Baby Boom in Affluent Nations: Population Bomb Still Ignited

Birth RatesFor decades, the United Nations and the US Census Bureau have been accusing those who have called for strong measures to curb global population growth scare-mongers and neo-Malthusians. Restricting population growth is politically very unpopular. It flies in the face of the world’s dominant and most irresponsible religions. It conjures up fears of eugenics and Big Brother restrictions on individual freedoms. China’s “one-child” policy is notorious for the corruptness and arbitrariness of its application. And most couples, come hell or high water, want between two and five children, with the average around 2.5.

So it’s not surprising that population forecasters are pressured to repeat the popular and reassuring mantra that global population growth is slowing down, that soon population will start to decrease, and that in many nations the problem will be too few babies, not too many.

You can, of course, develop statistics to support just about any prediction you want to make, including that one. The problem is that the basis for this prediction is the one that has got us into so many problems before — that what has occurred in the past will continue to happen in the future, only more so.

Unfortunately, it never happens that way. That’s why the predictors always give themselves wiggle room by predicting a ‘low estimate’ and a ‘high estimate’ along with the ‘best estimate’. Here’s what the UN and USCB say these will be for this century (population in 2000 was 6.1 billion, today we’re at 6.7 billion, up 0.9 billion in the past decade):

2050: Low 8.0 billion, Median 9.5 billion, High 11.0 billion
2100: Low 7.0 billion, Median 10.0 billion, High 14.0 billion

These median forecasts assume that struggling nations’ fertility rates will continue to rapidly converge on the affluent country fertility rates of 1.85 children per couple (i.e. below replacement level). There is no basis given for this forecast — it is simply a projection of current trends. The projection ignores several facts:

  • That in affluent nations, the presumption that population will go into permanent decline is proving false. The charts at right attest to this. Not only is absolute number of births increasing, the fertility rate (children per couple) is increasing at the same rate (i.e. this increase isn’t due to the ‘baby boom echo’). The UK has acknowledged its baby boom is creating a desperate shortage of midwives
  • That in affluent nations, fertility rates among older women are soaring — couples who have waited until they are financially secure are making up for lost time, having more than one child late in life, with a record number of multiple births due to use of fertility drugs.
  • That exploding populations in many struggling nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America will have to be accommodated in affluent nations of Europe and North America, to prevent a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions, driving birth and fertility rates way up in affluent countries as immigration soars.
  • That whenever couples are surveyed, across the world, they always report wanting to have more children than they have been able to (I’ve reported on this before). So the presumption that fertility will converge ‘magically’ on 1.85 children per couple, and stay there, when the average couple wants 0.5-1.0 children more than that, makes no sense whatsoever. Even if all the struggling nations’ fertility rates were to plunge to a more reasonable 2.35 children per couple, population would be at the High estimates above (i.e. 11 billion by mid-century and 14 billion by end-of-century, and still climbing). 

Given the accelerating footprint of the average human on the planet, in every nation, none of us can imagine what a world with 14 billion humans would — will — be like. It will be desolated beyond our comprehension, its oceans turned to giant sewage lagoons and devoid of life, its forests razed to the ground and largely turned to desert, all non-human creatures extinct except for zoo specimens, and energy, breathable air and clean water desperately scarce.

It’s another ‘inconvenient truth’ for us to consider. Not that we have much of an appetite for considering such truths. Easier to bury our head in the (expanding areas of) sand and hope for magical solutions.

Sources: Governments of Canada, US and UK — vital statistics departments. UN and US Census Bureau population forecasts, 2006 revisions.

Category: Overpopulation, the Crash Catalyst

P.S.:

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4 Responses to Baby Boom in Affluent Nations: Population Bomb Still Ignited

  1. aweb says:

    I’ve been wondering where teh extra food will come from to feed the billions of extra people that seem almost inevitable (barring lack of food). I know wheat prices have gone way up, grain stores way down, and production has leveled off in recent years. Is there that much arable land left to exploit, especially inlight of climate change and environmental damage, that a significant increase in production can be made?Note I am assuming that :1. Those best off (like me!) will continue to consume food resources well beyond their requirements. Others will do even more (than me, I don’t drive), and choose car trips over food for others.2. Any short-term boost in overall grain (wheat, barley, rice) production would be extremely non-sustainable. 3. Periodic horrific starvations will prevent populations from growing to twice the current level. Large (hundreds of millions – billions) numbers of people won’t be coming to more affluent nations to avoid this (when has that ever been implemented as a solution to a famine?).

  2. Mike says:

    I agree, how can they assume population levels will level out, unless they know something we don’t and aren’t telling. The high and low numbers indicate that they just have no idea what the population will be in 50 or 100 years.There is good reason to believe that numbers will level or drop off due to resource issues, water supply, and changing weather patterns, but when and how much is anybody’s guess. My pessimistic estimate is that humans won’t exist on this planet in another 100 years, but hey, nobody wants to hear that. There are no signs of humans changing on a significant enough scale to effect any improvement, and the slippery slope we have started down, is becoming far too steep to change without drastic measures, that won’t happen until it is far too late. Sorry to be negative, but I don’t have much confidence in humans as a civilization, in spite of our alleged intelligence. If enough people thought like us, then we might have a fighting chance, but you’d have to rip everyone away from their big screen tvs. Maybe the upcoming economic shocks will be enough to jolt everyone, but I’m not counting on it at this point. This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do my part for the environment, which I do every day, but I am quickly losing hope for our long term sustainability as we learn more about what we are doing to the planet, yet everyone around me still drives hummers and 4×4 pickups, and buys 4000 sq ft houses.

  3. Mike says:

    Would like to also mention that the thing that really concerns me about the focus on global warming, which is virtually out of our control now and can’t be stopped, even if we did reduce our emissions (which we won’t), is that it takes the focus away from the fact that we are poisoning the air, water and soil of the planet at ever increasing rates. Let’s not lose site of the fact those are local issues that we can control, while global emissions of greenhouse gases are completely out of control of the average person, and even if in Canada we decide to cut our greenhouse gases by 90%, China and India likely won’t follow suit (unless everyone in North America and Europe stops buying their junk). I’m not saying we should ignore climate change, but maybe we need to keep our eye on the other devastation we are wreaking on the planet. In some ways, tackling these issues will have some impact on greenhouse gas emissions anyway. For instance, we need to reduce our consumption of energy not just to have an affect on global warming, but to reduce the pollution from coal fired electricity generators. With focus on global warming, nuclear power seems like a viable option to some, while this technology not only poisons the Earth, but will do so for millions of years to come.

  4. Jon Husband says:

    Two years ago I spent almost three weeks in Isatnbul. One strikingthing I noticed was the relative absence of grey hair (middle-aged and older people). I forgetthe exact stas, but something like 65 – 70% of Turkey’s population is inder 30 or 35, or something like that.This got me to thinking. The affluent / wealthy nations are where the birth rates are lowest. I think there are the seeds for a social revolution around the globe when most of the lower middle-class to poor people are younger and in the less affluent countries, and the richer people are mainly in the wealthier first-world nations where the populations will grow much less quickly.

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