The new president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science made his remarks as studies are revealing the stark impact of climate change in Canada, and the pervasiveness of air pollution around the world.

Steven Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, 1997 Nobel Prize winner in physics, and the new president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, stated that the world economy is “a pyramid scheme” based on ever-increasing population and is unsustainable and likely to eventually fail.

Chu spoke at the University of Chicago in early April and PIC hopes that governments are listening.

This month, two studies – one related to global warning in Canada, the second demonstrating the growing impact of air pollution – made headlines for what they reveal about the health of the planet.

Canadians learned that on average, Canada is experiencing global warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Canada’s Changing Climate states that Canada’s average temperature has risen by an estimated 1.7 degrees Celsius in the past seven decades, a result driven partly by a 2.3-degree Celsius annual average temperature increase in northern Canada. It notes that “the human factor is dominant” in driving climate change. The study was commissioned and released this month by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

The State of Global Air Report, also released this month, draws attention to the increasingly pervasive impact of air pollution across the globe. It finds that the entire populations of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Indonesia and Mexico are exposed to levels of atmospheric particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5 pollution) that exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, and that about 75% of people in the EU live in areas with PM2.5 levels above WHO guidelines.

At 2.5 micrometers or less, PM2.5 particles are about 3% the diameter of a human hair. They are produced by burning liquid and solid fuels, including coal. The particles are so small they can stay in the air for days, travelling hundreds and even thousands of miles, meaning their effects can be felt far and wide.

These studies show that the current paradigm of continuous population and economic growth is irresponsible and ultimately unsustainable. Chu advocates for the education of women and wealth creation to raise living standards and eventually stop population growth. This will help the environment, he said, but will also require a new kind of economy. So far, unfortunately, governments and major world bodies continue to embrace the perpetual growth paradigm and have not sought ways to create steady-state economies.

Last October, when the IPCC announced that the next few years will determine if large-scale catastrophe due to climate change can be averted, it did not take the opportunity to call on governments to commit to slowing and eventually reversing population growth, despite its conclusion that “all options need to be exercised.”

Governments in developed nations seem to be more preoccupied with the challenges of aging populations.  As Japan is demonstrating, this is not an insurmountable problem but a stage that developed societies will have to pass through. For the health of our planet, PIC hopes that Mr. Chu will continue to speak out and that our other leaders will take heed.