Empty Planet *
Back when I was in eleventh grade, our high school owned a chalet deep in the Sudetes, which is a mountain range on the border with the Czech Republic. Take a look.
To qualify for the winter skiing trip you had to make the school famous by winning medals in sport competitions. My friend and me did just that and we were tasked with going to the chalet earlier and get the place ready for the rest of the team.
So, we took a couple of trains and then found a taxi in this town close to the border. Wet wind came, the snow was blowing and people were hiding in their homes. The man drove as up as far as the car could make it and then he said – “you’re on your own now boys.”
We were walking uphill in waist deep snow for most of the evening.
If this is not an impression of an empty planet for a 16 year old, I don’t know what is. Nevertheless, when the team came two days later we had the house warmed up and hot food on the stove.
Fast-forward to today and to my take on the empty planet now.
The world population growth prediction by the United Nation Population Division assumes nearly linear increase until the planet can’t sustain us anymore. The model is based on trends that may have been right in the past, but they don’t consider changes in society.
In fact the world’s population is about to take a dive.
The reduction in fertility in developed countries is by now an accepted fact; fertility rate of Canada today is 1.6, way below the 2.1 replacement level.
The extreme case is Japan, which lost almost half a million in 2019 (out of a total population of about 125 million). Do the math when the last Japanese will walk the earth.
It gets really interesting looking at India and China (40% of world’s population lives there).
China has a birth rate of 1.5 and India has just been reported at 2.1, so you may wonder how we can explode if we’re hardly replacing ourselves.
And keep in mind that Eastern Asian countries just don’t accept emigrants.
It’s the same in Eastern Europe – a cultural issue, they would rather shrink and be united, than expand and be divided.
In China’s case there is a twist to it – thanks to the disastrous “one child policy”, they now have 60 million more men than women.
That’s roughly the population of France, all men no women.
The major driver in population decline is urbanization – for the first time in history we now live mostly in cities (55% of humans). When you move into the city, a child stops being an asset (another pair of hands to work in the field) and starts to be a liability (another person to feed).
Keeping in mind that statistical 2.1 children per family is just the replacement level, here is how we score elsewhere: European Union is at 1.6 (740 million people who’re not replacing themselves, just rapidly aging).
The problem with aging population is that they just don’t buy that much.
And old populations are expensive – healthcare, pensions and all the issues you have to deal with as people age.
One way to deal with population decline is immigration. Canada, US and Australia are doing it right, the EU is doing it wrong.
Russian demographic is just a disaster, the fertility rate collapsed with the Soviet Union. This means that if they have any military ambitions in Eastern Europe, they need to do it now.
There is a twist with Russia as well – the population there is still in support of the old communist order (up to 60% by some polls). President Putin has been doing a good job of keeping the old demons at bay, but he is on his way out.
If Russia slips into a more democratic system, all bets are off who raises to the surface.
Back in the mountains, there was a classified military area not far from us, where they used to mine uranium in the 1950’s. One local took us to the entrance of an abandoned mine and we went in and took some blue sparkling crystals from the walls. Back in the chalet they were exploding when thrown in the fireplace. It made for a fine combo with the howling wind outside.
* ”Empty Planet” is a book by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson. The statistics in the text above were taken from the book.
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Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler