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Crowded, isn’t it?

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Improving environment starts with tackling overpopulation

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Do not replenish the earth

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Limits to Growth

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The more men, the more jam

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Overpopulation = overconsumption

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Stop the exhaustion and pollution of the earth

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We cannot let humanity happen

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Friday, 26 February 2010

The world population crisis

Responses to some of the most commonly heard denials of gravity of the population crisis
Preambule
The Netherlands has a more complicated migration history than most countries. During the greater part of the 16th and 17th centuries the country had an emigration rate of 10% per annum. This means that with a population of about 3 million, 300,000 migrants arrived each year and

300,000 left again, this for hundreds of years on end. Granted, the majority of the migrants were seasonal labourers. Yet the Netherlands has become just as much a melting pot as the USA and other immigration countries. Continuous migration over longer periods is almost a natural phenomenon in the country. Shortly after the Second World War nothing seemed to have changed in the Dutch attitude towards migration. There was a conscious effort to promote emigration because the government perceived the country to be overpopulated. At the time the population amounted to roughly 10 million.

 
One of the most interesting Dutch essayists (Karel van het Reve, 1921-1999) once stated that in any given society the number of taboos remains equal. In other words, when one taboo disappears, another must spring up. In at least one case this has happened in the Netherlands: when, in the 1960s, taboo after taboo was being broken down by cultural and political renewal, at least one new taboo came into being. Unbelievable though it may seem considering the above thumbnail sketch of the country’s demographic history, migration as a subject for rational discussion became a taboo. The words 'population growth', 'overpopulation', 'immigration' and 'population policy' could no longer be mentioned in polite society without the speaker running the risk of being labelled as racist, fascist or worse.
 
In the 1990s - when the arrival of the sixteenth million inhabitant was still a cause for celebration and immigration almost guaranteed an uninterrupted population growth for generations to come - some people rebelled. They founded The Ten Million Club (TMC). Its name states quite simply that the main aim of the TMC is to attain, in the long run, the population level existing shortly after World War II. Its second aim concerns us here: to break down the taboos surrounding the subject of population growth.
 
Initially, the founding members encountered fierce opposition. Thanks to such factors as the quality of its publications, however, TMC gradually gained support. At present the TMC has more than two thousand active supporters and gradually the taboos surrounding population issues have started to weaken, although they have by no means disappeared. Of course it would be interesting to check whether Van het Reve’s statement still holds true - that is: should TMC succeed in eliminating the population taboo, to observe what new taboo will replace it. Unfortunately, such research is beyond the capacity of the TMC.
 
The successes of the TMC also attracted interest from other European countries. Organisations with similar fields of interest began to request TMC publications. As these were published in Dutch, translations had to be made. This put TMC in a curious position with respect to the current brochure.
 
When in 1996 Madeleine Weld published her article “Confronting the Population Crisis, Responses to the Twenty-One most commonly used arguments to confound the issue.” (Global Population Concerns, Ottawa, 1996), it was perceived as an excellent basis for a brochure to counter incorrect assumptions about most population issues. Ms. West’s twenty-one responses were reduced to fifteen, with comments concerning specifically Dutch conditions being added. The brochure was considered to represent the most essential opinions held by TMC. When requests for translations started to reach TMC, the curious situation came about in which a brochure based on a translation of an English-language article had to be translated back into its original language. Readers familiar with the original might amuse themselves by trying to see what is left of it. Despite such misgivings, TMC decided to retranslate its Dutch brochure to inform English-language readers about its main positions. Reinventing the wheel is not one of TMC's aims and its indebtedness to others is accepted as a matter of course.
 
Introduction
Most people only vaguely aware - if at all - of the threat posed by the ever-continuing growth of the world’s population. Experts, advocates and politicians seem to contradict each other, whereas most scientists share the opinion that a serious crisis looms, if it does not exist already.
In 1993 representatives of fifty-eight National Academies of the Sciences issued a declaration at the close of a conference on population in New Delhi. It called with utmost urgency upon the world to end population growth within one generation.
In June 1994 the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (incidentally, against the wishes of Pope John-Paul II himself) issued a declaration stating that population control is necessary to prevent problems that will prove insoluble in the future.
 
At the World Population Conference in Cairo in the autumn of 1994 most governments agreed to curb population growth, in recognition of the population problem.
When the dangers of unbridled population growth are pointed to by so many, why is the problem not being dealt with? The answer is that political and social decisions are, as a rule, not based on scientific opinions, however well-founded. Powerful religious, political and economic forces resist any action to curb population growth. Opponents of rational population policies appeal to prejudices in order to minimise or even ridicule the gravity of continued population growth. This brochure tries to counter the prejudices most frequently voiced.
 
