Fewer people, fewer flights – to save the planet | Letter

Harold M Hastings, Tai Young-Taft and Chris Coggins on reducing population to cut emissions, Diana Heeks on flying less, Allan McRobert on drones, and Laura Clout on our time on Earth

Population expert Sarah Harper, of the University of Oxford, says falling total fertility rates are to be embraced, and that countries should not worry if their population is not growing (Expert dismisses fears over global fall in fertility, 26 December). Artificial intelligence, migration and a healthier old age mean countries no longer needed booming populations to hold their own, she points out. We would like to emphasise the major benefit, briefly pointed out in your article, that having one fewer child reduces a parent’s carbon footprint by 58 tonnes of CO2 a year. In fact, the most important contribution of a reduced birth is its long-term contribution towards mitigating global warming by reducing CO2 emissions. One major challenge to reducing worldwide CO2 emissions is the large variation between nations: 45 tonnes per capita per year in Qatar, compared with 16.5 in the US, 7.5 in China, 6.5 in the UK, 6.4 in the EU, 1.8 in Indonesia, and 0.3 in least developed countries, according to UN classification.

Reducing global carbon emissions while the developing world industrialises will require both convergence toward rates achieved in the most efficient industrialised countries and a global reduction in these rates, a strategy that the IPCC called “converge and contract”. But this strategy, with realistic levels of contraction, appears to fall far short of what is needed, especially with the recent recognition that the previous goal reducing global warming to 2C is insufficient to avoid major adverse impacts. It is here that population decline from falling birthrates can play a key synergistic role with the “converge and contract” strategy, perhaps to the point of making the need for geoengineering for sustainability only temporary.
Harold M Hastings, Tai Young-Taft and Chris Coggins
Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Barrington, Massachusetts, USA

• I am a grandmother, and the last thing I would do is book any flight for my grandchildren (How Gatwick drone saga broke my family’s hearts, Letters, 22 December). I would love to leave my grandchildren the world I grew up in, but given current circumstances that can’t happen. I applaud the people who flew drones over Gatwick, perhaps checking by a tiny amount the advance of global warming. If we don’t act differently soon, the chaos at Gatwick this Christmas will be as nothing compared to the catastrophe we seem to be refusing to face.
Diana Heeks
Llanrhystud, Ceredigion

• Please tell me that the aerial shot of Gatwick (Financial, 29 December) was not taken by a drone camera.
Allan McRobert

• Re William Westermeyer’s article (In 1993 my agency warned of climate change. In 1995 it was abolished, 27 December), among all the manufactured and empty complexities of human life, it’s easy to forget that we are all just clinging, white-knuckled and terrified, on to this fast-spinning Earth together. In truth, no single one of us has any more idea than anyone else of how best to cling, or why to even bother continuing. Our only real choice comes down to whether we boot our fellow travellers into the void, or help them find a firmer grip – until perhaps this ruined planet shifts and rolls and belches its sorry self free of the whole damned lot of us.
Laura Clout
Ivy Hatch, Kent

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The need for better soil, and fewer people | Letters
Letters: Farmers should be incentivised to switch to nature-friendly farming techniques, writes Graeme Willis of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Meanwhile Melvyn Rust says people should be persuaded to have slightly fewer children


29, Jan, 2019 @6:29 PM

Article image
This plant-focused diet won’t save the planet | Letters
Letters: Richard Vernon says population reduction would do more for the planet than a change of diet, Stuart Roberts and John Davies extol the benefits of British farming, Dr Michael Antoniou calls for balanced scientific information and Paul Faupel on meeting his dietary needs with chocolate-enrobed brazil nuts


18, Jan, 2019 @4:13 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Heathrow expansion: stop it to save the planet | Editorial
Editorial: Aviation efficiency gains and innovation will not be enough to limit emissions growth. Demand for air travel needs to be damped


23, Jun, 2019 @5:37 PM

Article image
UK regional airports will be hit hard by Heathrow’s third runway | Letters
Letters: Expanding Heathrow would mean fewer flights elsewhere and further entrench the geographical economic divide in our country, writes Paul McGuinness. While Carolyn Hayman wonders what’s behind British Airways’ support for the scheme


20, Jun, 2018 @4:49 PM

Article image
Storms, cyclones and floods will only worsen as the planet warms | Letters
Letters: Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, says rich countries must act to make disasters such as the cyclone that hit Mozambique less likely. Meteorologist Bernadette Woods Placky describes how Climate Matters is helping to end the ‘TV news desert’ around global warming. Plus letters from Caroline Evans and Daniel Scharf


20, Mar, 2019 @6:17 PM

Article image
More people means more carbon emissions | Letters
Letters: Climate change can take the blame for issues that are more directly linked to population growth, says Nigel Long


05, Nov, 2021 @4:46 PM

Article image
Saving the airlines could cost the Earth | Letters
Letters: Cllr Richard Robertson says the environmental impact of air travel needs to be recognised, while Matthew G Andersson thinks the most central question is whether airlines are really for-profit commercial businesses any longer


02, Oct, 2020 @2:57 PM

Article image
The environmental impact of a third runway at Heathrow | Letters
Letters from Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Les Bright and Andrew Papworth


26, Jun, 2018 @5:05 PM

Article image
Towards a greener aviation industry | Letters
Letters: The aviation industry’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions are highlighted by Alexandre de Juniac, Tim Alderslade and Karen Dee, while Gavin Greenwood warns about the impact of transit passengers at Heathrow


28, Jun, 2019 @3:42 PM

Article image
(Voracious consumption) x (rising population) = planetary crisis | Letters
Letters: Marcus Nield of the UN’s Climate Change Adaptation Unit says blaming China for is a case of ‘yellow peril’ hysteria, while Robin Maynard highlights the key role of population in depleting resources


24, Jul, 2018 @5:31 PM