One reason why this blog concentrates attention on world population demographics is that socialism was declared an impossibility because there were just too many people to look after in security and comfort. Mostly, the over-population alarmists like the climate change denialists have been proved wrong but they are still out there disguising their misanthropic prejudices. This story from the Guardian is of interest.
In 1968, the Stanford biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich infamously predicted that millions would soon starve to death in their bestselling, doom-saying book The Population Bomb; since then, neo-Malthusian rumblings of imminent disaster have been a continual refrain in certain sections of the environmental movement – fears that were recently given voice on David Attenborough’s documentary Life on our Planet.
At the time the Ehrlichs were publishing their apocalyptic prophecies, the world was at its peak of population growth, which at that point was increasing at a rate of 2.1% a year. Since then, the global population has risen from 3.5 billion to 7.67 billion. Also the growth rate has slowed considerably. As women’s empowerment advances, and access to contraception improves, birth rates and fertility rates around the world have fallen, and in many countries now there are fewer than 2.1 children per woman – the minimum required to maintain a stable population.
It have been a problem in the world’s wealthiest nations – notably in Japan and Germany – for some time. In South Korea last year, birthrates fell to 0.84 per woman, a record low despite extensive government efforts to promote childbearing. From next year, cash bonuses of 2m won (£1,320) will be paid to every couple expecting a child, on top of existing child benefit payments.
The fertility rate is also falling dramatically in England and Wales – from 1.9 children per woman in 2012 to just 1.65 in 2019. Provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2020 suggest it could now be 1.6, which would be the lowest rate since before the second world war. The problem is even more severe in Scotland, where the rate has fallen from 1.67 in 2012 to 1.37 in 2019.
Increasingly this is also the case in middle-income countries too, including Thailand and Brazil. In Iran, a birthrate of 1.7 children per woman has alarmed the government; it recently announced that state clinics would no longer hand out contraceptives or offer vasectomies.
Thanks to this worldwide pattern of falling fertility levels, the UN now believes that we will see an end to population growth within decades – before the slide begins in earnest. A study published in the Lancet predicted that the global population would come to a peak much earlier than expected – reaching 9.73 billion in 2064 – before dropping to 8.79 billion by 2100. Falling birthrates, noted the authors, were likely to have significant “economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences” around the world. It predicts that 23 countries would see their populations more than halve before the end of this century, including Spain, Italy and Ukraine. China, where a controversial one-child per couple policy – brought in to slow spiralling population growth – only ended in 2016, is now also expected to experience massive population declines in the coming years, by an estimated 48% by 2100. That is right. The problem is not over-population but under-population. The world faces a crisis of an ageing populations placing shrinking economies under ever greater strain.
Japan has been showing this trend for more than a decade, might offer some insight. Already there are too few people to fill all its houses – one in every eight homes now lies empty. In Japan, they call such vacant buildings akiya – ghost homes. Most are found in rural areas, these houses quickly fall into disrepair, leaving them as eerie presences in the landscape, thus speeding the decline of the neighbourhood. Many akiya have been left empty after the death of their occupants; inherited by their city-living relatives, many go unclaimed and untended. With tJapan's population expected to fall from 127 million to 100 million or even lower by 2049, these akiya are set to grow ever more common – and are predicted to account for a third of all Japanese housing stock by 2033. As the rural population declines, old fields and neglected gardens are reclaimed by wildlife. Sightings of Asian black bears have been growing increasingly common in recent years, as the animals scavenge unharvested nuts and fruits.
In the EU an area the size of Italy is expected to be abandoned by 2030. Spain is among the European countries expected to lose more than half its population by 2100; already, three- quarters of Spanish municipalities are in decline. Galicia and Castilla y León are among the regions worst affected, as entire settlements have gradually emptied of their residents. More than 3,000 ghost villages now haunt the hills, standing in various states of dereliction. Rural abandonment on a large scale is one factor that has contributed to the recent resurgence of large carnivores in Europe: lynx, wolverines, brown bears and wolves have all seen increases in their populations over the last decade. In Spain, the Iberian wolf has rebounded from 400 individuals to more than 2,000, many of which are to be found haunting the ghost villages of Galicia, as they hunt wild boar and roe deer – whose numbers have also skyrocketed. A brown bear was spotted in Galicia last year for the first time in 150 years.
In this post-peak population world: smaller populations living in urban centres. While beyond the city limits, wildlife thrive and animal roam.
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