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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Malthus and Climate Change: Betting on a Stable Population


A standard assumption in integrated assessment models of climate change is that population and productivity are growing, but at a decreasing rate. We explore the signifcance of the assumption of population and productivity growth for greenhouse gas abatement. After all, there has been no long run slow down in the growth of productivity over the past few centuries, and the rate of population growth has actually been increasing for the past 19 centuries. Even if either of these growth rates were expected to slow, by how much is subject to great uncertainty. We show computationally that such continued growth greatly increases the severity of climate change. Indeed we nd that climate change is a problem in large part caused by exogenous population and productivity growth. Rapid reductions in growth make climate change a small problem; smaller reductions in growth imply climate change is a very serious problem indeed. Analogously, reductions in the growth rate of population can be effective in controlling climate change.

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