Monday, July 15, 2013

Population Projection Revised Upwards...Again

by Duncan Gromko

The following was cross-posted with the Public Education Center's DC Bureau, which you can find by clicking here.

The UN now estimates that there will be 9.6 billion people by 2050, which is a revision upwards from their 2010 estimate of 9.3 billion. For some environmentalists, this is a scary thought. A simplistic take on natural resource use suggests that more people mean more consumption and more pollution.
Estimating global population, let alone projecting population two generations from now, is a tricky business. While some groups estimated that the world passed seven billion people on October 31, 2011, others thought that the milestone was passed in March of 2012. Even the world’s best censuses have a 1-2 percent margin of error.
Source: DSS Research
The 2050 projections have been revised upwards because of changing demographic trends in the developing world. Projections assume that global fertility rates will converge to 2.1 children per woman and a stable population. However, fertility rates have remained higher than projected in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Below is a chart showing the countries with the largest upward projections (as a percentage of their population).
Source: New Security Beat
Accurately predicting population decades from now is difficult, but the multiple upward revisions in recent years make for a worrying trend. While growth in some countries is more or less reflecting demographers’ predictions, population growth in other countries continues to spiral upwards. Nigeria, which doesn’t even make the above chart, has had its 2050 projections revised from 289 million in 2008 to 390 million in 2010 to 440 million this year. What will the next projection be?

Most of this growth is happening in developing countries, as fertility rates have mostly stabilized in the developed world.
Source: Learner

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, I worked on family planning projects. Many of the women with whom I spoke struggled to access birth control on a consistent basis. What’s more, doctors often did not take the time to explain how to use birth control. One woman with whom my colleague spoke asked why the birth control pill her husband was taking wasn’t keeping her from getting pregnant.
While use of contraceptives has increased, access to birth control remains a huge barrier in many parts of the world. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 215 million women want to delay or cease childbearing – about one in six women of reproductive age – but do not have the means to use birth control. Helping these women would be a huge win not only for them, but also for the environment.

Slowing population growth could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 1.1 billion tons per year by 2050. Family planning is an inexpensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists normally talk about the “abatement cost” of a particular technology or behavior change, i.e. how much each ton of greenhouse gas reduced will cost. For instance, the abatement cost of solar PV was estimated at around $15-20 per ton of CO2 by McKinsey in 2009. Tom Lovejoy estimates that the abatement cost of reducing carbon emissions through family planning is $4.50 per ton. If carbon pollution is all you care about, reducing population growth through family planning is cheaper than reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions (although both are needed).

It’s important to note, however, that despite increasing populations in developing countries, these countries are largely not responsible for historical or future greenhouse gas emissions. The United States, China, and the European Union all have relatively stable populations, but are responsible for most of global emissions. The USA’s per capita emissions was around 17.2 tons per year in 2009, while Nigeria’s was 0.6 tons per year.

Of course, impact on climate isn’t the only environmental consequence of a growing world population. The areas with the highest rates of population growth also tend to have the greatest pressures on local natural resources. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are already facing challenges from water scarcity and deforestation with their existing populations. What’s more, much of this growth is happening in urban areas where infrastructure is overwhelmed by the growth explosion. Slums and urban poverty are the result.

Support for family planning and educating women – which is associated with lower fertility rates – has benefits for local populations and the earth. Giving women the tools and knowledge they need is an important goal that I think is often overlooked by many environmentalists.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Indiana Regulators Let BP Pollute Lake Michigan

By Nick Cunningham
The following was cross-posted with the Public Education Center's DC Bureau, which you can find by clicking here

The Indiana state government recently extended a deal with BP that allows it to continue to dump toxic waste into Lake Michigan. Back in 2007, it gave BP permission to increase discharges of toxic pollution into Lake Michigan as part of a $3.8 billion expansion of its Whiting, IN refinery. BP wanted to upgrade the facility to be able to process heavier crude oil, as Canadian tar sands began to flow southward in significantly larger volumes. Originally constructed in 1889 under John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, BP’s Whiting facility is one of the nation’s largest oil refineries, a massive complex located in Indiana near Chicago.

Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management granted an exemption from federal water protections to BP as part of its permit, which allowed to company to dump 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more toxic sludge into Lake Michigan. The permit also allowed BP to discharge 23.1 parts per trillion of mercury – 20 times the amount of mercury allowed under federal law. BP also consistently dumped other toxic chemicals such as benzene, lead, nickel and vanadium.

Mercury is known to cause brain damage, especially in children. However, Indiana regulators justified the exemption because the refinery expansion would provide “important social or economic benefits” – in this case, the project would create a few thousand temporary construction jobs and 80 permanent jobs.

Then Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels defended the decision. When asked if the giveaway would move forward, Daniels replied, “Yes. We’ve checked it and rechecked it. They’re in complete compliance with Indiana law, which is tougher than the federal law. The EPA has checked and rechecked it, and they have approved that permit more than once. To me, the public interest says it should go forward.
Former IN Gov. Mitch Daniels

“We’ve got thousands of jobs that will be at risk if it doesn’t go forward. And I would only point out that people who are upset about $3 gas now know why it’s that high. Reported as recently as last weekend, the No. 1 reason for $3 gasoline is the lack of refinery capacity in this country, and here’s one of the biggest steps forward for the Midwest and really the whole nation. And I don’t think it should be held up without a good scientific reason, and none has been provided.”

The 2007 deal exempted BP from federal water pollution limits for 5 years. Under the agreement, BP was required to conduct research into technology that would reduce mercury pollution it discharged into Lake Michigan. It worked with the Argonne National Lab to explore new technologies.

However, in 2011, as the original five year exemption neared expiration, Indiana regulators extended it because BP argued it would not be able to implement pollution control technology in time. Despite these assurances, pilot tests of new technologies found that mercury could be reduced to below federal limits. Yet BP asserts that the $21-$147 million price tag was too high – even though it expects to haul in an additional $1 billion in annual cash flow from the facility.

To make matters worse, a recent draft permit would once again extend the allowance – this time indefinitely. The permit would not require BP to actually implement mercury-reducing technology. Instead, BP said it would continue to do research and would merely report back in 2015 on its findings.

Meanwhile, BP finished its upgrade, allowing it to process an additional 250,000 barrels of crude per day. And it continues to pollute.