 1 The rate of population growth is diminishing and, as it continues to decline, it is therefore mo longer a problem.
Actually, the growth rate has declined from 2.2 to 1.7 per cent per annum. Growth in absolute numbers, however, continues to accelerate. To illustrate, below are figures on the growth of the world’s population over the last two centuries:
 
 
The world population
In 1800
1 billion
In 1920
2 billion
In 1960
3 billion
In 1975
4 billion
In 1987
5 billion
In 1999
6 billion
In 2011
7 billion
In 2023
8 billion
In 2040
9 billion
 
The period in which one billion people must be educated, housed and provided for with infrastructure is therefore decreasing in length. Even if the number of children per woman were to decline rapidly, the composition of the population would ensure considerable population growth in the foreseeable future.
 
 2 If population growth were a real problem, government would be more active in proposing solutions
Most governments studiously neglect the problem. They are mostly concerned with short-term rather than long-term problems. They are under pressure from political and religious groups. Opponents of population control are often more powerful than its advocates. Policy statements produced at international conferences, the 1994 World Population Conference held in Cairo for instance, remain so many words and are hardly ever translated into action.
 
 3 A fair redistribution of wealth is the ultimate solution to the population problem
All wealth is ultimately derived from natural resources. Without those resources there is neither food nor raw materials. Natural resources once abundant are threatened with exhaustion due to over-use. Take fisheries as an example. Catches have been declining since 1989. Canadian cod fishing, once an important source of food and employment, has virtually collapsed, resulting in 1995 in the so-called cod war between Canada and Spain. This example shows that strife and even war is a more likely result of scarcity than is a fair redistribution of resources.
 
Poor countries also follow this rule. They find themselves increasingly in a permanent state of war and social disintegration. Between 1989 and 1994, only four out of ninety armed conflicts were fought between nations. The rest were fought within national borders. The latter wars, often ascribed to ethnic and religious causes, were actually started after conflicts over natural resources. Fresh water will become more and more often a cause of armed conflicts.
 
Some optimists calculate the amount of food the world can produce at maximum productivity. They subsequently divide this amount by the world’s population and conclude that hunger is unnecessary or at least avoidable. Such projections will never come to pass. Even under the most favourable circumstances production and distribution systems will remain imperfect. It is precisely in the most deprived areas that such systems are imperfect, to put it mildly. Worse, there they tend to deteriorate even further.
 
In addition, amongst the rich the inclination to share is declining. They feel threatened by emerging nations such as China and Taiwan. Where the need for aid is increasing, funding of development aid is declining. Pressure from rapid population growth will result in unstable political constellations. Individualism and nationalism are on the increase.
 
 4 Raising living standards in the third world will solve the population problem
Sadly enough, the opposite is supported by the facts. Excessive population growth is hampering economic and social development. Africa is the sad case in point. In most African countries development aid, even where provided in excessive amounts, has made no impact on the rate of growth of populations. Investments in economic or social infrastructure needed to maintain standards of living have proved insufficient. Instead a decline has taken place. Productive capacities in agriculture and forestry have decreased due to erosion and deforestation, resulting in significant declines in living standards in Africa. Between 1980 and 1992, income per capita dropped by 15%.
 
 5 Developing countries cannot be expected to curb population growth as long as wealthy countries continue on their course of over-consumption and environmental deterioration
Despite relatively high population densities (NB: low compared to present conditions) Western European countries managed to increase their standard of living. It remains to be seen whether such development patterns can be replicated in the Third World. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the period in which the European industrial revolution took place, population densities and population growth rates were much lower than those currently prevailing in the Third World. Population growth in Europe took place after the industrial revolution had started to increase productivity per head of population due to the construction of infrastructure and improved levels of education. Besides, productivity increases continued, over extended periods consistently higher than rates of population growth. It should be noted, however, that availability of cheap raw materials played a significant role. European nations were able to acquire these through trade or exploitation.
 
The decline in infant mortality rates due to improvements in health care was followed fairly rapidly by a fall in birth rates. Emigration to North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand, then thinly populated and in need of an increased labour force, further alleviated population pressures.
Subsequent developments in Third World countries were essentially different. The introduction of modern medical care was not accompanied by technical, social and economic changes. Good infrastructure, an industrial basis and a well-educated labour force were lacking. Resulting excessive population growth could not be met with a concomitant growth in infrastructure.
 
At present, population growth rates in developing countries are much higher than in Europe at the time of the industrial revolution. Europe’s population grew between 1800 and 1900 from 187 million to 400 million. In Africa, population doubles every 24 years! Emigration of surplus populations from developing countries to industrialised countries is not a realistic option. In countries formerly focuses of migration the situation has changed drastically in the last fifty years. Their economies have become vulnerable, resources have become scarcer and unemployment rates have risen. Moreover, it has become problematic to match educational standards of immigrants to labour market requirements. The absorptive capacity for immigrants will therefore continue to decline.
 
