Population and the climate

The rate and direction of change in human population is enjoying renewed attention as thinkers and policy-makers treat them as a components of any successful response to climate change and environmental degradation. This project comes from the following thought. Given that projections show the stabilization and eventual decrease in human population and given that many take this to be a positive development, I wondered: is it? This has developed into the following research question: what happens when depopulation occurs?

My working answer is that this question turns out to be surprisingly nonsensical. It turns out that depopulation is a heterogenous phenomenon, the analysis of which depends on the scale of concern (i.e., space, time, tempo) and objectives of concern (e.g., social cohesion; economic development; security). This has several implications. For example, claims such as ‘a reduction in human population will help resolve climatic and environmental issue’ are surprisingly difficult to understand and evaluate because they elide over complexities like scale. Similarly, advocates for or against policies that influence population growth need to be much more sensitive to these complexities.