COP27, Egypt and Human Numbers

It is truly amazing that human numbers are, yet again, being ignored at COP27 at Sharm El-Sheik in Egypt. Yet they are the fundamental driver of climate breakdown as so many other environmental economic and social problems (eg ; and

This is not to deny the significance of per capita consumption, though it is quite to focus only on the impact of rich people (cf ; ; ; ). But human numbers multiply the effect of unsustainable lifestyle choices as well as those from especially environmentally degrading and polluting technologies )

At COP27, there is much noise about the fate of ‘poor countries’ (let us ignore the false notion that a country is some homogenous entity: most places have rich and otherwise privileged social groups, for example). It is certainly true that the impact of colonialism in the past badly damaged and distorted victim territories (strangely, the many examples of non-white imperialism and, indeed, non-white racism and religious fanaticism are ignored in this warped discourse). It is only right to offer aid to those most in need wherever they are.

The point here is the role played by such countries in their own ‘maldevelopment’, including land uses that exacerbate climate meltdown). They include many ‘development’ projects freely pursued by regimes there, often with much public backing. They range from mega-dams to the embrace of western-style farming (eg Nyrere’s Tanzania which included the disastrous Ujaama policy)). Ruinous boondoggles abound (eg ).

Then there is endemic corruption, dictatorships (Afwerki, Amin, Barre, Doe, Jammeh, Micombero, Mobutu, Mugabe, Nguema, Obiang, Pol Pot, Shwe and many more, often unknown outside their own lands). with systematic human rights abuses from both political and religious sources. China is to the fore in most of these crimes against planet and people, not least during the period under Mao when it was almost totally insulated from the global economic forces (see the remarkable series of books on China by Frank Dikköter, plus, with reference to more recent times: .

Of course, one can point to parallel atrocities in, say, the Soviet Bloc, whilst no country has violently intervened in the affairs of others than the USA. There are appalling governments in countries such as Poland and Hungary, often with considerable popular support. Corruption is scarcely unknown in the UK and the EU. Again the point is the foolishness of simplistically just blaming the ‘white west’ or the legacy of western colonialism.

COP27 focuses on climate matters. But we need to see the ecological crunch in the round. It is a monster with many heads. Once we use this framework, we can see more clearly the role of ‘poor countries’ in the global crisis. The biggest role is population growth. The floods in Pakistan illustrate how poorer countries are bearing the brunt of climate-driven extreme weather events. But the country’s vulnerability was magnified by domestic population growth. Between 1951 and 2017, Pakistan’s population expanded over sixfold, going from 33.7 million to 207.7 million. It is set to shoot up past 260 million in 2035 ( )

Let us look more closely at Egypt, host to COP27. In 2020, Egypt recorded an increase of one million in the span of 8 months. [See; ] Such growth will exacerbate all the country’s problems and make them harder to solve. Contrary to the cheap rhetoric that the climate and other crises are all the fault of what Greta Thunberg naively calls “blah, blah” politicians, Egypt rulers, whatever their undoubted other failings, do recognise the threat from domestic population growth ( ). 

Overall, it seems pointless to promises aid (assuming it is actually delivered!) to countries that are making little no effort to implement population policies. There can be real positive synergy since the biggest policy measure is the emancipation of women from the many oppressive forces that now restrict them ( ). Such changes will enable women to live freer, healthier lives, with far more opportunities, whilst reducing the total human footprint on the Earth’s collapsing environmental systems.