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Zero Population Growth No Longer A Shameful Doctrine

Politics / Demographics Apr 27, 2012 - 02:22 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe government-friendly environment and development aid NGOs avoid this one like the plague: saying the world is massively overpopulated is only for a few privileged speakers - like Obama's chief science adviser John P. Holdren. Within the Club of Madrid and WorldShift Network, however, there is almost total support for the Zero Population Growth (ZPG) stance of Holdren, Paul Ehlirch and a growing number of influential voices.

They are now joined by Britain's Royal Society. Its most recent report from a panel of 23 eminent international academics in the fields of economics, population studies and conservation science, calls for a radical "rebalancing" of global consumption, to go hand-in-hand with linked and stronger attempts to curb the rapid rise of global population.

The Royal Society's "People and the Planet" report of 26 April underlines the complex interactions of population, resources and environment but comes down hard in favour of what will certainly be called "drastic action". The report sets out to ask political deciders how we can avoid the most harmful impacts of world population growth, which continues to expand at around 75 - 80 million every year, adding one more USA to the world's present 7 billion total every 4 years - or less.

To some, the Royal Society's report is most radical by urging that the world's wealthiest people must rapidly cut their consumption to save the Earth from a "vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills". One high income earner needs a lot more additional planets to supply their resources and absorb their pollutants, than one poor person, reflected by gauges as simple as their per capita oil demand and per capita CO2 emissions.

It also says that tackling global inequality - which the global economy is doing the only way it knows, through growth - is central to solving the problem of too many people exploiting too few natural resources. Stepping back and looking at what adding another billion to the world's population every 13 years does is a sobering exercize, and mostly for the developing countries, where about 85% of the world's population growth originates. Their deciders are faced with what is likely a Mission Impossible.

Developing countries will need to build the equivalent of one new city of a million people every 5 days for the next 40 years because of the deadly combination: urban migration + population growth. The chances of that being phyically possible, let alone economically possible are low and are getting to be admitted. Sidelining ZPG as a rich man's phobia driven by fears of not getting richer because the poor have babies is a one-liner that is losing its appeal. Likewise the extreme left claim that population growth is great for radicalizing voters - through unemployment, poverty, starvation and death.

The Royal Society's expert panel looked at real world issues, instead. The near hopeless quest for economic growth, to absorb the massive numbers of unemployeds - collateral damage from the ongoing crisis in richworld OECD countries - is strong for almost any political decider in the OECD.

The same deciders until very, very recently played with fire by opening wide the floodgates of mass immigration but the political blowback is rising fast. In France for example, the key arbiter in the presidential race is Marine Le Pen who openly clamors for zero immigration and the selective deportation of immigrants, mostly Maghrebins who acquired French nationality since 1974. The richworld's deciders do not have time to work out what increased demand for natural resources and energy will do to and for their supplies - but the markets do. Anytime there is the slightest trace of good news for growth, and equities rise, so will prices for oil, copper, soybeans, maize and other key resources, at least 4 days on 5. Locked together now: economic growth is an endangered species.

The reason why natural resource and energy prices 'came out of the box" is really simple but many commentators, and most politicians play innocent. They ritually act like they are surprised when natural resource and energy prices soar, but the Earth's limited resource pile and its growing inability to supply more without runaway price rises means that people living in rich countries will consume fewer natural resources, so that poorer nations will consume more.

This is what Britain's Royal Society is saying.

Taking a not so random indicator, India's current oil demand is around 1.3 barrels per capita each year, but the OECD average is 15. For India's 1200 million population to reach the OECD average, its oil consumption would rise by about 44 million barrels per day. The forecast is simple but the demand number is only theoretical. Of course. Raising world oil supply by that amount, in any timeframe, is totally impossible - the resources are not there.

In the words of the report: "Human impact on the Earth raises serious concerns, and in the richest parts of the world per capita material consumption is far above the level that can be sustained for everyone in a population of seven billion or more,". This is known, if not accepted but the next question is what do we do about it?

The Royal Society report argues for a "decoupling" of economic activity from the natural resources of the global environment so that economic growth and human wellbeing are less linked with the increasing demand for the finite energy, materials and bioresource services provided by nature. But its report does not duck the most critical question: expanding the availability of contraceptives to the poorest people in the world will not on its own solve many of the most acute problems caused by an increase in human numbers and a depleted natural environment.

The gauge of resource availability-per-capita for the world's population has been falling fast, and consistently for over 25 years.

The report went on to summarize: "The world now has a very clear choice. We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption... to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption," "Or we choose to do nothing and drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future".

Doing nothing might be the time hallowed "liberal answer" but once again it won't work, here. As the Royal Society report said: "Improving the wellbeing of individuals so that humanity flourishes rather than survives requires moving from current economic measures to fully valuing natural capital," in other words natural resources and energy are still undervalued and underpriced.

The report is unequivocal about the pressing need to slow down and stabilise the population of those countries where numbers are expected to rise rapidly this century. However, doing something has to be chosen right from the options available - as India found decades ago.

In 1976, Sanjay Gandhi launched a drive to cleanse Delhi of slums and force residents to leave the capital city. Sanjay then ordered the Delhi Development Authority to clear the heavily populated, mostly Muslim slums near Turkman Gate and Jama Masjid in Delhi. This forced resettlement of more than 250,000 people, and associated killings of disputed numbers of persons became a touchstone for the  political opposition. The real end to Sanjay and his brother Rajiv's political hopes, and a possible extra reasons why Rajiv was assassinated was their widespread family planning program to limit population growth - including government officials and police officers forcibly performing vasectomies in order to meet quotas. Officially, men with two children or more had to submit to sterilization, but many unmarried young men, political opponents and the poor were also forcibly sterilized. This program caused large and lingering public aversion to family planning in India.

Other methods work and do not need forcible sterilization, but doing nothing only delivers disaster. As the FAO reports, year after year, sufficient food is off the menu for more than 3 times the total population of the USA. At least 900 million persons worldwide suffer food shortage, and the rational hope of this being solved on the supply side - more food output - is low. Reducing world population growth to zero - ZPG - and trimming the greed of the rich are becoming the only ways out of the energy and natural resource endgame.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2012 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

© 2005-2022 - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Francis Cid
27 Apr 12, 19:14
zero population growth

The Royal Society's conclusion that population needs to be controlled as a solution to our "limited resources" is not congruent with the fact that food production still outstrips population growth. The problem lies in the maldistribution of resources. While I do not advocate redistribution of wealth, if economic policies, government subsidies, protectionist tariffs and undue support are eliminated, the developing world will be able to improve their economies and thus increase their purchasing power and improve their lives. Producers will find a way to market their produce and keep feeding the world without having to resort to such measures as strict control of population growth. The approach is very Western and as in many solutions drawn up by the "wise" in the West, they usually do not address the real problems in the world.

29 Apr 12, 06:38

Francis Cid: "if economic policies, government subsidies, protectionist tariffs and undue support are eliminated, the developing world will be able to improve their economies and thus increase their purchasing power and improve their lives."

Yes, and if the looting were halted, they could do even better:

The wealth of the west was built on Africa's exploitation

by Richard Drayton

Looting Africa: Some Facts and Figures

Looting Africa: The economics of exploitation

By Patrick Bond

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