 6 New technologies enable the accommodation of unlimited population growth
The last thirty years have disproved the statement that scientific and technological developments can attain acceptable living standards for an ever- increasing world population. In 1968 one billion people enjoyed a reasonable standard of living with 2.5 billion people living in poverty. Despite all spectacular developments, in 1990 the number of people with a reasonable standard of living had increased to 1.2 billion, with those living in poverty increasing to 4.1 billion. Thus, the number of those living in poverty is increasing faster than the number of those living in wealth.
 
 7 Widening and improving the education of woman will solve the population problem
Improving women’s education does, in the long run, lead to lower birth rates. Better education by itself, however, cannot be expected to solve the population problem. Women in the Third World are hardly ever free to choose how many children they have. Contraceptives are insufficiently available. Religion, husbands, mothers-in-law and social conventions often play a decisive role in determining family size.
Whatever the benefits of the increased availability of contraceptives and improvements in education, it should be realised that women belong to the segments of the population most vulnerable to the effects of overpopulation. Environmental degradation forces them to haul drinking water over longer distances or to spend time on collecting household fuels. In civil wars due to overpopulation (Rwanda being a case in point) women are the first victims. Furthermore the health situation of Third World women is low precisely because of their frequent pregnancies and deliveries.
 
 8 High birth rates provide a necessary old age insurance for the elderly
Child labour is common in most poor countries. Children work to supplement the family income. Only rarely are questions asked about these children’s rights. They form a readily available reservoir of labour that can easily be exploited and abused. Children work long hours, are often undernourished and receive too little education. This results in under-educated and stunted adults, whose earning capacities are unnecessarily low. Such adults are also no longer capable of contributing significantly to the development of their countries.
 
 9 Only racists worry about overpopulation
Those who worry about population growth and overpopulation run the risk of being labelled as racists. After all 95% of the growth of world population takes place among non-whites. However, real racists do not worry about the fish stocks, food production and loss of arable land. People who are concerned about the consequences of an unlimited population growth, often on the basis of scientific considerations, do have these worries. Those who worry about population growth in developing countries are usually those who are of the opinion that industrialised countries are overpopulated. As causes of this overpopulation they mention immigration and the effects of a net reproduction rate higher than the replacement level of 2.1 children per female. Arguments in favour of a halt to immigration are often countered with accusations of racism, as most immigrants are non-whites. The resulting fear of being accused of racism stops many from expressing their concerns about the growth of the world’s population and the depletion of resources.
 
10 Expressing concern about population growth in developing countries is often seen as arrogance
Many leaders in developing countries reject all appeals made to curb population growth. Colonial relations, old and new, and over-consumption in industrialised countries are mentioned as the real causes of developing countries' current miseries. Their leaders close their eyes to the political and social conditions perpetuating these problems. Thus they raise obstacles to solving them. The current levels of development are low to the extent that any structural improvement of living conditions is impossible without a decline in birth rates. Lowering these rates is therefore not only beneficial to the world as a whole but also even more so to those directly involved.
 
 11 Changing the size of the world’s population is equal to supplanting god
According to some Christian and non-Christian believers population growth should not be considered a problem. Only God himself will determine the future of the world. Human activities to halt population growth are, in their eyes, heretical and sinful. Amongst them, only a tiny segment, mainly the ultra-orthodox protestant Christians, are consistent in their views by refusing any form of vaccination and insurance.
The majority of believers are less consistent. On the one hand they reject a population policy and object to the use of “unnatural” contraceptive methods. On the other, they do not object to countering threats to their livelihood by means that are just as “unnatural” (crop improvements, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, genetic manipulation, medication, vaccination, surgery, electrical light, modern forms of transportation).
Believers who oppose curbing population growth fail to recognise that more and more components of God’s creation are being lost due to the continued growth of the world’s population.
 
