If all the residents of North America and Western Europe cut their per-capita energy consumption in half over the next 20 years (not likely) and the rest of the world held per-capita consumption steady at their current, frugal levels (also not likely), total energy consumption will remain the same. A 50-percent reduction in the developed world will not be sufficient to outweigh population increases in the developing world, even if the increasingly affluent residents of developing countries don’t increase their energy consumption.
Someone’s going to object to my evidence. Maybe it will take 75 years to reach 10 billion population. Maybe the planet can accommodate 12 billion frugal human beings. The rate of population growth is not the issue. Any growth at all creates the same ultimate dilemma. Sure, we might figure out ways of accommodating 10 or 15 or 20 billion people in a crowded world. But why would we want to?
If ultimately we must control our population, why not plan for a rich, healthy planet?
What if we decided, by mutual consensus, that a stable worldwide population of 4 billion people is our goal? Could we then live on a planet with clean air and water, plenty of food for everyone and the environmental resilience necessary for us to prosper through the inevitable environmental fluctuations – the next ice age, for instance? Could we restore habitats now teetering on the brink of destruction?
Couldn’t we create a sustainable healthy planet just because we decided to?