Thursday, 16 April 2009

Population and the future

Population is a hugely emotive topic. It seems that few people want to be told that they should not have many children as they wish. And certainly the history of population control is littered with oppression. But, as David Attenborough points out
The growth in human numbers is frightening. I've seen wildlife under mounting human ­pressure all over the world, and it's not just from human economy or technology. Behind every threat is the frightening ­explosion in ­human numbers. I've never seen a problem that wouldn't be easier to solve with fewer people
The mid point estimate for the Earth's population in 2050 is over 9 billion. To meet our climate change targets at 9 billion, we will have to cut average emissions per person by 72%. Put simply, the planet cannot stand the weight of our numbers. It is time to acknowledge this hard, horrible fact and start a debate about what to do about it.

The downside of decreasing population is that it will have a large impact on several key parts of the financial system. In particular, as Zoe Williams discusses, pensions policy is based on the possibility of intergenerational subsidies. Current workers pay for current pensioners, at least much of the time in some countries. It will not be politically acceptable for this to continue, especially when fewer current workers have to pay for more pensioners. Again, this is political dynamite and given the entrenched interests, it is hard to discuss the issue. Problems this hard tend to inspire little more than depression in me. Still, at least the depressed don't tend to breed.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Cognitive Overload said...

So given that it's about the number of children that people have, how do we persuade people to have less of them? A one-child policy would be difficult to enforce in most places, and a two-child policy could be a shock to people from larger clans, so what about a 3-child policy? If we set a maximum of 3, then given that some people don't have children, we should end up at 2 point something, i.e. sustainable or just below. Of course the problem would be a) enforcing this, and b) dealing with the strong papal opposition to any policy that includes any element of birth control. Ideas?

8:34 pm  
Blogger David Murphy said...

Personally I think Jonathan Swift had a point with his modest proposal...

9:33 pm  

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