 12 The environmental impact of population growth in the developing world is much smaller than the impact in wealthy countries because the demand made on natural resources per head of population is much smaller
In their struggle for survival the poor often cause great damage to the environment. Eighty per cent of worldwide deforestation has taken place in developing countries. Ethiopia may serve as an example.
Forty per cent of the country used to be covered by forests, compared to just 4% at present. Forests were transformed into agricultural land, with many unintended side-effects. For centuries the agricultural lands in the Ethiopian highlands were renowned for their fertility. Forests on mountain slopes maintained a topsoil rich in humus.
When population growth required more agricultural land, forests were cut down, causing loss of natural fertilisation and fertility. Wood for fuel also became scarce. Traders subsequently harvested fuel in more remote forests, thus increasing the rate of deforestation. When fuel wood became scarce and more expensive, the population started to use substitutes, unfortunately stable manure and straw. Previously, the straw had been used for mulching, a method to prevent drying out of the soil, and the manure for the maintenance of soil fertility. The result was a significant decline in soil fertility and a susceptibility to drought.
Under these deteriorated conditions any severe drought will cause a disaster. As could be expected, in 1984 Ethiopia fell victim to one of the worst famines ever witnessed in Africa. This disaster notwithstanding, Ethiopia’s population increased from 38.5 million in 1980 to 56.7 million in 1993. For 2010 and 2025 population sizes of, respectively, 95 and 140 million are forecasted! Even the abundant natural resources of Canada would not be sufficient to accommodate a comparable growth of population. Continued population growth is the root cause of the next famine in Ethiopia.
 
 13 India is not overpopulated because it exports food
India is still considered as a success story by many. Didn’t the so-called green revolution prove capable of feeding a rapidly growing population? Anyone who has travelled through India and observed the ubiquitous beggars and filthy slums will probably be more reluctant to call India a success story.
At the time of its independence in 1947, the former British India counted about 300 million inhabitants. The same area (currently encompassing India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) has a population that has increased by more than a billion people.
Without this spectacular growth in population, India would be much better off at present. The country would have been able to provide housing, education and employment for all. At present it can only barely feed its own population. In addition, it is still dependent on assistance from Japan and western countries.
 
 14 Malthus’ predictions were not realized. The world produces enough food to feed everyone
The facts tell a different story. The rate of growth of the production of food has lagged behind the population growth rate since 1985. Despite a depressing number of famines, food shortages and conflicts over natural resources, so far no food shortages have occurred on a world scale. Optimists point to the spectacular increases in grain production and fish catches, not taken into account in earlier predictions. These trends in increased production cannot, however, be extrapolated indefinitely.
The trend in fishing catches may serve as an example. As early as In the 1970s there were warnings about the dangers of over-fishing. Between 1950 and 1989, improved catching methods were temporarily able to compensate for the over-fishing. However, since then catches have declined steadily.
 
Indications abound that the same pattern is occurring in the production of grains. Between 1950 and 1984 grain production increased at a rate of 3% per annum. Subsequently this rate of growth has declined to 1% per annum, considerably lower than the rate of population growth. A renewed acceleration of the rate of growth is not expected. Intensive grain cropping requires large amounts of fresh water. In regions with intensive grain cropping the hydrological limits of water harvesting seem to have been reached.
Adding more artificial fertilisers has had little or no additional effect on harvests. Besides, greater use of artificial fertiliser leads to a deterioration of fertility in the topsoil.
The most productive areas have long since been brought into production. Already declines in harvests have been observed in large tracts of land due to soil erosion, salinity and other factors.
A balanced and varied diet for every world citizen requires half a hectare, whereas world-wide only a quarter of a hectare is available. With continuing trends in population growth in 2035 only an eighth of a hectare will be available.
 
 15 The extinction of many species of plants and animals caused by population growth is irrelevant
Knowledge about the variety in species (or bio-diversity) is scant at best, insufficient in any case. Estimates give a number of 13 to 14 million species. Of those, only 1.75 million have been systematically determined. Approximately 30,000 species are threatened with extinction due to human interference.
There are those who maintain that the deterioration of eco-systems is irrelevant due to this lack of knowledge. In other words, vandalism is allowed so long as the vandals are unaware of what they are destroying. This attitude is an expression of arrogance and a denial of the rights of future generations.
Another concern: plants as a source of many of our medicines. By exterminating many species as yet unidentified, future medical and pharmaceutical developments are cut off forever, and thus opportunities for the improvement of the quality of life.
A variety of species in rain forests offers the possibility of cross-breeding with existing species, resistant to plant diseases. Several reasons argue convincingly for the preservation of special eco-systems for mankind.
 
Conclusion
Those who commit themselves to the aim of a smaller world population will meet many opponents. Often the word “racism” is used against them in order to remove the subject of population growth from the forum of rational discussion and debate. Predictions about a recurrence of the disastrous conditions resulting from rapid population growth and leading to the civil war in Rwanda are difficult to underpin. Predictions however are not required. It can already be observed that human endeavours have caused irreparable harm. Large tracts of rain forest have been cut down and many animal and plant species exterminated. The quality of our environment has deteriorated significantly.
 
Many politicians are older people. They themselves will not have to face the consequences of their policies of neglect. Much is at stake. It would be wise not to ignore the many warnings given by large numbers of scientists. Our children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences of our current inadequate stewardship. We owe it to our children to insert population issues into the political agendas.
 
2010
 
 

World population