Too many people – the world’s worst enemy

Published in the Quarterly Review (   in 2010

Too many people – the world’s worst enemy

ROBERT HENDERSON says Third World overpopulation and industrialization are the real threats to the global environment

This is an article about climate change with a difference. It does not deal with whether man-made global warming is occurring, for circumstances render that question redundant. Global greenhouse gas emissions will inexorably rise far above their current levels thanks to the industrialisation of the developing world and the still rapidly increasing population of the Earth.

This article is about is the futility of the industrialised world imposing limits on its greenhouse gas emissions when it is clear that the developing countries continue incontinently to increase their emissions. I shall also cast a jaundiced eye over at the reliability of greenhouse gas emission estimates from the developing world.

Our overcrowded planet A hulking elephant sits ignored in the green crusaders’ room. Amidst all the angst about man-made greenhouse gases, the greatest and most obvious cause of increases is ignored by mainstream politicians – the already great and rapidly rising population of the world and the rapid spread of industrialisation to major parts of what until recently was the Third World . The world population is projected to reach 7 billion in 2011. Extrapolations to 2050 go as high as 9.5 billion (1). At a generous estimate, a billion live in the developed world in 2010. If the 9.5 billion projection for 2050 comes true, the disproportion between what are now the developed countries and the developing countries now will have become even more skewed in favour of the developing world, because the populations of underdeveloped countries have startlingly younger populations than those of the developed world, viz:

“One of every six people on earth is an adolescent. In the developing world, more than 40 percent of the population is under age 20. The decisions these young people make will shape our world and the prospects of future generations.” (2)

The US Bureau of Census projections for the populations of individual countries for 2050 show only one country (the United States) from the currently developed world in the largest twenty countries by population in 2050, with the first European country (Germany) coming in at number 22 (3).

If the swelling world population was overwhelmingly due to increases in the still very white First World , you may be sure that we would be daily berated for our selfish breeding. We would be told that any increase in our population was at the expense of the Third World , that the production of every extra Western mouth to feed, house, clothe and supply with energy was absolutely unconscionable. Western governments would be signing up to programmes of ever more punitive reductions in their countries’ greenhouse emissions and some of the bolder would be advocating the rationing of children.

But the overwhelming majority of people living today do not live in the developed world and the projected future expansion of the world’s population is due almost entirely to increases in the developing world, the developed world having at best stabilised their native populations and at worst actually set themselves on the path of decline through a mixture of contraception and too readily available abortion (4). Such population increases in the developed world as occur have been primarily due for several decades to immigration from the Third World and any increases in the next half century in the present developed world will probably come from the same source.

The subject of a rising world population and its ever growing effect on greenhouse gas emissions goes largely unmentioned by politicians because it is beyond the Pale for the liberal internationalist elites who currently control the developed world to suggest that the developing world either restrain its breeding or its economic development and it is not in the interests of the developing world to raise it. This conspiracy of silence renders the debate about man-made global warming meaningless because the gross population imbalance between the developed and developing world obliterates any chance of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Let us suppose for the sake of argument that global warming is occurring largely or wholly because of man-made emissions. Even in those circumstances it would be madness for Britain or any other developed country to load themselves with taxes and other burdens, because quite clearly the five sixths of the world’s population which does not live in the developed world is going to carry on industrialising without regard to what the developed world is doing. China is already the largest carbon dioxide emitter and has reached that point much more rapidly than anticipated:

“ China , one of the fastest growing economies of the world is all set to overtake U.S as the leading air polluter by as early as 2010; a whole decade faster than the previous estimates of 2020.” (5)

Of course, vast and rapidly growing as she is, China is simply part of a larger picture of the developing world’s greenhouse gas output. Take the second largest country on Earth , India . Just as China is happy to build old-fashioned coal-fired power stations with abandon (one a week, if media reports are to be believed), India is content to engage in a policy of small wood-powered stations, a policy which not only introduces CO2 into the atmosphere but results in deforestation which reduces the natural capture of CO2.

