Climate Change

Behavior, Energy, Climate Change and Population?

The 2008 Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference, held this year in Sacramento, California from November 16-19, described itself as, “A conference focused on understanding the behavior and decision making of individuals and organizations and using that knowledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.” So I wondered where, if at all, population would fit in. Indeed population did come up, and in some interesting ways, both formal and informal, during the conference.

William Ryerson from the Population Media Center, for example, spoke about his work promoting family planning through serial dramas in developing countries, in a talk entitled “Acting for Change.” His presentation did not touch on either environment or climate change issues in any substantive way except for one quickly displayed slide:

“Saving a gigaton of carbon by reducing our 2050 population by 1 billion, through education for women and family planning information and services, would cost 1,000 times less than any of the other technical options – nuclear power, renewables, or increased car efficiency.”

This is a significant point that was glossed over. Nevertheless, at least the linkage between population and climate change was addressed to some degree. Possibly one of the most important points that came out of Mr. Ryerson’s presentation was a question at the end as an audience member raised her hand and asked, “In climate change, why aren’t we addressing population control?”

Population came up again while I presented a poster based on a paper I
wrote with PAI colleagues Malea Hoepf Young and Karen Hardee entitled,
“Condoms and CFLs: Environmental Behavior Change Lessons from Public
Health.” The Population Action International logo on the left side of
the poster alerted people to our work regarding population, although
that was not the topic of our poster. Several people stopped and said,
“We are so glad you are tackling the population issue because it’s so
important and no one wants to talk about it.”

I had already heard part of the answer to the question – why no one
wants to talk about it – in Mr. Ryerson’s session the previous day. The
simple answer is that no one wants to talk about population because
population is still thought of as population control. I also heard some
misconceptions along the lines of, “No one wants to talk about
population, but it’s the most important driver of climate change.” So
clearly people were thinking about population, were having difficulty
conceptualizing the link between population and climate change and
needed more information.

Our poster was very well received. The topic, using behavior change
theories from public health to promote environmental behavior change,
seemed to resonate with the audience and attracted many people ready to
hear about this application. The smiling condom image we had
prominently displayed was a draw, but once people stopped at the poster
they were eager to talk about broader issues of population and climate
change. This demonstrates exactly why PAI’s population and climate
change initiative is so important to the climate change research
community – it’s not that people don’t want to talk about population;
it’s that they don’t know how.

One Response to “Behavior, Energy, Climate Change and Population?”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    On the need for scientific education regarding the human overpopulation of Earth in these early years of Century XXI………..
    Dear Friends of the PAI community,
    I want to at least try to gain your quick help. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but yesterday the “AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population” submitted an idea for how we think the Obama Administration could change America. It’s called “Ideas for Change in America.”
    I’ve submitted an idea and wanted to see if you could vote for it. The title is: Accepting human limits and Earth’s limitations. You can read and vote for the idea by clicking on the following link:
    The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration. So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.
    Sincerely yours,
    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
    established 2001

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