Other doomsday scenarios, indeed more likely scenarios, such as the Yellowstone supervolcano killing 1 out of every 3 Americans when it inevitably erupts (and an eruption is overdue), just isn't on the liberals' radar. Of course, some planning could save the lives of millions of Americans upon whom volcanic ash will rain, but preparing for that scenario doesn't advance the liberals' anti-technology crusade.
As I often do, I digress. This column is about the forgotten bogeyman at the back of the liberals' closet. It is one that liberals, wanting to turn back the clock, used before the new bogeyman, known as global warming, er, climate change, emerged as the cause célèbre. A misguided liberal friend (who I'll refer to as "Mike Large" to preserve his anonymity), in between stories about being a master debater (say that five times quickly and you'll get a chuckle), warned me about the dangers of WORLD OVERPOPULATION. Too many people. Not enough food and other resources. We're all going to starve and die!!! Scary, scary stuff.
Today while waiting for an appointment I picked up a Reader's Digest. It had an article on world overpopulation which included some statistics showing that overpopulation is a myth:
- The rate of increase in the population has been declining for the last 50 years.
- National birth rates are lower than they were in the 1960s. In the less developed countries, the birth rate has been halved.
- According to the United Nations, despite increased longevity, population will peak in 2075 at 9.2 million people.
- The 7 million population that exists today is eating better and living longer than ever before. The Earth can easily support an extra 2.2 million.
Many of today’s most-respected thinkers, from Stephen Hawking to David Attenborough, argue that our efforts to fight climate change and other environmental perils will all fail unless we “do something” about population growth. In the Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking declares that, “in the last 200 years, population growth has become exponential… The world population doubles every forty years.”
But this is nonsense. For a start, there is no exponential growth. In fact, population growth is slowing. For more than three decades now, the average number of babies being born to women in most of the world has been in decline. Globally, women today have half as many babies as their mothers did, mostly out of choice. They are doing it for their own good, the good of their families, and, if it helps the planet too, then so much the better.
Here are the numbers. Forty years ago, the average woman had between five and six kids. Now she has 2.6. This is getting close to the replacement level which, allowing for girls who don’t make it to adulthood, is around 2.3. As I show in my new book, Peoplequake, half the world already has a fertility rate below the long-term replacement level. That includes all of Europe, much of the Caribbean and the far east from Japan to Vietnam and Thailand, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Algeria, Kazakhstan, and Tunisia.
So why is this happening? Demographers used to say that women only started having fewer children when they got educated and the economy got rich, as in Europe. But tell that to the women of Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest nations, where girls are among the least educated in the world, and mostly marry in their mid-teens. They have just three children now, less than half the number their mothers had. India is even lower, at 2.8. Tell that also to the women of Brazil. In this hotbed of Catholicism, women have two children on average—and this is falling. Nothing the priests say can stop it.
Women are doing this because, for the first time in history, they can. Better healthcare and sanitation mean that most babies now live to grow up. It is no longer necessary to have five or six children to ensure the next generation—so they don’t.
The big story here is that rich or poor, socialist or capitalist, Muslim or Catholic, secular or devout, with or without tough government birth control policies in place, most countries tell the same tale of a reproductive revolution.
That doesn’t mean population growth has ceased. The world’s population is still rising by 70m a year. This is because there is a time lag: the huge numbers of young women born during the earlier baby boom may only have had two children each. That is still a lot of children. But within a generation, the world’s population will almost certainly be stable, and is very likely to be falling by mid-century.To see the rest of Pearce's article, click here.