Malthusianism: a taboo about to be broken?
The rhetoric is quite simple: the population is not compatible with what earth can produce every year and consequently, stocks and resources (food, soils, ores, air quality, water quality…) are depleting. The answer is then to control population to prevent boomerang effects (famines, wars, poverty...): Malthusianism. As the Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) obviously could not promote anticipated deaths to stabilize natural balance in the United Kingdom, he suggested increasing birth control, especially for those with the lowest incomes. .
Without any proactive governmental actions as in China, birth rates are mainly driven by wealth per capita. Wealth allows for the development of sanitations facilities and health infrastructure, decreasing child mortality and child labour. Extensive literature is available describing the complex relationships between demography and growth for each step of development (before and after demographic transition).
Let’s imagine a purely theoretic situation in which all countries would have a birth rate of 12 (per 1,000 people). It would lead (abstractly) to a situation with $39,000 PPP GDP per capita for everyone. Based on 2014 CO2 intensity levels (0.326 kg per PPP $ of GDP), this would lead to about 98Gt CO2, far above the current 36Gt. In other words, control of demography by wealth is equivalent to more than double implicit CO2 intensity.
This means that, as for all the other terms of the KAYA identity , no option will be painless and we are facing one of the most challenging situations ever: how can we decouple growth and underlying emitting factors (population, energy consumption, demography, intensity)?
The Pope Francis, on the other hand, recently described his vision of Malthusianism in his encyclical letter “Laudate Si” :
“Instead of […] thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. […] To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues”.
Emeric Nicolas, Head of Data Science
Sources: Beyond Ratings, World Bank, Vatican