Haven’t you heard that answer when you asked students questions such as “why is the homicide rate higher in the US than in other high-income countries?” or other some such questions? And you push forth explaining rates and ratios and all these things, trying to be as convincing as possible… until the next question comes up and you get the same answer: it’s because there are more people. It’s as if there is some automatic belief that a larger population will automatically cause more of something (whatever it is).

And here comes along Danny Dorling with the same puzzle and a brutal but good answer, from his latest book, Population 10 Billion:

“It was at this symposium that the Ugandan Minister of Finance and Planning, the Honourable Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, felt he needed to point out to the audience that ‘. . . the developing world contributes the least greenhouse gas emissions, that they will be most affected by climate change, and that they are least able to deal with the negative effects’. He was then, in effect, rebuked by the keynote speaker, Jonathan Porritt, son of the former colonial governor of New Zealand, who ‘. . . reminded the audience that we need to get beyond the “crass” consumption versus population debate’. 27 But Kamuntu was right and Porritt was wrong. What is crass about explaining that it is consumption, not population, that matters, and why does Porritt either not appear to understand that, or not want us to understand it? Does he want a world with fewer people but where a minority can still consume very highly, in place of the thousands who don’t exist?

Suggesting that consumption and population both matter is identical to suggesting that when it comes to murder, both violence and population matter. The higher a level of violence you have, the more murders you get, and simultaneously, the more people you have, the more murders you get, as there are more people available to murder. This is simply stupid. Murder rates fall in countries where levels of violence fall, even as population rises. Our rate of murder, if the number of holes in ancient human skulls is any indication, was highest in our distant past. Most of us have never been as peaceful as we are today.

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Proponents of population scare stories say that as every extra human must consume something, this argument does not apply to consumption. You cannot have a negative consumption rate for a person. However, the same is true of murder. You cannot have a negative murder rate for a group, but some extra people can help others to murder less, just as some extra people can teach others to consume less and hence reduce consumption overall, even as population rises.” (Loc. 1767-1789)

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