January 12, 2013

Imagine That: World Population Projected to Peak in 60 Years

Paul “The Population Bomb” Ehrlich, call your office. Oh, never mind. You’ve never cared about the truth anyway, or the fact that your predictions of worldwide calamity have been far off the mark, but you sure have received a lot of attention from the establishment press over the past several decades.

According to Jeff Wise at Slate.com on Wednesday, “researchers at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis foresee the global population maxing out at 9 billion some time around 2070.” After that (and before that in certain countries, pretty soon in Japan, much of Europe, Russia, and China,and not all that far away in the U.S.), the problem will be worldwide depopulation. Wise points out why the math points to peak population, and how that reality upsets the usual media reporting apple cart (HT Instapundit; bolds are mine):

About That Overpopulation Problem
Research suggests we may actually face a declining world population in the coming years.

The world’s seemingly relentless march toward overpopulation achieved a notable milestone in 2012: Somewhere on the planet, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the 7 billionth living person came into existence.

… A somewhat more arcane milestone, meanwhile, generated no media coverage at all: It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. (That’s a compound annual growth rate of 1.54% — Ed.) That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth—the first time in human history that interval had grown. (Compound annual growth rate: 1.20% — Ed.) (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.

This is a counterintuitive notion in the United States, where we’ve heard often and loudly that world population growth is a perilous and perhaps unavoidable threat to our future as a species. But population decline is a very familiar concept in the rest of the developed world, where fertility has long since fallen far below the 2.1 live births per woman required to maintain population equilibrium. In Germany, the birthrate has sunk to just 1.36, worse even than its low-fertility neighbors Spain (1.48) and Italy (1.4). The way things are going, Western Europe as a whole will most likely shrink from 460 million to just 350 million by the end of the century. That’s not so bad compared with Russia and China, each of whose populations could fall by half.

The reason for the implacability of demographic transition can be expressed in one word: education. One of the first things that countries do when they start to develop is educate their young people, including girls. That dramatically improves the size and quality of the workforce. But it also introduces an opportunity cost for having babies. “Women with more schooling tend to have fewer children,” says William Butz, a senior research scholar at IIASA.

If the decline continues in linear fashion with 0.34% declines in the compound annual growth rate every 13 years (i.e., to 0.86% compounded for the next 13 years, 0.52% for the next 13, and 0.18% for the next 13), a virtual level-off will start occurring as early as the mid-2050s before world population hits its absolute projected 2070 peak.

Thanks largely to Ehrlich’s bogus work and the influence of envirozealots on school curricula, overpopulation has been a staple of the U.S. educational system for several decades. It’s also been a consistent theme in establish press news reports, as a Google News Archive search on just one phrase returning (“exploding world population,” in quotes) demonstrates.

Too bad it’s not true.

If it could be — no, make that “when it is” — demonstrated that an industrialized world population with adequate living standards for all is possible within the constraints of the world’s resources, its ecosystem, and human ingenuity — bravely assuming that such information would be allowed the reach the world’s political decisionmakers, and that said decisionmakers would accept it — the movement to straitjacket the world’s production of goods and services and the radical but quite influential depopulation-advocating wing of the environmental movement would lose its justification to exist.

With that as the likely outcome, I would expect that the statist and state-favoring media outlets to pretend that reports such as the one from Austria don’t exist, as they essentially have in the almost six years since a United Nations report with similar predictions was published.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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