oil, and natural gas for heating and cooling, they emit significant quantities of GHG emissions. Growing energy demand for heating and cooling, with rising air-conditioner ownership, as well as increased electricity consumption for lighting, appliances, and connected devices, has contributed to a rise in energy-related CO2 emissions from buildings in recent years; and
  • The 2022 Buildings-GSR found that despite a substantial increase in investment and success at a global level lowering the energy intensity of buildings, the sector’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions increased in 2021 above pre-pandemic levels. Buildings energy demand increased by around 4 percent from 2020 to 135 EJ – the largest increase in the last 10 years. CO2 emissions from buildings operations have reached an all-time high of around 10 GtCO2, around a 5 percent increase from 2020 and 2 percent higher than the previous peak in 2019.  

The good news is that for the first time in modern history, the world’s population is expected to virtually stop growing by the end of this century, due in large part to falling global fertility rates, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new data from the United Nations; and

By 2100, the world’s population is projected to reach approximately 10.9 billion, with annual growth of less than 0.1 percent – a steep decline from the current rate. 

Furthermore, the United Nations predicts that:

  • The global fertility rate is expected to be 1.9 births per woman by 2100, down from 2.5 today; rate is the number of births per woman needed to maintain a population’s size;
  • The world’s median age is expected to increase to 42 in 2100, up from the current 31 – and from 24 in 1950. Contributing factors to the rise in the median age are the increase in life expectancy and falling fertility rates;;
  • Between 2020 and 2100, the number of people ages 80 and older is expected to increase from 146 million to 881 million;
  • Starting in 2073, there are projected to be more people ages 65 and older than under age 15 – the first time this will be the case;
  • Africa is the only world region projected to have strong population growth for the rest of this century; and
  • The regions that include the United States and Canada (Northern America) and Australia and New Zealand (Oceania) are projected to grow throughout the rest of the century, too, but at slower rates than Africa.

The following chart illustrates the global populations prediction:

Nevertheless, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that for the world to have a shot at keeping global heating below the 1.5C target set out in the Paris agreement emissions will need to fall by about 9 percent every year. For context, emissions fell 5.4 percent when the Covid-19 pandemic brought global economies to a standstill in 2020 before starting to rise again.

Finally, here’s a video which presents an interesting perspective about the population decline (Please click the following hyper link.): The Truth About Human Population Decline | Jennifer D. Sciubba | TED (youtube.com)

Greely, Ontario, Canada – Created on 01-01-2024