Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Population Implosion

The idea that some countries have too many people is a fallacy that is helping to continue the cycle of poverty. Some nations like Japan are clearly very crowded, yet they do not have the same hunger challenges as a sparsely population nation like Bolivia, where population densities are low and poverty is very severe. The Netherlands and Belgium, have high population densities. These countries practice mechanized farming and are involved in high-tech industries. On the other hand, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have population densities of less than 30 persons per sq km. 

We shouldn't let ourselves be misled by scary numbers. Many see frightening graphs showing the population climbing steeply to 11 or 12 billion yet curiously, those graphics never show what happens at the other side of the peak which is so often missing in the graphs. The unseen projections show a steady downward drop toward fewer and fewer people on the planet each year.

The Earth has the capacity to absorb increased numbers. Today, vast capacities of the earth's resources lie unused. Still more arable land is being destroyed by unsustainable farming or settlement practices. And even more of the earth"s "carrying capacity" is being used to make weapons and all manner of things that no one needs for survival or even for a happy life. 

The higher the death rate for children in a region, the higher the birthrate. Overpopulation and poverty are directly linked because the world’s 48 poorest countries in the world will double in population, from 850 million to over 1.7 billion people, by that time. This is because when there is a higher death rate for children in a region, there is also an overall higher birth rate. When people know their children will survive, they have few children. Addressing global poverty and keeping children alive is crucial for reducing overpopulation. Poverty and the lack of access to education leads to higher birthrates and overpopulation. With increased economic security, fertility rates fall.

There is clearly more food produced today than ever before. According to Oxfam Canada, the world is producing 17% more food per person today than it did just 30 years ago. The United Nations regards the consumption of 2,200 kilocalories on a daily basis as a requirement for healthy living. Yet food availability has increased to more than 2,500 kilocalories per person on the planet right now. This means poverty is being caused by unequal resource consumption, not overpopulation. Many large corporations expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, paying subsistence wages to their labourers, leaving less land for food needed to feed the local population. In terms of energy, meat, and fish, the world’s poorest are only consuming 4-5% of available resources, while the world’s richest 20% is consuming 45-58% of the available resources. 

Despite our impressive level of food production, 1 billion people go hungry every day. The problem is clearly not producing food. The issue is that there are far too many people living in poverty so they are unable to access the resources they need. Many people in the world today to not have the land to grow food or the income they need in order to purchase enough food. This is seen in the regions of developed countries that have pockets of poverty. Even in the United States, arguably the wealthiest nation in the world, many children do not get enough nutritious food to eat. 

 This means that hunger is not a random condition and it isn’t caused by our own fertility. The world is producing enough food. It is our social structures that are causing poverty instead.

 It remains an unfortunate fact that the world's poorest, most corrupt, most disorganized and environmentally endangered nations are the ones with the highest birth rates (of course, they have fairly high death rates as well; Africa's population actually decreased in the 1990s). The neo-Malthusians identify genuinely dire social ills. But it is time we got it straight: poverty is not caused by overpopulation. The syndrome of social problems commonly called "overpopulation" is actually caused by poverty.

 Therefore, the problem cannot be solved by forcing people to restrict their fertility, enforcing family planning. Our world still has sufficient resources exist to feed every new child — but those resources are held idle, or devoted to socially wasteful uses. When people are healthy, they can focus more on educational and vocational opportunities which may be available to them. And when that happens, the evidence proves that overpopulation levels will naturally decline.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the earth has the capacity to grow food for some 33 billion people. Critics will protest that such tremendous yields would require the dubious efficiencies of monoculture, petrochemical fertilizers and genetic engineering — and that is probably true. Yet it is also true that, in all liklihood, we'll never need to grow anywhere near that much. Modern "industrial" farming techniques make it easier to run large-scale, remotely-managed corporate farms, but they are not needed to create high yields of nutritious food. Environmentally sustainable technology for industry, food and energy production is available today. The reasons why it is not used extensively have more to do with politics and economics than with technical feasibility.

For many years overpopulation was the number one scare story. Culture was full of dystopian futures such as Soylent Green. But now nearly every developed country on the planet is experiencing falling birth rates as are many developing and undeveloped countries.The demographic threat now lies in global underpopulation and too many elderly that a smaller working age population is required to support.

 To counter a population implosion Japan, Russia, Australia Hungary and Singapore have shaped their social policies to encourage larger families. But to no avail. Our global population is aging. The moment of peak youth on this planet (measured as the average age of humans on the planet) was in 1972. Ever since then the average age on Earth has been getting older each year, and there is no end in sight for the aging of the world for the next several hundred years! The world will need the young to work for the medical care of the previous generation, but the young will be in short supply. Despite the nationalist rhetoric and anti-migrant policies of today many countries will compete against each other to attract and welcome younger newcomers, modifying rules and regulations on the mobility of labour to do so. 

One scenario can be increased technology that lengthens human life which means more older people who live healthily longer with extended working ages but fewer young people and instead millions of robots and wide automation of production. We have experience in human history of a declining population during the Black Death but not with new technological advances and progress. It is hard to see how a declining yet aging population functions can drive an increasing the standard of living every year. To do so we would require a completely different economic system. And we know what it can be. Socialism.

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