EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Meeting the global demographic challenge
, March 21, 2009
The world faces an imminent crisis of depopulation rather than overpopulation.It is occasionally important to step back from the immediate issues to look at some of the long-term trends which, over the course of the next 50 or 100 years, will shape the future of civilisation.
These are the issues which will be there long after pressing current concerns have been forgotten. Among them is the looming demographic crisis, arising not from over-population - which has been part of the left's mantra since the 1960s - but from the far more serious threat of under-population, which is already having damaging consequences in countries as diverse as Russia and Japan.
For the past 50 years, we have been bombarded by claims that the world is facing a set of interconnected crises: over-population, resource depletion, "peak oil", environmental pollution, war, poverty and famine.
All these are based on the false assertion - endlessly repeated by radical environmentalists in the education system, political parties and the media - that present and earlier generations plundered the resources of the earth with reckless disregard for other creatures or for the future of mankind.
The fact is that much of the developed world's population has peaked, and is about to go into steep decline, as a result of an ageing population.
The total population of the continent of Europe (including Russia and other non-EU countries) peaked around the year 2000 and is currently falling.Decline
Large European countries such as Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland and Germany have declining populations due to their falling birth rates, and many smaller nations, including the Czech Republic, Belarus and the Baltic States, are in the same boat.
All these countries are characterised by an imbalance between the old and the young in their societies, and a declining number of people of working age having to support a growing number of the elderly, who proportionately make greater demands on health services and social security safety nets, where these exist.
Population decline is therefore expected to be associated with a fall in the standard of living for everyone.
The decade-long economic malaise of Japan and Germany is often linked to these demographic problems. The worst-case scenario is a situation where the population falls too low to support the social welfare system, leading to its collapse.
It will be interesting to see whether the current financial crisis leads to the abandonment of the welfare systems established in Western Europe in the post-World War II era, or their strengthening in light of the rapid growth of unemployment.
Even some of the fastest-growing countries in the world face a demographic shock. China, for example, has implemented a draconian one-child policy for the past 30 years, enforced by the Chinese Communist Party.
As a result, according to detailed studies of China's demographic future, China's population, currently 1.3 billion, will peak at around 1.5 billion in just 20 years, around 2030, and then begin to decline rapidly.
Some studies suggest that by the end of the present century, China's population may have fallen to around 600 million, less than half its current population, and overwhelmingly elderly.
An IMF study in 2003 estimated that if the one-child policy is continued without being modified, China's population will actually fall to about 400 million; and to ensure a population of 1 billion, China's fertility rate would have to increase from 1.3 children per family currently to 1.5. (Economic Implications of China's Demographics in the 21st Century
, by Kevin C. Cheng, IMF Working Paper 29, 2003).
This social experiment is unprecedented in human history. One American business consultant in demography, Kenneth Gronbach, has described this as "the greatest demographic blunder in the history of the world".
Another consequence of China's one-child policy, backed up by enforced abortion, is that the country has a growing imbalance of the sexes.
Chinese demographers have estimated that there are six boys born for every five girls, and this estimate is backed up by figures from the last Chinese census in 2000, which showed that there were 39 million boys aged below four years, and just 32 million girls.
In Africa and other parts of the developing world, AIDS is having a terrible and growing impact on life expectancy, and is directly impacting on national economies, as those most directly affected are parents and the working population.
All this indicates that, internationally, the world faces an imminent crisis of depopulation rather than overpopulation, as a result of cultural, political and health issues.
The solution, in each case, is the adoption of pro-family, pro-natalist policies which encourage the natural family as the best environment in which children should be brought into the world, nurtured and loved.- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.