WHAT is the single biggest crisis facing the planet? Climate change? Malaria? Diabetes? Water shortages? Plastic in our oceans? It is a question I get asked regularly and I have concluded that critical though these issues are, they are all symptoms of the biggest issue of all – population growth.

It is the one issue that many people just don’t want to talk about.

So, let me make a start. I am a hypocrite. On the one hand I speak passionately about environment; and the things we can do to bring about positive local change. On the other hand, I am a dad with four kids. If we all had four children, the planet would be in even more trouble than it is now. I am not for a minute suggesting that I regret having my family; but in the past few years I have asked myself whether I would go for such I big family if the choice came up again.

And the answer is no, I would not. I love my family deeply; but I also want them to have a future and that means we have got to radically reassess what sustainable means when it come to the global population. The choices I made 17 years ago are not the ones I would make now.

Every second four people are born and two people die. That means that currently twice as many are being born as are dying-courtesy in part to a rapidly ageing population; who are living longer through medical and technological advances. Every minute there are 120 additional mouths to feed. That is 7,200 an hour; or 172,800 in 24 hours. Every two days a population the equivalent of Southampton and Portsmouth combined is being added to the planet.

And every new life requires food, clothes and water.

According to the Global Footprint Network we are using up the available annual resources earlier and earlier. This network measures the point in the year where our ability to produce new resources to consume is out-stripped by unsustainable demands. And in 2018 it is the earliest date ever; August 1st.

Some countries are far less sustainable than others. If we all lived like the USA; all sustainable resources globally would be used up by March 15th. In the UK our lifestyle gives a date of May 8th-after which we are consuming more than the planet can produce.

The richest countries on the planet are making the greatest demands and are often using land in the poorest nations, to ensure that their wealthy lifestyles can be maintained.

So what can be done? I believe that this should not be about punishing people with larger families; but we should be focussing on incentivising smaller and more sustainable families. Providing reasons to reduce family size, is likely to be far more successful than pointing a stick at larger families and threatening people into change.

So here are my top six suggestions:

1) Government to provide child benefit to the first two children only irrespective of parental income

2) Government to give tax credit support to first two children only

3) A new universal grant of £1,000 a year to support university tuition fees for families with two or less children

4) A local pension start up fund of £500 for every child in a family of two or less

5) Higher payments for parents wishing to adopt; rather than have their own children

6) Reduced tax for food and clothing products produced and consumed in the UK (to reduce burden on land over-seas)

By providing good financial reasons to have small families we are more likely to move to a more sustainable family size. This may seem frighteningly, simplistic – but we are all in part motivated by incentives to act in a particular way; and if the focus is on enabling us to become a more sustainable nation-this could just work.

I realise many of you reading this will be thinking this will be unworkable in some developing countries where large families are essential for survival. I also realise that finance alone will not solve the population crisis and there are many tough moral and ethical questions to ask which are outside the bounds of this article.

But with 7.6 BILLION mouths to feed; the planet is in dire trouble; and the longer we ignore the enormous impact of population growth and instead just focus on symptoms like climate change-the more likely it will be for us to reach a huge crisis point within the next 40-60 years…where immeasurable hardship and poverty will become the norm across the globe.