Posts Tagged ‘Overpopulation’

The rising human tide in Africa

September 7, 2019

“If the biggest global news story of the past 40 years has been China’s economic growth,” wrote demographer Paul Morland, “the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.”

In his book, The Human Tide, Morland traced what’s called the demographic transition in society after society, from Britain and Germany to China and India.  The pattern is that societies experience surges in population when the death rate falls and life expectancy increases, but then the fertility rate levels off and then decreases.

In many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, the fertility rate is below 2.1 children per woman, which is the replacement rate.

In general, each successive society that underwent this transition had a bigger and more rapid surge in population than the ones that went before, but also a more sudden drop.  The latest region of the world to begin the demographic transition is sub-Saharan Africa, and that part of the world is still in the early stages of its population surge.

United Nations statistics quoted by Morland show that:

  • Of the 48 states and territories with fertility rates of 4 and above, all but seven are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nine out of 10 countries with the highest fertility rates are in Africa.
  • Every one of the 30 countries with the lowest life expectancy are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • All but two of the 30 countries with highest infant mortality rates and the lowest median age are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The population of sub-Saharan Africa is growing more than twice as fast as the world as a whole.

Fertility rates in Africa are falling, just as in the rest of the world, and Morland is confident they will continue to fall.  But they are falling from such a high level that there will be a population surge regardless.  Population growth depends not only on how many children the average woman has, but how many women there are of child-bearing age.

My knowledge of Africa is superficial, but it is obvious that conditions in sub-Saharan Africa are bad.  Much of Africa is at risk of famine.  Africa is torn by war and ravaged by drought—which can only get worse, as global temperatures rise.  Corruption is prevalent.  Although there are bright spots and encouraging signs, most African governments still are on a spectrum from corrupt semi-democracies to dictatorships for life.

I have to say that I have a good impression of African immigrants in the USA—not only highly educated professionals from Nigeria and Kenya, but also poor refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia, whom I got to know as a volunteer driver years ago for a Catholic refugee resettlement charity here in Rochester, N.Y..

Most of the refugees struck me as having great resilience, great personal dignity and a strong desire to repay the least little kindness.  Somali refugees were moved into a section of a public housing project, and the smell of Somali home cooking replaced the smell of marijuana in the hallways.  The managers were glad to have tenants who didn’t drink alcohol or take dope, play loud music late at night or get into fights in which the police had to be called.  From what I’m told, they’ve all thrived since.

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World on track for zero population growth

May 15, 2015

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Much of the world is on track for zero population growth.  Birth rates in many countries are at the replacement rate of 2.1 children per average couple, or lower.

brazila01gra1The change, in my opinion, has come about because (1) knowledge and availability of birth control are widely available, (2) women are emancipated and have control over their bodies and (3) people are raised far enough out of absolute poverty that they think it is better to have a small number of prosperous, well-educated children than to have many children.

I think that, in the long run, Muslims and Hindus will be as willing to practice contraception as Catholics have proved to be.

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Why I am not a population bomber

May 11, 2015

In 1968 I read a book entitled The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich which began as follows:

The_Population_BombThe battle to feed all of humanity is over.  In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…

via Wikipedia.

Ehrlich argued that the world’s fundamental problem was that there were too many people in the world, and that the only solution was by means of birth control if possible, but not by relief of poverty or increase of food supply.

At the time he wrote, there were 3.5 billion people in the world.  Now there are 7.2 billion, but there is less hunger and starvation in the world than there is today.

Nowadays Ehrlich admits he exaggerated for dramatic effect, but he says it was for a good purpose, which was to alert people to the danger of overpopulation.

I don’t agree it served a good purpose.  I think Ehrlich put obstacles in the way of people such as Norman Borlaug who sought to increase food production and relieve famine.  What good was it, people asked, if it results in more people being born who eventually would starve to death anyway?

Mathusianism has long been used as an excuse to let people starve.  The British government used this excuse for failing to relieve famine in Ireland in the 1840s and in India in the 1940s.   It is still used as an excuse for failing to relieve famine in Africa.

The great economist, Amartya Sen, has pointed out that there never has been a famine in a democracy, because in a democracy, public opinion will not permit allowing a large percentage of the population to starve.

In modern times, the problem has never been that there was not enough food to go around, he wrote.  The problem was people who were too poor to buy the food that was available.

Yet Ehrlich’s ideas still have wider circulation than Sen’s, at least among people I hang out with.  I still hear people say, when we’re talking about some social problem, that the basic underlying problem is that there are too many people in the world.

And sometimes this is followed—and this makes my blood run cold—by the remark, “We’ve got to thin the herd.”

The best thing I can say for people who talk like this is that they don’t realize the genocidal implications of what they’re saying.

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The population bomb that fizzled

June 17, 2010

When I feel most pessimistic about the state of the nation, I remind myself of all the things I worried about in the past that never came to pass.

In the 1960s, I read books such as Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and William and Paul Paddock’s Famine – 1975! warning of imminent mass starvation because of world population growth. These two books weren’t unique; they are the ones I remember most vividly.  Ehrlich described very graphically the horrors that lay ahead, and warned of the futility of trying feed the teeming masses, because they would only reproduce and create a larger starving population. I recall the expression “dieback” to describe how nature would bring population and resources into balance.

Later on there was something called “liferaft ethics,” which said that the Earth is like a liferaft that can carry only a limited number of people, and that if you are on the liferaft (i.e., a citizen of a fortune country such as the United States), you are justified in pushing away someone drowning in the water to save yourself. Norman Borlaug’s efforts to introduce high-yield crops in India and elsewhere met with active hostility from the population warriors.

Now nations such as China and India, which were thought to be doomed, are successfully raising their material standard of living. If their populations are poor by American standards, they aren’t starving. Where starvation still exists, as in North Korea, it is the result of oppressive government and a failed economic system, not overpopulation.

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