Population Matters

PM research shows traffic congestion costs to soar

PM research shows traffic congestion costs to soar

New analysis released by Population Matters estimates England will face total annual costs of £23.8 billion by 2030 as a result of road and rail congestion caused by surging population. This would mark a 58.7 per cent increase over the £15bn figure for 2015, costing the economy an extra £8.8 billion annually.

The original research commissioned by Population Matters, and featured in an exclusive report in The Times newspaper today, uses statistical data and analytical reports from the UK’s Department for Transport and the latest population projections by the Office of National Statistics to calculate the effect on road and rail traffic. It shows that England’s projected population growth of 10 per cent by 2030 will have a far bigger impact on road and rail congestion than the percentage increase alone suggests.

Among the conclusions of the research are that by 2030:

  • the cost of traffic congestion per household could increase by 40 per cent, translating to a total of £2,100 per year
  • average lateness as a result of rail traffic could increase nationally by 48.2 per cent, and by 103.4 per cent in London
  • road users could waste more than 12 hours per year more – a total of 136 hours – than in 2015 on average, because of traffic congestion
  • number of cars on England’s roads could increase by 20 per cent to 31 million.

The Times‘ environment editor Ben Webster published an exclusive report based on our research, entitled Population boom ‘could bring nation to standstill’

To accompany its report, The Times also published an article by Population Matters patron Chris Packham reacting to the figures and highlighting how human population growth is affecting the natural world in the UK and across the world. In the piece, Chris writes:

“Our natural world is in competition with the unnatural world we create — and it is losing badly. This destructive competition will continue as long as human numbers are growing.

“In the UK we already have the choice of how many children we have. If we want them to enjoy the natural world — to have a thriving, supportive natural world they will need to survive — we have to recognise that the more of them we have, the more difficult it will be for them to do that. We all need breathing room: animals, plants, human beings. We shouldn’t have to compete for it, and we don’t have to.”

(Note: The Times operates behind a paywall and the articles will only be fully visible to subscribers. You can read Chris Packham’s article on our website here.)


Further information about the research and its findings can be found here.

Because rail and road statistics for the entire United Kingdom are compiled separately across devolved administrations, the research focuses on population growth in England but its principle conclusion – that population growth can have far greater effects on congestion than  numbers suggest – applies across the UK. To produce the most effective projections using available data and statistical techniques, the road traffic analysis reflects urban and national “strategic” roads only: the effects of minor road congestion will add additional time and cost. The calculations are based on a number of calculations and assumptions and the results provided are not predictions.

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EU population growth driving carbon emissions

Total EU carbon emissions clearly are the average emissions per person multiplied by the number of people. Thus population trends are a key factor in determining climate policy — one that is being widely ignored. A research study by Lancaster University graduate student Mengran Gao, sponsored by Population Matters, puts some numbers on the implications.

The UN’s high variant population projection for the EU by 2050 is 575 million, and the low variant is 453 million. At the high end, this growth from the current population of slightly more than 500 million would produce some 15 billion tonnes of additional carbon each year, based on the 2010 per capita emissions rate, and would require more than 300,000 additional wind-turbine equivalents simply to hold emissions constant.

The EU accounts for 11 per cent of global emissions. A number of years ago it committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050, though by 2011, emissions were only 18 per cent lower than they had been.

The low variant population projection of 453 million would clearly make the emissions reduction target much easier to achieve, thus helping to slow climate change. While each EU resident’s sustainable carbon ‘allowance’ in 2050 would be 2.5 tonnes per year, compared with 2.0 tonnes per year with the high variant. At such low tonnages, this would make a significant difference to future European living standards.

Roger Martin, chair of Population Matters, commented: “Reducing and reversing human population growth is essential because human resource consumption and pollution are already more than the Earth can sustain. This study highlights that population size is not just an issue for developing countries. Wealthy areas like the EU face their own environmental challenges and have a duty to their own citizens, as well as to other countries and future generations, to reduce and reverse their own population growth.”

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Cutting your childcare costs

The best way to reduce childcare costs is to have fewer children.

A recent study found that childcare costs in the UK have risen sharply, during both the last year and the last decade. Many parents who would like to work said that they were unable to do so because of the high cost of childcare.

The cause of the increase was ascribed to “an increase in demand for childcare, while the supply is remaining broadly static.” As population grows around the world, this situation is affecting more and more people and an increasing number of commodities. From housing and transport to energy, water and even food, rising demand is meeting limited supply, increasing costs, reducing living standards and putting more pressure on ecosystems, amenities and green spaces.

