Posts Tagged 'population change'

Royal Society is set to repeat Malthus’s mistakes

The decision by the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific organisation, to launch a study into the effects of population growth is a retrograde step. There can be little doubt that it represents a move towards adopting a more openly Malthusian outlook: accepting that humans themselves constitute a problem.

Thomas Malthus, an Anglican clergyman, argued as far back as 1798 that population growth would lead the world to disaster. Since population would grow faster than food supply the future was one of impoverishment, mass starvation and endless wars.

In the event his predications proved hopelessly inaccurate. The world’s population has grown from about one billion in Malthus’s time to almost seven billion today. Yet we are better fed and more affluent than ever.

Over two centuries later the Royal Society is set to repeat Malthus’s mistakes. That is because, like him, they essentially see every human as a mouth to feed. We are parasites on the planet who devour resources like a plague of locusts.

What this misses is that we also have two hands and a brain. Every person has the ingenuity to help reshape the world for the better. To produce more resources rather than simply to consume. To grow the economy so we can all live in a more prosperous world.

Daniel Ben-Ami, author of Ferraris for all: In defence of economic progress, published 14 July 2010

Fertility decline and population ageing

Yesterday’s Guardian (1st February 2010) included an interesting feature on the consequences of rapidly falling fertility rates. The tone was highly apocalyptic, peppered with references to “population crash”, “baby famine” and a “demographic abyss”. Referring to a near-derelict town in former Eastern Germany, the article suggested that current population trends may spell a similar future for much of the developed world as well as some developing countries. It would seem that we face a future world where children will be found in museums rather than schools. This will be a world largely populated by older people –or as the Guardian puts it in a surprising lapse of political correctness, “The rise of the wrinklies”. Apparently, this will not all be bad news. Even as we are condemned to live in a crumbling economic wasteland, our advanced years will make us “wiser, and greener too”.

This combination of exaggeration, stereotyping and contradiction is not unusual in media commentary on fertility decline and population ageing. There is a substantial and growing body of academic evidence demonstrating that the consequences of population change are highly nuanced and strongly influenced by policy choices. Likewise, experiences of later life are very diverse, eschewing stereotypes. Rather than grapple with these complex issues, journalists are more inclined to simpler sensationalist predictions, such as those found in Peter Petersen’s Grey Dawn or Phillip Longman’s The Empty Cradle. Just as with the old scare stories of population “time bombs”, there is an urgent need for more measured and less clichéd reporting and analysis.

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock
Professor of Social Policy and International Development in the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK
Population ageing and international development: From generalisation to evidence is now available with 25% discount.


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