Rethink: Population. A Caveat (BBC Radio 4, 3rd-7th Jan 2022)

The first of five programmes challenges the ‘received wisdom’ that the Earth is overpopulated. It presents evidence that population will fall dramatically in the near future. I have listened to all five, but it was the original proposition on 3rd January which startled me, and makes me defend received wisdom, if only temporarily.

One progrqmme does outline attempts to meet problems in societies where population decline is already happening, but in considering them, economic growth remains the er, received wisdom. This might explain why neither the programme, nor the countries with declining populations mention the basic income as a way of reducing the pressure to create jobs regardless of their ecological impact.

To keep population stable, each woman should on average have 2.1 children during her childbearing years. The figure for Britain is 1.6 and falling. Replacement rates throughout Europe are below 2.1. Finland is currently at 1.35. Rates are plummeting world wide, Korea being the lowest at 0.9.

But I am left with unanswered questions. The internet bombards us with extensive evidence that human activity has already passed the point at which the Ecosphere can cope with it: wildfires (in winter??). torrential downpours,  temperature records broken repeatedly, and the  CO2 level driving these symptoms continues to rise smoothly. The EU Copernicus Report indicates that it should have reversed already, not in 2030, if humans areto to avoid irreversible damage to the Ecosphere..

I think the current World fertility rate should be a necessary part of the discussion as a reference point, but none of the programmes give it. Here are the full facts: the World fertility rate average Is 2.5, dramatically down from the 1960s, but still higher than the safe level,, because

There are already too many people.

But population is not the only factor. Capitalism and consumerism area also responsible for Ecological damage, but the following account by Jane Goodall bears witness to a third, linked to population, the exponential principle. She is now retired, but during the 1990s she returned to Gombe by air. [Note: this reference is only a brief mention late in a long piece] She was shocked to see that the reserve was an island of rainforest in a sea of farmland. In 1960 when she began, rainforest extended from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. This change was not due to consumerism or Capitalism, just the slow but exponential rise in population which had, by the 1990s, reached the limit for that area.

A later programme in the series does distinguish between population growth hotspots such as Indonesia, where fertility rates have dropped dramatically, and parts of Africa, where rates have remained high. but it does not explain the difference. At 7. Niger is  the highest, but Nigeria, almost as high is already populous. Both have high emigration rates.

Oddlly enough, I believe the unconditional Basic Income (UBI) could help, not just where population is declining, but when it starts to collapse globally. I have cautioned against the tendency of a UBI to cause economic growth if not firmly tied to taxes relating to the Ecological damage done. But if the Earth does reach a position where a world-wide collapse in fertility becomes the problem, the UBI’s propensity to encourage growth could switch rapidly from a threat to being a lifeline

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