One solution is to consume less and we should all try to be resource efficient and environmentally conscious these days. However, the single biggest thing you can do for the planet is to have a smaller family — one or two rather than three or four. That will also help with your childcare costs.

Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, “In an ever more crowded world, it is time to end the system whereby the majority subsidise the minority who choose to have large families. We don’t need more people. Childcare and other state support should be limited to the first two children.”

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Limit family subsidies for the environment

Humanity cannot afford to grow endlessly on a limited planet. This is as good a reason as any for welcoming proposals to limit subsidies for larger families.

A Conservative MP, Nadhim Zahawi, has proposed limiting child benefit and child tax credit to the first two children. He is proposing that this should not be retrospective i.e. families which already have three or more children will continue to be subsidised as they currently do. He has given several reasons for doing so, including eventual savings to the taxpayer of £3-5 billion per annum and encouraging personal responsibility.

Britain has one of Europe’s highest levels of population density, larger families and population growth. Our country is grappling with the problems of growing pressure on housing, transport, education, health, green spaces and the green belt. Infrastructure and other costs of our limited supplies of energy, water and other utilities are rising while we face challenging carbon emission limits if we are to effectively address climate change.

More broadly, wealthy countries such as the UK have a responsibility to seek to moderate our population and consumption levels to ensure sufficient resources for developing countries, biodiversity and future generations. While society is ageing, the issue of supporting older people should be addressed by helping healthy people to work in later life and by reducing unemployment, not by unsustainable population growth.

Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters: “The majority of people in the UK and other developed countries choose to have smaller families. That is better for our environment, our quality of life and future sustainability. We do think it is right to support families in poverty. From a sustainability viewpoint, we do not think large families should be subsidised. We welcome measures to encourage people to choose to have smaller families.”

Nadhim Zahawi, Mail on Sunday 15 December 2013

UK natural change above EU total

UK will reach 70m in 15 years

UK population growth “Europe’s highest”

Child poverty and larger families

Paper on UK cost of population published

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Population growth undermines aid

A recent study sponsored by Population Matters concludes that investment in measures shown to reduce population growth is key to addressing extreme poverty.

A recent London School of Economics and Political Science graduate project sponsored by Population Matters, More Aid + More People ≠ Less Poverty, showed that high fertility rates and thus rapidly increasing population size were the main reason for the number of people living in absolute poverty to increase in the 20 highest fertility countries during the past two decades, despite a sharp increase in the number of aid recipients.

Total fertility rates in these countries remained well above world average. A key factor in poverty reduction is thus reducing population growth to a reasonable level.

Three aspects of development aid were shown to contribute to fertility reduction: family planning, education and economic infrastructure. However, the percentage of development aid spent on these three aspects combined was a mere 16 per cent, with only a derisory 0.3 per cent being spent on the most important of these — family planning.

Since fertility reduction is key to reducing poverty, aid donors should have invested much more aid in these three areas — especially family planning.

Commented Population Matters chair, Roger Martin, “This is yet more evidence supporting the argument for investing far greater sums in programmes shown to reduce fertility rates and hence population growth. Aid strategies that increase longevity without at the same time reducing fertility are simply running to catch up with ever-increasing numbers of people. Indeed they appear actually to create more poor people, and thus the basis for future humanitarian crises.”

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UK natural change above EU total

Britain’s continuing population growth threatens our future prosperity.

The number of people in the UK grew by more than that in any other EU country in the last year, according to the latest data from the EU. We had the second largest number of live births, over 800,000, and just below that of France, and the second largest excess of births over deaths (natural change), over 240,000, again just below that of France. These positions were due to Britain’s relatively high fertility rate rather than a particularly low mortality rate. With this natural change being negative in some countries, the UK’s natural change was higher than that for the EU as a whole. Add in net migration (the excess of immigration over emigration) of almost 150,000, and Britain’s overall growth in the last twelve months was almost 400,000, over one third that for the EU as a whole.

Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, “The cause of our rising cost of living is staring us in the face. Rising numbers and hence demand is putting pressure on limited resource supply, from housing and transport to energy and even water. The cost of the enormous infrastructure projects being added to all of our bills is ultimately due to this population growth.

Rising numbers also affect our quality of life, from easy access to health and education to cramped house sizes and easy access to playing fields and green belt land.

We urge politicians to continue to bear down on net migration but also to take steps to promote smaller families.”

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Big families and typhoons

Typhoon Haiyan is a natural phenomenon, though one perhaps exacerbated by climate change.

However, the scale of suffering has been worsened enormously by the five fold increase in the population of the Philippines since 1950, from less than 19 million then to almost 100 million today. (1)

Pressure on space and resources means people are more likely to live in areas vulnerable to storms, such as coastal and low lying areas, where land is cheaper and where they can access fish stocks.

