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The "P" Word and Climate Change

Pete Springer/OPB

Over the last two years we’ve gotten repeated comments and requests to address population growth as — if not as the root of all evil then at least as a fundamental problem that deserves more attention.

Rethomas wrote in during our Al Gore show:

I’d like to ask the ex-Vice President why I should take any climate change solutions seriously when the issue at the core of the problem is not addressed… too many people!

As politically uncomfortable as it is, I don’t see a long-term solution without a plan to first stabilize and then reduce our numbers. A sustainable plan for a 6B-person planet is untenable for a 9B-person planet. We can talk “green” all we want, until we offer incentives to put the planet above our personal biological imperitives, it means little if anything.

And meglemire had a more personal take on population and climate change. She wrote in on our Child Free by Choice show:

… Refraining from reproducing is the biggest way for people to mitigate climate change.  By not having children, you can cut the reproductive cycle of creating humans who necessarily leave carbon footprints in the world— especially the case for Americans, whose carbon footprints are disproportionately large compared to other countries…

Had my parents and their ancestors left me with a healthy, functioning world, I’d probably embrace the idea of bearing children.  But I cannot close my eyes to the problems humans have caused.  Especially in light of impending catastrophic climate change, having children is irresponsible.

The UN Climate Change Summit just wrapped up in Copenhagen, and one thing that was not discussed was population.

So, we thought we’d ask some folks who ought to know: What’s the relationship between population and climate change?

Do you know your carbon footprint? How important is the issue of population to you? Have you chosen to change your behavior as the result of your concern over either population or global warming? What questions about population do you have for climate change scientists?


  • Albert Kaufman: Founder of the Portland chapter of Population Connection
  • Paul Murtaugh: Associate Professor of Statistics at Oregon State University and author of a study on population and carbon emissions
  • Brian O’Neill: Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research
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