Fraser Nelson

Why we shouldn’t worry about overpopulation

Why we shouldn’t worry about overpopulation
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Perhaps the most sinister side of the environmentalist movement is the idea of an “optimal population,” where human life is seen as a menace. The Optimal Population Trust has today said that there are 45 million too many people living in Britain – which, for a country of 60 million, is quite some statement. The peculiar thing is that this “problem” may well have a solution in the form of the human race failing to reproduce. The hands of the world population clock are slowing. The natural population replacement level, 2.1 kids per woman, is achieved by no European country (pdf here). England stands at a respectable 1.75, Scotland at 1.6 and Italy at a dismal 1.2.

According to the UN’s medium forecast, the world’s supply of Italians will peak in ten years’ time. The rate of increase of the world population is projected, by the UN, to fall relentlessly: 5.7 percent between 2010-15 down to 1.7 percent between 2045-50. If you extrapolate the date on current trends (i.e. fertility rate falls as countries reach a certain degree of wealth)  you can come up with a graph showing that mankind will have been on earth for less time than the dinosaurs – and that the last Scotsman will die on April 2224.

Extrapolating trends into infinity is the source of all manner of nonsense (climate change being the least of them). In 1977 World Bank president Robert McNamara sternly warned that the number of people was growing faster than the planet’s ability to feed them and overpopulation was the ‘gravest’ threat next to a nuclear winter. But what about humankind’s ingenuity? As it turned out, the world was entering a golden age of poverty reduction as globalisation spread and Chinese and Indians rose up from their agrarian knees. There are some things spreadsheets can't factor in. Such as people like Norman Borlaug, whose development of disease-resistant ‘dwarf-wheat’ in 1940 more than quadrupled crops in India, Mexico and Pakistan, and transformed their demographic prospects.

Children are a blessing: humanity is ingenious enough to provide solutions for whatever problems. So disregard the Optimal Population Fund and their sympathisers in the media.


* Corvus Corax points out that, without immigrants, the UK birth rate would be even worse. Half of all children born in London are born to immigrant mothers (my two sons amongst them). The UK average rate is 1.7 kids per woman, but this varies widely for ethnic groups.

* Frank Sutton asks if men are firing banks, given the UK low fertility rate. "Fertility" is a bit of a misnomer, which is why I didn't use the word. There's nothing unusual about UK conception rate, as far as I know, but 22 percent of those conceptions ends in abortion in England & Wales. This will, of course, affect the birth rate.

PS: Here's a graph you won't see in a newspaper: