Economist Casey Mulligan argues that population control is overrated as a solution to global warming:
The director-general of Unicef has been quoted as saying,
“Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost
than any other single technology now available to the human race.” And
one of the benefits of reduced population, it is claimed, is reduced
carbon emissions and therefore mitigation of climate change.
This statement takes technology for granted, yet technology itself depends on population. [NYT]
Mulligan's argument goes like this: i) only innovation can save us from climate change, and ii) more people equals more innovation, iii) population control would result in fewer people, therefore population control is bad for climate change.
Mulligan's first premise is dubious. The consensus at yesterday's UN Summit on Climate Change was that we already know how to prevent climate change but lack the political will to act. But let's grant Mulligan his first premise for the sake of argument.
The second premise is where Mulligan's argument founders. A larger population doesn't automatically translate into greater innovation. The two are probably correlated: The more humans there are, the more likely one of them will be the next Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, or Norman Borlaug.
The real question, though, is whether a larger population would generate enough additional innovation to offset the extra resources required to sustain it. Mulligan gives us no reason to think so.
More importantly, the innovators of tomorrow need to be educated and nurtured. Yet the most explosive population growth is taking place in the world's poorest communities. When resources are very scarce, rapid population growth may stifle innovation.