BY PETER OMMUNDSEN
An individual climate action available to Canadians is to minimize the number of children they have.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that population growth is a “key impediment” to limiting climate change. Since release of the first Salt Spring climate action plan in 2011, Canada has added over one million people (in excess of those that died) through reproduction, cancelling out energy efficiency gains on Salt Spring and elsewhere.
In Canada, the birth rate typically exceeds the death rate, and the per capita environmental impact is among the highest in the world. A Canadian family with a single child has an energy footprint equivalent to that of a multi-child family in a lesser developed nation.
Currently, each day, some 200,000 people are added to the Earth in excess of those that die, which is equivalent to adding the population of a city the size of Calgary every week. This requires perpetual expansion of agriculture, forestry, mining, housing, transportation and manufacturing, while simultaneously we expect those industries to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions to net zero! Ecologists have warned for decades that a sustainable future is possible only with a human population size that is a fraction of what we have today.
If, worldwide, there were an average of only two children born per family, the global population would still grow 19 per cent by 2050 and would grow 24 per cent by 2100 due to population momentum (the backlog of young people yet to reproduce), this according to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere.
Meeting 2050 (net zero emission) climate targets will be a costly and intrusive venture under the best of circumstances, and failure to flatten the population curve will place a significant burden on transition to clean energy. Energy specialist David Hughes calculated that for Canada, the transition could involve building 100+ Site C-sized dams (assuming sufficient suitable rivers and dam sites even exist), 59 nuclear reactors, 36,996 windmills, 258 solar farms and 540 biomass plants. And industrial carbon capture is not a panacea, it is a daunting challenge.
Renewable energy can have a land area footprint larger than that of fossil fuels, creating energy sprawl that displaces forests and wildlife. The Salt Spring appropriated clean energy footprint will be far-reaching, as when consumer goods are imported from afar.
Climate consequences of family size arise not just from the added energy load of children and their descendants but also from increased consumption by their parents. A recent survey in Sweden found that during child-raising, parents increased their own carbon footprint by some 25 per cent through use of high-carbon conveniences in support of their busy lifestyles.
Local climate action education and school programs can encompass population ecology, and student groups can develop sustainable population pledge initiatives. Supportive materials are available from such environmental organizations as Population Matters, World Population Balance, Population Institute Canada, Population Connection, and Our Carbon Footprint.