Poverty, to which population growth contributes significantly, means that people cannot afford the sturdy dwellings which can withstand extreme weather events.
The sheer numbers of people mean that more suffer when storms do strike and that recovery efforts are that much more difficult.

The average birth rate in the Philippines, though falling, is still around three per woman.(1) While family planning is now legal, decades of rearguard action by the conservative local Catholic hierarchy means that access and use is limited. Only one third of married women of childbearing age are using a modern method.(2)

If we are to limit the impact of future disasters, we must help vulnerable communities to manage their family size. That means supporting initiatives such as the FP2020 initiative (3) which mobilizes global policy, financing, commodity, and service delivery commitments to support the rights of an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use contraceptive information, services and supplies, without coercion or discrimination, by 2020.

It also means integrating sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equity, together with small family messaging, in the planned Sustainable Development Goals.

1. World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision UNDESA Population Division

2. World Contraceptive Patterns UNDESA Population Division

3. FP2020

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Hans Rosling: great communicator, wrong on population

Hans RoslingWe were saddened to hear of the death of Hans Rosling on 7 February 2017. He was a brilliant communicator and did much to help people understand issues surrounding health and international development. His very popular videos about population, however, gave a false sense of reassurance about the environmental and resource crises we face.

Here is the comment we posted when his high-profile BBC programme about population was first broadcast in 2013.

Don’t Panic – The Truth About Population

The BBC’s publicity outlines the argument made by Professor Rosling in his programme:

“Using state-of-the-art 3D graphics and the timing of a stand-up comedian, world-famous statistician Professor Hans Rosling presents a spectacular portrait of our rapidly changing world. With seven billion people already on our planet, we often look to the future with dread, but Rosling’s message is surprisingly upbeat. Almost unnoticed, we have actually begun to conquer the problems of rapid population growth and extreme poverty.

Across the world, even in countries like Bangladesh, families of just two children are now the norm – meaning that within a few generations, the population explosion will be over. A smaller proportion of people now live in extreme poverty than ever before in human history and the United Nations has set a target of eradicating it altogether within a few decades. In this as-live studio event, Rosling presents a statistical tour-de-force, including his ‘ignorance survey’, which demonstrates how British university graduates would be outperformed by chimpanzees in a test of knowledge about developing countries.”

Not reassured

Yes, the UN projects that the human population may well peak at around 11 billion in around 100 years, time. Yes, the UN is seeking to end extreme poverty.

We in Population Matters are not reassured.

That is because the programme failed to consider in any detail resource scarcity and depletion, environmental degradation and climate change.

Natural world under threat

The Global Footprint Network, in association with the WWF and the Zoological Society of London, tell us that humanity is already consuming renewable ecological resources at a rate 50% higher than can be produced sustainably, while non-renewables are steadily depleted. The consequences, which are already with us, are rising resource prices, and environmental degradation. These will of course be increased by a world population some 60% higher than the current level, as well as by rapid industrialisation of countries which have not yet done so.

We cannot be sure to what extent the consequences will be a gradual decline in living standards and quality of life or a series of economic and environmental crises. However, we can be reasonably sure that changes in technological use or affluent lifestyles will be insufficient to avoid one or both of these in the absence of early stabilisation in human numbers.

Birth rates

The programme reported a widespread fall in the birth rate and seemed to leave it at that. In fact, birth rates are increasingly diverse, both between and within countries. The programme acknowledged that birth rates are a variable, not a given – they are affected by a wide range of factors, including the provision of family planning services and clear messages that smaller families are better. Consequently, if we act now, we can reduce that population peak to the enormous benefit of mankind, other species and future generations.

Rosling may be a good statistician, but his understanding of the dynamics of birth rates and the environmental challenges we face is shaky. He assumes that ‘demography is destiny’ – that all current trends will continue. He ignores the facts that: while the proportion of people in poverty is shrinking, the actual number of such people in the high fertility countries is rising; the fertility decline he celebrates has recently stalled – the UN increased their 2050 projections by 300 million this year; the danger of discontinuities or ‘tipping points’, leading to a sharp increase in mortality, is visibly approaching (cf the ‘perfect storm’ foreseen by the last UK Chief Scientist); the reduction in fertility rates does not happen automatically, but has taken years of effort, resources and priority to achieve in developing countries; no non-oil country has achieved economic take-off until it reduced its fertility to three births per woman or lower; and the timing of countries’ achievement of replacement fertility radically affects their eventual population equilibrium number, which means there is great urgency in achieving it as quickly as possible.

