End of the world catastrophe scenes are as silly as they are fascinating. Acid rain was once a concern, but it proved mostly imaginary. The ranges of forests it was supposed to destroy in Germany were if anything fertilized by such rain. And so it seems all this sci-fi hoopla about the world overpopulating is just as much nonsense. Perhaps there is some sense of global capacity built into our reproductive instincts? Whatever the case, research shows that this year we hit our 7 billionth living person, and that when we hit our 9 billionth, the population will actually start to shrink.
The reason for this is that birthrates are down everywhere. In Germany, the rate is 1.36, whereas 2.1 is what is required to sustain a population. Spain is at 1.48 and Italy 1.4. Even American, who depended on immigrants and their tendencies to have lots of babies have seen lower birth rates in those immigrants. The Pew Research Center found that immigrants fell from 102 per 1,000 women in 2007 to 87.8 per 1,000 in 2012, leaving this overall U.S. birthrate at only 64 per 1,000 women — statistics given by an article in Slate magazine — and that is not enough to sustain us.
Mexico dropped from 7.3 to 2.4, India from 6 to 2.5, Brazil from 6.15 to 1.9. The explanation given is explained under the term “demographic transition.”
“For hundreds of thousands of years,” says Warren Sanderson, professor of economics at Stony Brook University, “in order for humanity to survive things like epidemics and wars and famine, birthrates had to be very high.” When death rates decreased, we see “a shift between two very different long-run states: from high death rates and high birthrates to low death rates and low birthrates.” This predicts what we see now, that most the world — more than half — is producing lower than sustainable population. Along these lines, the world is likely to meet its apogee in 2070, and then start to shrink a little.
The writer of the Slate article follows some linear thinking into some silly conclusions that we might go extinct if we keep this up, as if there wasn’t give and take on these matters, as if we should make a reverse-Malthusian conclusion. “If things continue at the rate they are going….” But they never do. The species and nature itself offers a system of checks and balances which should save us all from reverting to any draconian population control methods like China, and also, hopefully, keep us from creating any fertility factories.