Note: This is a re-write of my posting two weeks ago, Population Increase in Africa. With feedback from readers and further thinking on the subject, I thought it best that I focus exclusively on the main point, namely, that it is the increase in population in the US, rather than the 23 times larger increase in population in Africa, that is going to contribute most to the heating up of the planet.

I would appreciate it if you would circulate this as widely as possible.

The recent UN Population Division estimates for the world’s population increase indicate that the number of people in the world will increase from 7.795 billion in 2020 to 9.74 billion in 2050, an increase of 1.94 billion people. Africa’s population will increase from 1.34 billion people to 2.49 billion people, an increase of 1.15 billion people. This means that in the next thirty years Africa will add 59% of the increase in the world’s population.

In the discussion on global warming, one current issue of concern is the increase in world population. As I discuss in this article, this is only a part of, and not even the significant part of, the equation. To get a more accurate perspective, let us compare the population increase in Africa and the United States and then compare this to the projected increase in energy use and CO2 emissions of Africa and the United States during the next 30 years to 2050.

I think that this is unrealistic. The classic case is the UN Population Division’s estimates for Niger, which has the second to highest fertility rate in the world. The UN Population Division estimates that there are 24 million Nigeriens in 2020, will be 66 million people in 2050, and 165 million people in 2100. Here are the CIA Factbook’s comments on Niger’s geography: “landlocked; one of the hottest countries in the world; northern four-fifths is desert, southern one-fifth is savanna, suitable for livestock and limited agriculture.” Will Niger ever be able to support seven times more people than it does today, particularly as global warming makes this country hotter? Something will have to give. Will it be death by starvation, massive annual food imports, immigration to other countries, a much faster demography transition to a lower birthrate than estimated by the UN Population Division, or a combination of these possibilities?

Regardless of this, the UN Population Division’s estimates are those are being used by those concerned with population increase and global warming. Therefore like most others concerned with these issues, I am using their projections.

In the next thirty years the United States is projected to increase its population from 331 million people to 379 million people for an increase of 48 million Americans. For every American added during this period, 23 Africans will be added.

Since I have been living in Kenya for the last 12 ½ years, I am going to use Kenya as the example for an African country. Using the CIA World Factbook as a source, I calculate that in electricity consumption, the average American uses as much electricity as 496 Kenyans.

I calculate that in oil consumption, the average American uses as much oil as 183 Kenyans.  Moreover American use significant amounts of natural gas, while Kenyans use so little, it is recorded as “0” in the CIA Factbook.

Then in CO2 emission, the average American produces the same amount as 264 Kenyans.

Kenya is a lower middle income country and the wealthiest country in eastern Africa. For the much poorer Burundi, the average American uses the same amount of electricity as 10,188 Burundians (only 7.6% of Burundians have electricity at all) and the same amount of oil as 1,331 Burundians. An American produces the same amount of CO2 emissions as 880 Burundians.

If we are generous and use a Kenyan as an average for an African, and Americans keep their same consumption per capita for the next 30 years, this implies that the increase in American consumption to 2050 will be 22 times the amount of electricity that will be needed in Africa, 8 times the amount of oil, and produce 20 times the amount of CO2. In other words, even though Africa will provide 59% of the world’s population increase to 2050, the additional 48 million Americans will contribute 20 times more CO2 than all of those additional 1.1 billion Africans. If consumption in Africa were to double in the next three decades, the United States alone would still contribute 10 times more than all of Africa.

In other words, the problem is not the population increase in Africa where each African uses few resources, but the over-consumption of resources by Americans. Therefore the Americans need to look at themselves since they are the major cause of global warming.

Unfortunately I see little evidence that Americans are implementing anything close to what is necessary. Yes, there is absolutely negative leadership from the Republicans, but everyone seems to expect that continued economic growth in the United States can continue. Unfortunately the reality is that the US economy must contract significantly more than it did during the Great Depression. There is no need to look at the substantial population increase in Africa to solve the problem of global warming. Rather the focus must be on the United States itself. Dear Americans: This is a call to action.


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David Zarembka

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