Monday, 25 June 2012
Breeding Like Rabbits
In 1798, the priest and economist Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) concluded from a study of plants and animals that man's excessive rate of reproduction would lead to overpopulation and eventually cause a shortage of food supply resulting in famine and poverty.
He suggested a reduction in family size, especially for the poorer class. ( Does this remind you of Singapore's worry in the 1970s and 1980s onwards over the poor fecundity of the Republic's graduates?)
The study of overpopulation has resulted in copious and diverse academic research. The subject has also been taken up by environmentalists and racist/religious fanatics to warn the world about the bogey of a rising birth rate and overpopulation in the Third World - amongst the poorest classes of the globe.
There's a growing concern in the West about its low reproductive rate and its increasing elderly population. It has been predicted that by 2050, 40% of Europeans will be over 60. The typical population pyramid where the young form a large base and the elderly make up the the tiny peak will be turned on its head!
More worrying is the idea that all forms of social problems can be solved by cutting population growth. Even more disturbing is the belief of celebrities like David Attenborough, and environmentalists like Jonathan Porrit, that population growth has to be curbed to preserve the ecological balance of the globe. In 2009 the UK based Sustainable Development Commission regarded that human reproduction contributed to global warming. The Optimum Population Trust ( a Malthusian Population Campaign Group) calculated that each baby born in Britain will cost 2 acres of woodland in terms of the CO2 they will burn!! And Malthus only had to worry about food supply!
Let's look at one real reason for the fear of these western pundits. In 1900 the West ( including Russia and Eastern Europe) made up 35% of the world's population. By 2012 this had dropped to 17%, and by 2050 it is expected to be 10%. On the other hand, by 2050, Africa's population will be more than four times Europe's population. How terrible! Imagine the economic and ecological strain on the planet. Think of the 'carbon footprint' stamped on the planet by these rising millions of Africans!
But, there is another issue - more important than overpopulation - that the developed countries are not willing to own up to because this places the responsibility for global warming at their doorstep. It is the unsustainable consumption of the world's resources by the wealthy West and other non-Western countries like Japan
1. Out of 6.5 billion people in the world today, the 1 billion in the developed countries (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand) have a relative per capita consumption of 32. This means that 'the average rate at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases" is 32 times higher than the developing world. Numbers in the Third World may be increasing at a higher rate, but it must be remembered that the average American/Briton consumes as much as say, 32 Kenyans. (From Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at UCLA)
2. In terms of carbon emission, the world's richest half-billion (about 7% of global population ) cause 50% of the world's CO2 emissions. However, just 7% of CO2 emission is created by the world's poorest 50%
(From Princeton Environment Institute)
OR, to put it another way. India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia will be responsible for most of the world's population growth. But, the CO2 emission of one American is equivalent to 4 Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians and 250 Ethiopians.
3. On the use of land for maintaining a sustaining lifestyle, the average American takes up 9.5 hectares, 7.8 for Australians, 7.1 for Canadians, 5.3 for Britons, 4.2 for Germans, 4.9 for Japanese, 2.0 for Chinese and 1.0 or below for India and Africa.
So we need a rethink. Should we really be paranoid that the developing world are breeding like rabbits? Or that the well-off parts of the world are gorging like pigs?
But there is an even more dire scenario. In my next posting I'll tackle another 'population' fear - that the Muslims are "copulating like barbarians at the gate".