Economist Debate: World Better off with Fewer People ?
About this Debate:
During the past few years, the size of the world’s population has become a matter of public debate in a way not seen since the 1970s. The total number of people, 6.7 billion now, is forecast to surpass 9 billion by 2050. Many observers fear that an environment degraded by climate change will not be able to support so many. Half the British population, according to one opinion poll, think people should not have more than two children. Yet at the same time governments in Japan, Germany and Russia have been trying to reverse those countries’ falling populations. When is a growing population a blessing and when is it a curse? Is there a best size for the population of the world, or of any particular country? Should governments introduce population-control policies, whether voluntary or mandatory? And how important to demographic matters is climate change?
- A special report on ageing populations: A slow-burning fuse
- Green.view: The Malthus blues
- Population control: Horrid history
- Economics focus: Malthus, the false prophet
- Demography: How to deal with a falling population
- Europe's population: Suddenly, the old world looks younger
- Do You Agree with the Motion?
80 % YES;
20 % NO
Voting at a Glance
Against the Motion: Michael Lind: Policy Director, Economic Growth/Next Social Contract Programme, New America Foundation
Global over-population is the real issue," the British politician Boris Johnson wrote in an Op-Ed in the Telegraph in 2007. Global warming is "a secondary challenge. The primary challenge facing our species is the reproduction of our species itself." [Read More..]
Defending the Motion: John Seager: President, Population Connection
Rapid human population growth is as much a defining characteristic of our modern age as fossil fuels. Coinciding—not coincidentally—with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, we've grown from one billion people in 1800 to 6.8 billion today. We add another billion people to the planet every dozen years. Virtually all of that growth now takes place in the poorer places on earth.
Since we're now adding about 77m people annually to the world's population, the question really is "fewer people than what?" The two key matters at hand then are where we want to go in terms of human population and (equally important) how we want to get there.
The United Nations estimates that the world population will grow to between 8 and 11 billion people by 2050. If fertility rates don't continue to fall, it will be the higher number.
There is no question that this growth has a real and negative impact on the environment, on political and civil security, and on the lives and health of people across the planet.
Continuing rapid population growth is leading to the destruction of forests, the spread of deserts, and the pollution and overfishing of waterways and oceans. In addition, it is one of the leading drivers of climate change. These aren't esoteric issues; all of them cause significant problems for people.
In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, population has more than tripled since 1950 and is likely to double again by 2050. Ominously, the country is losing more than 350,000 hectares of rangeland, and the spread of the Sahara desert increases every year.
There are 750m people living today in countries facing chronic water shortages. By 2050, that will grow to 2.6 billion.
Population growth also places huge stress on the ability of fragile governments to keep order and security. Nearly all the growth today is taking place in the poorest countries in the world, those least able to meet the basic needs of their existing population. These governments are already struggling to maintain minimal health care systems, schools and infrastructure. They're already unable to ensure a reasonable quality of life, yet, they may have twice as many people in the next 40-50 years. And they're likely to face a large cohort of impoverished and angry young people.
Significant research has shown that countries with large "youth bulges"—a disproportionate number of young people—are at a higher risk for civil strife and armed conflict. This pressure is real enough that in the past year, both the American. defence secretary and the former head of the CIA have spoken of the relationship of population growth to security.
Efforts to determine the optimal number of people on earth (ie, the earth's carrying capacity) always prove problematic. It's a matter of values. How do we want to live, and how do we wish others to live?
What set of values would countenance the fact that one billion people in the most crowded places on earth now struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day? That's one out of every seven people on the planet. Four out of ten people worldwide lack access to modern sanitation. And 25,000 children die each day—most due to causes related to overpopulation such as water-borne pathogens.
Carbon emissions are rising, while thousands of plant and animal species are in danger of extinction. Seventeen of the 20 nations on a list of failed states are experiencing rapid population growth as people compete for scarce items from food to water to land to jobs. Relationships with population growth are anything but coincidental.
Some claim that all of this is merely a distribution issue. That's cold comfort to the billion or so people who lack adequate daily nutrition. And I suspect that any proposal to distribute global income equally would meet with some resistance here and there.
It is good news indeed that people in most highly developed countries have "stopped at two" children or, in some places, chosen to have even smaller families. And it's a fact that women all over the world would like to have smaller families as well. Unfortunately, far too many women still lack the means to turn their wishes into reality. There are at least 200m women in the developing world who would like to limit or space their childbearing but have no access to contraceptives. Simply giving people the power to make their own choices will have a profound benefit for all of us.
In terms of productivity—the engine that drives the modern world—smaller families can foster a healthier, better educated workforce. Look at the nations with the best health care and education and you'll see places where small families are the norm.
To quote Rabbi Hillel, "If not now, when?" We can achieve population stabilisation by ensuring that every woman and every couple have full access to all means by which they themselves—and not others—can exercise control over their own reproductive choices. This will require a real investment from wealthy countries as we help those who are trying to help themselves.