A dangerous message

At worst, Rosling’s message – “The population problem is solved – don’t worry about it” could be dangerous. If the effect of his presentations and arguments was to persuade governments, both donors and recipients, to reduce the still inadequate priority they give to family planning and women’s empowerment programmes, the effects would be: to increase the number of unwanted births, unsafe abortions, maternal deaths, and stunted children; to increase the rate of planetary degradation and the probability of crossing a tipping point, with a rapid increase in premature deaths; to reduce the number of people, the Earth can sustain in the long-term; and to reduce the likelihood of all our children enjoying a decent quality of life. That is surely not Hans Rosling’s goal but it is the risk he runs.

For us, the lesson of the programme is not that the population problem is solved but that it is soluble if we take the actions required.

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UK will reach 70m in 15 years

The latest official projections confirm that the UK population is likely to rise by six million or around 10% over the next fifteen years (64 million in 2012 to 70 million by 2027).

This growth, equivalent to two cities the size of Greater Manchester, will be strongest in England, though also occurring in the rest of the UK.

Additionally, over the next 25 years, people over 75 years of age will almost double in number, rising from ten million (16% of the population) in 2012 to 19 million (26% of the population) in 2037.

These factors, singly or in combination, feed into current policy debates on housing availability and affordability, easy access to education, employment and health, transport and travel congestion, rising energy and water prices, green belt, biodiversity and amenity protection, carbon emissions, air pollution, and room for waste disposal and even burials.

Most (60%) of the projected growth over the next 25 years is due to net migration, either directly (43%), or indirectly (17%), i.e. due to their age and fertility characteristics.

While more distant projections are less certain, the expectation is for continued growth, to 73 million by 2037, 75 million by 2050, 80 million by 2071, 85 million by 2087 and 90 million by 2112.

Variant projects produced at the same time and based on differing levels of births, deaths and migration, indicate alternative possible outcomes, ranging from a low of 63 million by 2112 to a high of 123 million by the same year.

Commented Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, “England is already Europe’s most densely populated country. Why should we also have Europe’s highest population growth rate? More people make things worse. If we are serious about tackling the many issues we face as a society, we need to address one of the principal underlying causes, which is population growth. Caring for the growing number of elderly should not be an argument for ever more people, but for reducing the costs contingent on population growth. The variant projections indicate that human numbers is something that human ingenuity can address, if we choose to. We can choose to have smaller families, and the government and local authorities must provide the encouragement, sex education and family planning to help us to do that. The government should also limit net migration further and we should all support them in that.”

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PopOffsets supports vasectomy-athon

World Vasectomy Day is being held on the 18th October, when surgeons around the world have undertaken to perform the operation, in many cases before a live audience while others will be filmed. The event will be launched in front of a live audience at the Royal Institute of Australia’s Science Exchange in Adelaide and an international online audience.

This “vasectomy-athon” was inspired by New York based documentary film-maker Jonathan Stack and vasectomist Dr Doug Stein, who wanted to set the stage for a global conversation about the social, cultural and ethical issues of an ever-increasing population and the effect it has on the planet’s finite resources. They will be joined by renowned biologist and educator Prof Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb. RiAus Director Dr Paul Willis, an experienced science broadcaster, will host the day.

PopOffsets is supporting the Day with a grant of £2,500 towards to cost of a “pop-up” vasectomy clinic in New York.

Jonathan Stack told PopOffsets:
“When we began our journey, we originally imagined focusing on the fast rising populations of sub Saharan Africa, Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines, but we soon realized that from a carbon footprint perspective, there was no more important place to put our effort than the US.  Your grant will be an enormous help in that regard. In fact, in just the past few weeks, we’ve been able to get over 50 US vasectomists and urologists committed to participating in our global vasectomy-athon on October 18th.  Part of our plan is to create a ‘pop up’ vasectomy clinic in NYC that would launch on October 18th. This grant will support all of these efforts and help us achieve our goal of lowering our carbon footprint on the World Vasectomy Day while inspiring a global conversation about the largest challenge humanity faces…ourselves.  Indeed, we believe that vasectomies are an extremely powerful way men can do something for themselves, their families and all of our future.”

Well over 100 vasectomists have signed up for the Day so far. While the majority are US based, every continent is represented (medics from Australia, China, India, and the Philippines; Kenya, Malawi and Rwanda; Canada, Colombia, Haiti, Puerto Rico; Germany, Ireland, Spain and the UK), and the list continues to grow.

PopOffsets is proud to support this international effort: helping men to make a direct and unique contribution to a sustainable world population.

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