Desert options: The connection is clear - if we burn more coal, gas and oil then climate change worsens. Photo: Blake Ford
In response to the release of the Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian: ''What the report describes, in its dry, meticulous language, is the collapse of the benign climate in which humans have prospered, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other life-forms depend. Climate change and global warming are inadequate terms for what it reveals. The story it tells is of climate breakdown. This is, or so it seems, a catastrophe we are capable of foreseeing but incapable of imagining. It's a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.''
Ill-equipped we certainly are, being so dependent on fossil fuels to maintain our industrialised economy and thus our standard of living.
Yet if we are to keep within the so-called guardrail of 2 degree warming, the world can emit only another 469 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases. Because there are other such gases than carbon dioxide, e.g. methane and nitrous oxide, in fact we can emit only another 269 billion tonnes of CO2. Yet the burning of proven, existing, known reserves of fossil fuels, will produce 761 billion tonnes of CO2.
There's no escaping it; we must keep two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Exploring for more coal, gas and oil is madness and yet it continues with governments spending vast amounts of money on such exploration.
The connection between these resources and climate change is clear: burn more of them and climate change worsens.
Is there also a connection with population? Oil analyst Ian Dunlop would agree with Monbiot. We are headed for climate breakdown unless we take urgent steps to mitigate climate change.
Dunlop, referring to a scenario of temperatures increasing in excess of 4 degrees: ''This is a world of 1 billion people, not 7 billion, in which business as we know it is not possible.'' In other words, the carrying capacity of the Earth will plummet if we do not change from our current path.
Right now the world supports - in varying degrees of comfort - 7.2 billion people. The United Nations said in June we are heading for 9.6 billion by mid-century and 11 billion by its end. Can we feed this many people?
Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute warns that grain yields are starting to plateau.
Up until the mid-20th century, growth in the world grain harvest came almost entirely from expanding the cultivated area.
In the past 60 years or so, however, rising yields have replaced area expansion as the principal source of growth in world grain production thanks to fertilisation, irrigation, and higher-yielding varieties.
In a number of countries, however, such as Japan, Korea, France, Germany and Britain, yields have been flat for more than a decade.
Will we be able to maintain even this level of production once climate change bites, with higher temperatures and more extreme weather events?
Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on oil, yet what happens when oil starts its inevitable decline - it is thought unconventional sources are only extending the production peak by a decade - and becomes more expensive?
Or what happens if the global community deems two-thirds of it must be left in the ground to keep climate change within manageable levels? Will we have the sense to ration oil and direct it to farmers so they can produce and distribute food?
As Professor Paul Ehrlich will note at the Fenner Conference on Environment in Canberra this week, the more people there are, the more you need to expand food production.
Agriculture, however, is a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Thus, through climate change, population growth is a serious threat to the very food production that is needed to maintain the population. A vicious cycle.
The time has long passed since we could address population size and growth, resources and climate change in isolation. Clearly they are interconnected. Australia pursues a headlong rush to further overpopulate the country and to exacerbate climate change as fast as possible.
The most recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed we added nearly 400,000 people in the year to the end of March.
Meanwhile, the new Abbott-led government is dismantling the Clean Energy legislative package passed by the Gillard minority government and facilitating the export of Australia's coal as fast as they can get it out.
As Jeremy Leggett also noted in The Guardian last week, the coal from the nine mines of the Galilee Basin alone, ''when burnt, will pump 705m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year - a level of emissions surpassing that of all but six of the nations of the world''.
The nexus between population, resources and climate change will be addressed at the Fenner Conference on Environment at the Shine Dome, Acton, on October 10 and 11.
Jenny Goldie is national president of Sustainable Population Australia.