Most people know better.

Dr. Moser’s talk yesterday was remarkable, for her direct, realistic and authoritative claims about how to change people’s behavior on climate change. If you are interested in that stuff, her powerpoint presentation is clear and gives links to the research behind her talk.

At the end of her talk, someone in the audience raised the issue of population pressures. I’ve now seen this happen a few times. A scientist presents his or her research to the convention and at the end, someone in the audience brings up the elephant in the room. Everyone gets quiet and intent, because it is obviously crucial and no one official can bring it up. I’ve seen a panel sit silent until one guy took the mike and openly laughed at the prospect of answering that question. When there is an answer, it is usually about brown people in a different country and the solution is to educate the ladies. This is nice because obviously we should be on that path anyway and it will coincidentally solve population problems somewhere else. The other not-very-responsive answer is to mention overconsumption and say that we should have kids but ride our bikes too!

Dr. Moser yesterday acknowledged that the topic is taboo, and discussed the experience of solving policy problems without mentioning taboo topics. She talked about being on the climate change adaptation team, where no one ever mentions development. She talked about the fact that everyone automatically takes a growth economy as the baseline, without acknowledging that we are nearing the physical limits of our landscape and ecology. (We should be transitioning to a steady state economy, living off annual yields.) She did not mention meat and diet, another huge taboo. She did not offer a behavioral prescription for addressing California’s population. But she said to be brave and raise the topic. So here goes.

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