India is changing its greenhouse emissions contribution very rapidly:

“Greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, contribute to global warming and climate change. According to the US-based ‘think tank’ the World Resources Institute, India was responsible for over four per cent of total emissions in 2000 – making the country the sixth largest emitter in the world. Emissions are set to rise further still over the next 20 years as the Indian economy rapidly develops. Both the International Energy Agency and the government of the United States ’ Energy Information Administration predict over 90 per cent growth in carbon dioxide emissions alone by 2025….

“ India ’s coal consumption has increased from 110 million tonnes in 1980 to more than 350 million tonnes in 2000, representing an annual growth rate of almost 6 per cent. Natural gas consumption has grown similarly, at 5.6 per cent a year, to 75 million cubic metres in 2000.

“But petroleum consumption has grown fastest since the 1980s, at an annual rate of 14 per cent, to over 350 million tonnes in 2000….

“ India emitted 16 million tonnes of methane in 1990, and 24 million tonnes in 2000 — a little under 35 per cent of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.” (6)

The hopelessness of the liberal internationalist’s belief that the West sets an example to the developing world is clear. Even if the developing world population was stabilised immediately and they restricted their emissions growth to half of the average of the developed world (roughly 13 tonnes per capita, although which countries are included in the developed world is debatable), something wildly improbable, that would increase global emissions by several times the current levels. If the developed world ceased to emit anything at all, the increase in the rest of the world’s emissions, through development and expanding population, would still push the emissions level way beyond today’s levels and what climate scientists who support the idea of man-made global warming consider to be safe. This can be seen from the current differences in per capita CO2 emissions between developed and developing countries:

United States               19.10 tonnes

United Kingdom            8.60 tonnes

China                             4.57 tonnes

India                              1.18 tonnes (7)

As will be seen shortly, there are problems with the way that CO2 statistics are collected and the treatment of greenhouse gases other than CO2. But regardless of their veracity, the statistics have great importance because they are used by supporters of man-made global warming to justify the differential treatment of emissions between the developed and developing world. If the advocates of global warming honestly believe the statistics which support their case then they can draw only one rational conclusion: if greenhouse gas emissions are to be kept to the levels they advocate, the developing world must stop industrializing.

Calculating emissions How is that the developed world, with only one billion of population at most living in countries which monitor and control their emissions ever more rigorously, is judged to be so much more at fault for emissions than the six billion who live in countries where most energy is generated either by the direct burning of fossil fuels or through power stations, mainly coal-fired, which pump pollution into the air with poor filtration and who are responsible for far more agricultural generated greenhouse gas emissions than the developed world? The answer lies in the availability of statistics and the convenience of scientists. The UN Environment Programme website gives the game away:

“Central to any study of climate change is the development of an emissions inventory that identifies and quantifies a country’s primary anthropogenic sources and sinks of greenhouse gas. Emissions are not usually monitored directly, but are generally estimated using models. Some emissions can be calculated with only limited accuracy. Emissions from energy and industrial processes are the most reliable (using energy consumption statistics and industrial point sources). Some agricultural emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide carry major uncertainties because they are generated through biological processes that can be quite variable.” (8)

In other words, scientists rely on models primarily based on the sort of statistics which the developed world produces (and the developing world does not) while ignoring at worst and grossly under-estimating at best emissions which are not readily calculated or available. Take the cases of methane and nitrous oxide, the most plentiful greenhouse gases after water vapour and carbon dioxide:

