‘Green’ crazies seek to cut an already-low population
Jonathon Porritt, a so-called “green” adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, argues that it is “irresponsible” for families to have more than two children. How can anyone take this man seriously? Britain has a total fertility rate of just 1.66. That’s far below the rate of 2.1 children per woman that is necessary just to sustain the existing population. Britain also absorbs about 130,000 immigrants a year. Nonetheless, the United Nations Economic and Social Council projects that total population in the United Kingdom will decline to 59 million in 2050, down from 61 million. Porritt is not satisfied. He insists that to safeguard the environment and protect the well being of future generations, the population of Britain should be cut to 30 million – about the level that existed at the end of the Victorian era.
Such prophecies of environmental doom are all too familiar. Thomas Malthus raised the issue in the 19th century with his suggestion that curbing population growth was essential to preventing mass starvation. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich, a professor of population studies at Stanford University, took up the refrain with The Population Bomb, an international bestseller, in which he insisted: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines – hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” Environmentalists and scientists associated with the Club of Rome followed up in 1972 with The Limits to Growth, predicting that shortages of natural resources brought on by population and economic growth would soon plunge the entire planet into an economic catastrophe.
What, though, has happened? Today, the world’s population stands at 6.7 billion, up from 2.5 billion in 1950, yet the great majority of people are better fed, better clothed and better housed than any previous generation. India, a country doomed by Ehrlich to mass starvation, is now essentially food self-sufficient.
Moreover, despite the hand-wringing of environmentalists, the air we breathe in Canada, as in the United States, Britain and other economically advanced countries, is undoubtedly much cleaner and safer than it was 50 years ago. Anyone who doubts that assertion cannot have looked up any of the pertinent data from Environment Canada or been around to see and breathe the smog-choked air of our cities prior to the 1960s, when most homes and businesses were heated with coal-fired furnaces.
Regardless, Porritt still contends that world population growth is degrading the environment. He writes: “Most particularly, it’s felt in terms of the rising emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that we’re putting into the atmosphere, with the prospect of horrendous consequences by the end of the century.”
Given that economically advanced countries produce much of the highest greenhouse gases per person, environmental extremists like Porritt insist that Britain, Canada, the United States and other well-off countries should aim to cut their populations in half over the next few decades. The suggestion is preposterous. No one could predict with any confidence last summer that Britain, like the rest of Europe and North America, was heading into one of the coldest winters in recent memory. Surely, then, there can be no certainty that a drastic cut in population is the only way to prevent catastrophic global warming in 90 years.
There is far better reason to fear population decline. For example, how can anyone suppose that Western civilization can long survive with fertility rates that are far below the level needed to sustain the population? Consider also the huge impending costs of supporting a rapidly aging population in societies plagued with low fertility rates. Immigration cannot solve this problem. Canada maintains the highest rate of immigration in the world, yet Statistics Canada projects that our population is continuing to age so rapidly that the ratio of productive workers to dependents will decline to 2.4 in 2050, down from 5.4 in 2000 and 7.7 in 1975.
The crises brought on by low fertility rates in conjunction with high rates of abortion, contraception and family breakdown are real, serious and already underway. Addressing these issues should get far higher priority from our policy makers than speculation about the potential impact of population growth on the weather in 100 years.