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Thursday, November 7, 2019

China's Population: Demographic Imbalances and the Climate Emergency

In his treatise on Understanding, David Hume posits that we don’t know as much about causation as we think we do. Often times, positive correlation (i.e., two or more things present at the same time) is confused with causation (i.e., one thing causing another). That umbrellas tend to be out when it is raining does not mean that umbrellas cause rain (or that rain causes umbrellas). Rain and umbrellas have their own distinct causes, which Hume would say we don’t understand as well as we think we do. It is very difficult, for example, to determine whether climate change caused by methane and CO2 emissions caused October 2019 to the hottest October globally on record; more data-points covering long stretches of time are needed to distinguish even a few outliers from being part of a broader trend. By October of 2019, not only had scientists obtained and analyzed enough samples over a long enough time-frame to be confident (99%) that climate change had been occurring due to human carbon emissions. Not since roughly 60 million years ago had the carbon parts per million in the atmosphere stood at 410 ppm. In having to repeatedly accelerate their forecasts regarding the various impacts, such as sea-level rise due to melting ice (on land, such as Greenland), scientists had demonstrated that our understanding of the causation on the various impacts was still far from perfect. Even so, 11,000 scientists knew enough by November 2019 to declare unequivocally that humanity was facing a climate-change emergency. That is to say, drastic changes in terms of carbon emissions (e.g., energy sources, lifestyles) would have to be quickly made to avoid the worst-case scenario (e.g., mass food shortages, mass migrations from coastal areas and the loss of cities, and disease). This scenario is in line with Mathias’ theory of population ecology wherein a population of a species increasing without reaching an equilibrium maximum faces an increased risk of war, disease, or starvation. Once a species’ population pierces the semi-permeable constraints of the wider ecosystem (i.e., natural environment), Nature has its own ways of arresting the schizogenic growth of a species if it fails to limit its increase. During the twentieth century, the global increase of our species’ population was expediential, going from 1.6 to 6.1 billion. Sadly, even many policy-makers were oblivious to the fact that such a huge change must surely have consequences, at least some day. China’s one-child policy was an exception, making the relatively unconstrained population growths in India and Africa more noticeable as potentially problematic. Why did China need its policy while India, also with a population of over a billion, did not? In fact, the growth mantra generally subscribed to by countries across the globe acted as an incentive to make matters worse! Even a population with a low birth rate was generally taken as a problem. The negative impacts on a labor force and economic growth more broadly gave governments an incentive to increase birth-rates and thus populations (even though immigration served as an alternative). I want to look further into the case of China as a means of assessing how seriously the world was taking the climate emergency.