In the grand scheme of things, family planning represents a relatively small and very wise investment. It can and will lead to a world with fewer people than would otherwise be the case. And it can help us all achieve a world with better choices and better outcomes.
Source: The Economist
Global over-population is the real issue
by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, The London Telegraph
by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, The London Telegraph
It is a tragic measure of how far the world has changed — and the infinite capacity of modern man for taking offence — that there are no two subjects that can get you more swiftly into political trouble than motherhood and apple pie.
The last time I tentatively suggested that there was something to be said in favour of apple pie, I caused a frenzy of hatred in the healthy-eating lobby. It reached such a pitch that journalists were actually pelting me with pies, and demanding a retraction, and an apology, and a formal denunciation of the role of apple pie in causing obesity.
As for motherhood — the fertility of the human race — we are getting to the point where you simply can't discuss it, and we are thereby refusing to say anything sensible about the biggest single challenge facing the Earth; and no, whatever it may now be conventional to say, that single biggest challenge is not global warming. That is a secondary challenge. The primary challenge facing our species is the reproduction of our species itself.
Depending on how fast you read, the population of the planet is growing with every word that skitters beneath your eyeball. There are more than 211,000 people being added every day, and a population the size of Germany every year.
As someone who has now been travelling around the world for decades, I see this change, and I feel it. You can smell it in the traffic jams of the Middle East. You can see it as you fly over Africa at night, and you see mile after mile of fires burning red in the dark, as the scrub is removed to make way for human beings.
You can see it in the satellite pictures of nocturnal Europe, with the whole place lit up like a fairground. You can see it in the crazy dentition of the Shanghai skyline, where new skyscrapers are going up round the clock.
You can see it as you fly over Mexico City, a vast checkerboard of smog-bound, low-rise dwellings stretching from one horizon to the other; and when you look down on what we are doing to the planet, you have a horrifying vision of habitations multiplying and replicating like bacilli in a Petri dish.
The world's population is now 6.7 billion, roughly double what it was when I was born. If I live to be in my mid-eighties, then it will have trebled in my lifetime.
The UN last year revised its forecasts upwards, predicting that there will be 9.2 billion people by 2050, and I simply cannot understand why no one discusses this impending calamity, and why no world statesmen have the guts to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.
How the hell can we witter on about tackling global warming, and reducing consumption, when we are continuing to add so relentlessly to the number of consumers? The answer is politics, and political cowardice.
There was a time, in the 1960s and 1970s, when people such as my father, Stanley, were becoming interested in demography, and the UN would hold giant conferences on the subject, and it was perfectly respectable to talk about saving the planet by reducing the growth in the number of human beings.
But over the years, the argument changed, and certain words became taboo, and certain concepts became forbidden, and we have reached the stage where the very discussion of overall human fertility — global motherhood — has become more or less banned.
We seem to have given up on population control, and all sorts of explanations are offered for the surrender. Some say Indira Gandhi gave it all a bad name, by her demented plan to sterilise Indian men with the lure of a transistor radio.
Some attribute our complacency to the Green Revolution, which seemed to prove Malthus wrong. It became the received wisdom that the world's population could rise to umpteen billions, as mankind learnt to make several ears of corn grow where one had grown before.
And then, in recent years, the idea of global population control has been more or less stifled by a pincer movement from the Right and the Left. American Right-wingers disapprove of anything that sounds like birth control, and so George W. Bush withholds the tiny contribution America makes to the UN Fund for Population Activities, regardless of the impact on the health of women in developing countries.
As for the Left, they dislike suggestions of population control because they seem to smack of colonialism and imperialism and telling the Third World what to do; and so we have reached the absurd position in which humanity bleats about the destruction of the environment, and yet there is not a peep in any communiqué from any summit of the EU, G8 or UN about the population growth that is causing that destruction.
The debate is surely now unavoidable. Look at food prices, driven ever higher by population growth in India and China. Look at the insatiable Chinese desire for meat, which has pushed the cost of feed so high that Vladimir Putin has been obliged to institute price controls in the doomed fashion of Diocletian or Edward Heath.
Even in Britain, chicken farmers are finding that the cost of chickenfeed is no longer exactly chickenfeed, and, though the food crisis may once again be solved by the wit of man, the damage to the environment may be irreversible.
It is time we had a grown-up discussion about the optimum quantity of human beings in this country and on this planet. Do we want the south-east of Britain, already the most densely populated major country in Europe, to resemble a giant suburbia?
This is not, repeat not, an argument about immigration per se, since in a sense it does not matter where people come from, and with their skill and their industry, immigrants add hugely to the economy.
This is a straightforward question of population, and the eventual size of the human race.
All the evidence shows that we can help reduce population growth, and world poverty, by promoting literacy and female emancipation and access to birth control. Isn't it time politicians stopped being so timid, and started talking about the real number one issue?
Boris Johnson is MP for Henley
Source: The Telegraph, UK