“The primary sources for the additional methane added to the atmosphere (in order of importance) are rice cultivation; domestic grazing animals; termites; landfills; coal mining; and, oil and gas extraction…an accurate estimate of how much methane is being produced from rice paddies has been difficult to ascertain. More than 60% of all rice paddies are found in India and China where scientific data concerning emission rates are unavailable. Nevertheless, scientists believe that the contribution of rice paddies is large because this form of crop production has more than doubled since 1950. Grazing animals release methane to the environment as a result of herbaceous digestion. Some researchers believe the addition of methane from this source has more than quadrupled over the last century. Termites also release methane through similar processes. Land-use change in the tropics, due to deforestation, ranching, and farming, may be causing termite numbers to expand…Methane is also released from landfills, coal mines, and gas and oil drilling.” (9)

There is an important point on methane from domesticated animals, important because it is another string to the bow of those who wish to demonise the developed world as arch-polluters because the diet of the developed world is much more dependent on meat than that of the developing world. The implication is that fewer domesticated herbivores would equal less methane. This makes the unwarranted assumption that the land freed by having fewer domesticated grazing animals would not be turned over to methane-producing agriculture such as paddy fields or be left to Nature to populate it with large wild herbivores or to turn it into methane-producing marshland. As for nitrous oxide:

“Sources for the increase of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere include: land-use conversion; fossil fuel combustion; biomass burning; and soil fertilization. Most of the nitrous oxide added to the atmosphere each year comes from deforestation and the conversion of forest, savannah and grassland ecosystems into agricultural fields and rangeland…The use of nitrate and ammonium fertilizers to enhance plant growth is another source of nitrous oxide. How much is released from this process has been difficult to quantify. Estimates suggest that the contribution from this source represents from 50 % to 0.2 % of nitrous oxide added to the atmosphere annually.” (10)

As with methane, the major emitters of nitrous oxide seem to come from the developing not the developed world. It is also important to understand that the quantity of the various gases in the atmosphere is not a simple guide to their effectiveness as greenhouse gases. Methane and nitrous oxide are thought to be much more effective than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere. According to the campaigning group Envocare, the global warming potential (GWP) of methane is 21 times that of carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide 310 times. (11)

Where responsibility really lies

The only sensible conclusion to draw from the foregoing is that nothing is going to prevent a massive increase in greenhouse gases as the developing world industrialises. This being so, the rational response of Western politicians would be to stop burdening their own countries with expensive green laws and concentrate instead on dealing with the effects of global warming, if they materialize, insofar as they affect their own countries. This should not be impossible because any changes will be gradual and our technological ability, already very substantial, will increase greatly over the next century.

If man-made global warming really is occurring, the two main arguments used to justify the call for swingeing cuts in the CO2 emissions of the developed world whilst developing countries have no such restrictions placed upon them make no sense.

The first argument is that the developing world has the right to industrialize in a polluting way because that is how the developed world industrialized. The second argument is that greenhouse gas levels should be calculated on a per capita basis rather than the total emissions from each country, that is, each person living should have the right to generate the same greenhouse gas emission. Both arguments are clearly absurd if man-made global warming is true, for what is important is the global total of greenhouse gas emissions not whether the developed world or whether there can be worldwide equity in greenhouse gas emissions.

Western politicians should start pointing out certain facts to the developing world. These are that greenhouse gas emissions from the developing world are on schedule to dwarf those of the developed world – that developing countries must take responsibility for their population growth, the pollution they create and its effects on their own people – and that the developed world should no longer be expected to pay for the ill-effects of industrialization created by the developing countries. Overpopulation, headlong industrialization, and the resultant greenhouse gases, deforestation, pressure on resources and mass migration are all the responsibility of the developing nations. If they cannot or will not reform their practices, it is they rather than we who should take the consequences.

ROBERT HENDERSON is a freelance writer in London who blogs at


1. See GeoHive –

2. See Oxford University ’s Department of International Development website at

3. GeoHive, ibid.

4. Britain does not have a fertility crisis but an abortion crisis, with 200,000 abortions being carried out a year. If those babies were born, Britain ’s birth rate would be above replacement level

5., 11 July 2006

6. SciDev.Net, 31 August 2006


8., National carbon emissions per capita, 2002


10., ibid.


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