Yesterday, two of my colleagues were having an informal chat about various issues of life, expressing their opinions about this, that and the other. I wasn’t really paying attention to what they were saying until I overheard something like “I think the planet hasn’t got enough resources to sustain its population”. The pro-lifer in me got agitated straight away and was about to jump in the conversation and show how unsubstantiated this claim was, with facts and figures. However, I said nothing. I was unprepared and did not know how to approach the subject. So I waited for a key word which would click and would allow me to engage in conversation with them. Unfortunately, they did not dwell on the subject and such key word never came.
In the current struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death, pro-lifers, we feel we must fight on every single front, and never miss a single opportunity to confront the culture of death wherever we find it. And this is not a bad thing. However, when we venture into the sensitive waters of population matters, we better know our facts, especially when the arguments of the other side are not entirely absurd. They’re coming from the unfair distribution of the world’s resources, 40% of which are in the hands of the richest 1%. It was also found that 10% of the world adults owed 85% of the world’s resources. (Source: United Nations University_World Institute for Development Economics Research). Therefore, one can safely conclude that the remaining population cannot possibly enjoy as much of the resources as the 10%. From that perspective, one cannot be blamed for holding such view as the one mentioned earlier.
However, this view is based on the implicit and naive assumption that everything which is produced is effectively consumed. But the lived reality tells us otherwise as many so-called developed countries face an overproduction crisis. Understand, there are not enough consumers for the amount of goods being produced, which means somewhere up the line raw materials are being wasted – i.e. exploited unnecessarily. And we don’t need to go very far to find evidence of this wastage. It happens in our homes and in our streets. Of course, one might object that this is what keeps prices down because of supply and demand, what sustains the economy etc. but I am tempted to ask what would become of these 85% if all this wastage were taken out of the equation. My point here is not obviously to draw a map of Utopialand but to show how misinformed and ultimately selfish this way of thinking is. It may well be that the world’s wealth distribution is what it is because other nations were not technically capable of making use of these resources. However the games are now changing and changing fast at that. And those nations which are currently excluded, will eventually claim their slice of the cake.
But let them be comforted those who are concerned about the planet’s ability to provide for its population. For the 10% will not have the lion’s share for very long. Real population figures show that 17% of countries already have falling populations – as is the case for instance for Russia (-0.01%) and Poland (-0.08%) – while others have a negligible population growth – for instance Belgium (+0.06%) and Greece (+0.06%). The population growth rate of the European Union is +0.21% and that of the World is +1.1%, with the highest growth seen in Qatar (+4.93%), followed by Zimbabwe (+4.36%) and Niger (+3.36%). (Source: CIA, The World Factbook)
What these figures don’t show, however is that the gigantic babyboom generation (those born between 1945 and 1965) is still around in big numbers. However, as the latter is not going to be replaced – due to birth rates falling below replacement levels – the coming decades will see a sharp fall in population figures in many countries, mainly in the Western World.
As can be seen from the Age Pyramid, the dominant age group in the EU, is 40-50, a trend which is very common to the Western World. In 20-30 years time, a significant portion of this generation will have either passed away or reached the end of life.
Let them be comforted those who fear for the planet for we will not face any overpopulation crisis in the future. What we will face however, is an under-population crisis, which some call a ticking demographic time bomb, with States facing ever increasing challenges to keep the economy moving, in the midst of an economic downturn, with an ageing population, ever more demanding of health care and social services, and with fewer young tax-payers to fund these.