Re: U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?
Written by Olivia Nater | Published: October 4, 2022
We were pleased to see Spencer Bokat-Lindell’s op-ed “U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?” in The New York Times on September 14, but it fell short in addressing the environmental benefits of reduced population growth. We sent a letter in reply, but have not received a response, so we are featuring it below.
We encourage all our members and supporters who come across misleading and potentially harmful media stories like this one to make their voices heard! See our media guide for advice on how to do that.
You can also see other common population myths busted on our Myths and Misconceptions page.
Dear Mr. Bokat-Lindell,
Your opinion piece “U.S. Population Growth Has Nearly Flatlined. Is That So Bad?” is a welcome voice of reason among countless alarmist media stories lamenting declining birth rates. You rightly state that the economic downsides of zero population growth are overblown, as exemplified by aging, shrinking Japan.
However, while your article references the latest UN population projections, it misinterprets them by suggesting that “the human population will start declining by the end of the century.” The data actually show there’s only a 50% chance that our population will stop growing before the end of the century, with the most likely scenario resulting in a peak of 10.4 billion people by the 2080s (2.4 billion more people than there are today), and no further change through 2100.
You only fleetingly hint at the climate benefits of declining population (growth), and then dismiss them by arguing that emissions are primarily driven by affluence rather than the number of people on this planet. Overconsumption in wealthy nations is undoubtedly a leading cause of climate change, but how many of us there are makes a big difference too, especially considering the welcome decline in global poverty. Research by Project Drawdown found that slowing population growth by accelerating progress on access to family planning and education would save 68.9 Gigatons of CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050, making this the third most powerful available climate solution, after reducing food waste and adopting plant-based diets.
Importantly, the climate crisis is not our only environmental crisis. A smaller human population would also reduce the strain on natural resources and biodiversity — a much-needed reprieve in light of escalating water shortages, deforestation, and mass extinction of species.
The countries with the fastest growing populations are facing some of the worst environmental impacts, and 218 million women in low- and middle-income countries still have an unmet need for modern contraception. Not worrying about declining fertility rates does not go far enough — there is an urgent need to accelerate this trend by empowering everyone, everywhere to make their own fertility decisions and choose their family size.