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Overpopulation isn’t a threat Elon Musk needs to read Aldous Huxley

Can the Earth cope with 8 billion? (H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Can the Earth cope with 8 billion? (H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images)


October 25, 2022   5 mins

In the enduring thought game “Who would you host at a dinner party?”, three men sit at my table: the 21st-century’s Elon Musk and the 20th-century Huxley brothers, scientist Julian and writer Aldous. They would talk about Mars and whether humans should bother with it, about energy and its limits, about artificial intelligence and its possibilities. And they would talk about the future.

The thing is, though, that Elon Musk is the future that the brilliant Huxley brothers spent their lives imagining; Aldous most famously in Brave New World (1932) and science-communicator Julian in a thousand books and articles and broadcasts on the quantity and quality of the human race on planet Earth.

Aldous and Julian would wonder why Mars was still so interesting for someone as clever as Musk. Human habitation of proximate planets was already an old idea for their generation. And not just as a science fiction trope. Emigration to the moon and Mars was tossed around all the time as a possible solution to one of the Huxley’s key political discussion points: overpopulation. Expenditure on settling other planets, Julian was convinced, would do nothing to alleviate the poverty that such crowding brought on Earth. His eminent brother Aldous was also firmly earthbound: neither population, nor hunger, nor land problems were going to be addressed by looking outward from Earth to the celestial bodies.

The trio would, inevitably, talk about population. Musk would probably tell them that, any day now, the world’s population will tick over to eight billion. Julian and Aldous would sit back and look at one another, shocked. In their time, they were both A-list speakers and lobbyists on the great post-war problem of overpopulation. But they had only imagined a future of up to four billion or so.

It is impossible to overstate the whole-Earth scale of the population problem in the years after the Second World War. The planetary crisis, then, — one of energy consumption — was not just similar to our own Anthropocene-crisis, but its direct antecedent. Julian and Aldous Huxley’s generation watched regional and global rates of net population growth accelerate in a manner unimaginable even to their grandfather, the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley. “Darwin’s bulldog”, a fierce supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, was already worried in the late 19th century.

In 1957, Julian put it in terms of doubling: one billion in the mid-18th century, two billion by the mid-Twenties, and at its Fifties rate, he forecast, four billion by the Eighties. His brother put the same idea differently. “On the first Christmas Day”, Aldous wrote, there were about 250 million humans; this grew only slowly, so that when the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock, there were perhaps 500 million. By the time he wrote Brave New World in 1932 there were almost 2 billion people on the planet. Just 27 years later, when he revisited his dystopia, human numbers were approaching 3 billion. That was the figure that sent the Huxley brothers, like so many others, into intellectual and political overdrive.

Aldous wrote Brave New World Revisited in 1958, a non-fiction book naming something that was for him far more terrible than the fictional world he had created decades earlier: “The Age of Overpopulation.” For the Huxley brothers, world population growth was leading inexorably toward a catastrophic planetary future.

At my table, Musk might then lean forward and tell the Huxley brothers that as we approach eight billion on planet Earth in 2022, the average fertility rate has declined to 2.3 births per woman. That’s when the dinner party would either fall apart or come alive. For Elon Musk, this fertility rate is one of the great near-future problems. He tweets: “Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilisation than global warming.” He is not alone. We’ve heard quite a bit about an apparent cataclysm, for example in Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson. In the Huxley era, similar catastrophic books were on the shelves, but they sold under titles like “Standing Room Only”, “Overfill” and “The Population Bomb”.

For Aldous and Julian Huxley, the astonishing fertility rate of 2.3 would be a breathtaking achievement. This was everything they had worked for. Planetary catastrophe had been averted! The future of humans on Earth, safe. Immodest Julian would think that the world had been wise, read his thousands of talks and books and papers on the unprecedented disaster that was population growth, and acted. The Huxley brothers simply couldn’t and wouldn’t understand how this decline could possibly be construed as a global problem.

