Intended for healthcare professionals

Human population growth is the elephant in the room in the climate change debate


There is very little to argue against in the editorial by Stott, Smith, Williams and Godlee[1]. Apart from the climate denier fringe, it is received wisdom that climate change is a real phenomenon, it is caused by human activity and that it is an existential threat to almost all life on Earth.

I must agree with the response from Pip Hayes, a trustee of Population Matters, a charity which highlights the consequences and costs of an ever expanding human population[2,3].

As a long-standing supporter of various environmental and conservation charities since the late 1980s, I have noticed that human population growth is very much a taboo subject for the “green” environmental movement. It is almost never mentioned.

Whilst we can all make more environmentally life choices & as Stott et al implore, “vote only for representatives who prioritise climate change” this is not enough. Even if every single individual in the world reduced their carbon footprint, humanity will still have a massive collective carbon footprint with our global population of about 7.7 billion as of early May 2019[3].

Global overpopulation is the elephant in the room, which many environmentalists don’t see, won’t see and/or prefer not to talk about.

Unless we moderate population growth, we will remain on a dangerous climactic thermal trajectory, despite the best efforts of Extinction Rebellion et al. We must take every possible step to counter this climate emergency which threatens our very existence. We must end the denial of overpopulation as a contributor to global warming.

[1] Stott R et al. Schoolchildren’s activism is a lesson for health professionals. BMJ 2019;365:l1938 doi:
[2] Hayes P. Re: Schoolchildren’s activism is a lesson for health professionals. BMJ 2019
[3] Population Matters (accessed 7/5/19)
[4] Worldometers – Current World population (accessed 7/5/19)

Competing interests: I am a donor to/supporter of several environmental charities which campaign against climate change, including Population Matters. The views expressed are my own and not those of my employer.

07 May 2019
Gee Yen Shin
Consultant Virologist
UCLH NHS Foundation Trust
UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom