Friday, November 13, 2009

The Economist on Falling Fertility

The influential British magazine, The Economist, has an interesting story on "Falling Fertility" in the latest issue. It is gratifying to (finally) see the mainstream media admit (after 50 years of saying the opposite) that there is no such thing as the population bomb, the world is not dangerously over-populated and the population explosion is a myth. So the story informs us (without a hint of irony or embarassment for doing a U-turn) that:
"Fertility is falling and families are shrinking in places— such as Brazil, Indonesia, and even parts of India—that people think of as teeming with children. As our briefing shows, the fertility rate of half the world is now 2.1 or less—the magic number that is consistent with a stable population and is usually called “the replacement rate of fertility”. Sometime between 2020 and 2050 the world’s fertility rate will fall below the global replacement rate."

Now the absolutely astonishing thing here is that The Economist has just stated that world population is about to start falling and it follows this frightening scenario with a yawn! It seems that it has yet to dawn on The Economist that this fact implies shrinking economies, scarcity of resources, fewer workers to support growing populations of seniors, and probably a collapse of the world economy. What kinds of social chaos will follow shrinking population and the shrinking economic growth that always accompanies drops in population? The Economist is oblivious and seems not to be concerned. Every country or empire in history that has seen its population decline has fallen. Then again, every empire that has fallen in to sensuality, decadence and luxury like our's has also fallen. So I guess we just eat, drink and be merry until we run out of food.

The complacency about falling population rates seems to go hand in hand with the fanatical obsession with global warming. For the same article goes on to say:

"Nonsense, say Malthus’s heirs. All this misses the point: there are too many
people for the Earth’s fragile ecosystems. It is time to stop—and ideally
reverse—the population increase. To celebrate falling fertility is like
congratulating the captain of the Titanic on heading towards the iceberg more

The Malthusians are right that the world’s population is still increasing and can do a lot more environmental damage before it peaks at just over 9 billion in 2050. That will certainly be the case if poor, fast-growing countries follow the economic trajectories of those in the rich world. The poorest Africans and Asians produce 0.1 tonnes of CO2 each a year, compared with 20 tonnes for each American. Growth is helping hundreds of millions to escape grinding poverty. But if the poor copy the pattern of wealth creation that made Europe and America rich, they will eat up as many resources as the Americans do, with grim consequences for the planet. What’s more, the parts of the world where populations are growing fastest are also those most vulnerable to climate change, and a rising population will exacerbate the consequences of global warming—water shortages, mass migration, declining food yields."

The Economist seems to be living in La La land on this issue. If anyone thinks that an irreversible fall in population is going to be a net benefit to the human race and to planet earth they are simply not able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Sure we need to think about climate change, but if we forget to think about the economy at the same time we will simply replace the cyanide with rat poison, we will simply exchange one global catastrophe for another. Pick your poison.

The world needs a stable population and a growing economy to support that population. We must remember that demographics (like climate) never stands still. Even if the population levels off it will still change for a few more generations as the percentage of seniors increases. The great danger is that the current trends will result, not in a stable population, but in a declining population coupled with a aging population and that is a recipe for economic disaster. We may get the population reduction so many of Malthus's pessimistic heirs long for all right - through mass starvation. If that is what the "Green" movement wants, then the "Green" movement is the enemy of mankind.

The population disaster won't wait until the climate change issue is resolved before it bites us. If we can't focus on two things at once we will inevitably leave one until it is too late. The Economist would do well to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time - and quickly.

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