Control Population for Climate Survival

Can we say that Indian population growth is significantly contributing to global population growth, particularly since another populous country, China, has successfully limited the population growth to a significant extent?

5 mins read
Malé, Male, Maldives [Photo: Ishan/ Unsplash]

Ever since 1995, Global Climate Meets have taken place several times with COP 28 recently held in Dubai, where a high level of concern has been expressed about the steady increase in global temperature and consequent ecological issues.

One consensus view that appears to have been arrived at during several global climate meetings is that the use of fossil fuels (predominantly coal and crude oil) has to be somehow stopped altogether, as the use of fossil fuels causes the emission of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, contributing to the steady increase in global temperature. Apart from these, methane emissions from livestock and during transportation and storage of natural gas, as well as the use of fluorinated gas, have also been cited as contributors to global warming that need to be prevented.

However, the complete elimination of coal, crude oil, and natural gas as fuel and feedstock, in the absence of a viable and eco-friendly alternate energy source in adequate quantity, is realized to be a wishful expectation. The same is true in the case of methane emissions from livestock.

Conflict of Interests:

A careful scrutiny of the proceedings and resolutions passed by a number of global climate meetings over the years would highlight the fact that there have been conflicts of interests in finding remedies for the steadily increasing global warming issue and consequent grim climate challenge unfolding.

There is reluctance on the part of crude oil and coal-producing countries to reduce production, as it would adversely impact their economy. The consuming countries of coal and crude oil are also unwilling to reduce consumption since they lack an alternative eco-friendly energy source to sustain the growth of their economy. The net result is that the production and consumption of crude oil and coal continue to increase every year, unmindful of the concerns expressed during global climate meetings.

Hydrogen as an Alternate Option:

There is a unanimous conclusion that green hydrogen, produced by the water electrolysis process, is one of the best options for use as an alternate energy source and also as a feedstock source to some extent. Green hydrogen is an eco-friendly energy source, the use of which would cause no emissions. It is recognized that in the process of achieving a global energy revolution in an eco-friendly way, green hydrogen-based energy is one of the clean energies with the brightest application prospects.

The present global production and consumption of hydrogen produced from fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas are around 95 million tonnes per annum, with the global demand for hydrogen increasing at 3% per annum. As opposed to this, the production of eco-friendly green hydrogen produced from the water electrolysis process is only around 109,000 tonnes in the year 2022.

There are serious issues in boosting the production of green hydrogen, since the production cost of green hydrogen is nearly three times the production cost of fossil fuel-based hydrogen now being produced and used all over the world. There is a view that, as renewable energy production is scaled up and the cost of electrolysers to produce green hydrogen decreases, the production cost of green hydrogen would become more competitive. As of now, this is only a hope. While technology efforts are underway to reduce the production cost of green hydrogen, it appears that it can never match the production cost of fossil fuel-based hydrogen due to several technology factors.

A complete switch over from fossil fuel-based hydrogen to more expensive green hydrogen all over the world would considerably increase the production cost of goods and services, leading to a major upset in the global economy and trade.

Another issue is that green hydrogen has to be produced by using renewable energy such as wind power, solar power, hydro power, as well as nuclear power. Considering the fact that wind, solar, and hydro-based power generation are seasonal with a capacity utilization of around 25% only, and nuclear power faces objection from environmental groups, it appears green hydrogen cannot be produced at any time in adequate quantity to replace fossil fuel-based power to any significant extent.

With the global demand for hydrogen at present being around 95 million tonnes per annum produced from fossil fuel, green hydrogen cannot replace fossil fuel-based hydrogen at any time in the future.

Other Options:

There are other options such as afforestation and CCUS (carbon capture utilization storage), which involves the capture of CO2, generally from large point sources like power generation or industrial facilities that use fossil fuels.

Both these options can only be limited in scope, and so far CCUS has not worked in any meaningful way around the world.

Is there a discussion in a vacuum?

In such a situation, it appears that the strategies suggested and agreed upon in various global climate meetings to prevent climate disaster by substituting fossil fuel with other eco-friendly energy sources are not based on ground realities and appear to be only wishful thinking.

Then what is the way out?

Population control is the way out:

In the given circumstances, it appears that the only way to reduce global warming and the consequent threat posed by climate issues is to reduce the demand for fossil fuel in the coming years, particularly keeping in view that the demand for fossil fuel would increase at 3% per annum in the coming years if the present scenario were to continue.

One sure way of reducing the demand for fossil fuel is to reduce the growth of the world population, when the demand for energy and consequently the demand for fossil fuel would come down in tune with the reduction in population growth level.

The world population is steadily increasing from 1650 million in 1900 to around 7970 million in 2022 (Source: United Nations Population Division). Over the years, the global population has been increasing at around 1.6% per annum. This growth in population has to be checked.

Further, the average human being exhales about 2.3 pounds of carbon dioxide per day on average. In other words, in addition to fossil fuel, the global population is also contributing to the climate disaster by each individual human breathing out carbon dioxide all the time and all day along.

Let not India fail in its responsibility:

India has now emerged as the most populated country in the world with more than 1.4 billion people and with high population density. If the Indian population were to continue to increase, it is likely to reach the alarming figure of 2 billion people by the year 2050.

Can we say that Indian population growth is significantly contributing to global population growth, particularly since another populous country, China, has successfully limited the population growth to a significant extent?

The Indian government has the responsibility to reduce the growth of the population. It is a fact that checking population growth has not been a major focus area for the government of India during the last several years, including during the last ten years when Prime Minister Modi is in charge.

Now, it is gratifying to note that in the interim budget submitted by the Government of India on 1st February 2024, the Modi Government has announced that a high-powered committee would be constituted to consider the challenges arising from the population growth in India. It is better late than never.

It is a mistaken view in some quarters in India that high population levels are India’s demographic opportunity, as there would be more hands to work. But, there would also be more mouths to feed, and India’s advantages of economic growth would be nullified by such continued population growth.

It is necessary to realize that controlling population growth is not only to India’s benefit but is also India’s responsibility towards ensuring the prevention of a global climate disaster.

N.S.Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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