Late in their lives, on this matter, the brothers were twinned: the same arguments, the same catastrophe, the same popular deployment of Huxley science and politics in every register and outlet possible. While Julian was writing articles on overpopulation for Playboy, Aldous was writing the same for Esquire. While Julian was broadcasting on the BBC, Aldous was speaking to ABC on population and world resources. Both used the widely recognised formula of “death control without birth control”. That is, the easily comprehensible idea that the public health control of infectious disease had been implemented across the world with incredible success especially in the reduction of infant mortality, but without any accompanying programs for birth control. The “balance is out”, as Aldous put it.

In the post-war world, there were a range of reasons for being troubled by world population growth. One was geopolitical, especially as the Cold War unfolded, when population control policies were associated with US-led anti-communism. A higher standard of living, linked to fertility control in then-named third-world economies, was understood to offset hunger and thus political discontent. For the White House, population planning was about ensuring food security and keeping polities this side, not that side, of a communist line. For leaders of newly independent nation-states, not least Jawaharlal Nehru in India, lower fertility rates meant higher standards of living and economic “development”. For any number of economists, lowering fertility rates was a means of averting future wars. For Aldous Huxley, population control was a road to world peace.

For Julian, however, his desire to manage human fertility was largely driven by early environmentalist politics. He sought to save wildlife habitats from encroaching cultivation, all those additional acres turned to the plough to provide grain for ever-growing numbers of humans. He was also driven by a feminist politics of sorts. He argued his whole life that reliable birth control should be available to all women, not just some, and that there was little human freedom for women bearing eight, nine, 10 children out of their worn-out bodies. The good and the bad of population control and family-planning history is well known. Yet we need to recall how recent and unprecedented in human history effective contraception actually is. Julian knew it. His generation and milieu often considered birth control one of the great technological developments of humankind, as significant in the long history of human affairs, he would say, as fire, printing, or electricity: “In time it will change the entire course of history.” It has.

It is sobering to observe how much more sensitive the Huxleys were to the gender dynamics of population policy than Musk and his ilk today. Women around the world are now opting en masse to have fewer children, and to do so later in life. The reasons are multiple: women are marrying later, retaining employment, getting educated, and accessing contraception. But collectively, this is one of the truly phenomenal changes of modern world history. In the UK, for example, the birth rate fell from 5.63 births per woman in the Huxleys’ grandfather’s time to 1.753 in our own. In India, it fell from at least 6.0 to 2.2 births per woman. But if the pro-natalists had their way, and this global trend towards lower fertility were to be reversed, it would be women bearing the brunt of it. And that would be impossible to justify.

As the planet approaches eight billion, the change in fertility rate since the Huxleys’ time means we need not be alarmed, as they were, by global “overpopulation”. Nor should we worry about an incorrectly named global “depopulation”. What we really need to be alarmed by are crude rationalisations for women to breed more. There lie the truly sinister lessons of history.


Alison Bashford is Laureate Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. Her latest book is An Intimate History of Evolution: The Story of the Huxley Family (Allen Lane).


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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
1 year ago

“As the planet approaches eight billion, the change in fertility rate since the Huxleys’ time means we need not be alarmed, as they were, by global “overpopulation”. Nor should we worry about an incorrectly named global “depopulation”. ”

Is it just me or does this article not actually give any reasons why we should not be worried about either scenario?

It seems to me, in a world with a rapidly reducing population, the modern welfare state becomes an impossibility without massive increases in productivity, which are by no means guaranteed. It’s all very well arguing that having more children is burden upon women, until you also demand that someone else’s children’s labour pay for your pension and work to keep you comfortable in your old age, whilst having to forgo these benefits themselves, because you’ve kicked the ladder away behind you after reaping the rewards of population growth.

This will not be a something which is to the detriment of just women but the whole of society. This does not mean we should bring to life the oppression fantasies of the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale but I do find it baffling that societies today provides billions more in support to healthy, active retirees, whilst allowing families to struggle to raise children, only to socialise the benefits of their future labour whilst leaving them with 90% of the costs of raising them.

At the very least, we do need to manage the the rate of decline in the population and a good place to start might be to recognise that having children is not some kind of lifestyle choice, akin to an expensive hobby, but a fundamental part of a health society, which should be recognised and supported, rather than indulging the fantasy of endless consumption, free of any restriction or responsibility.

Endless consumption with a finite and declining population is equally as dangerous as endless growth on a finite planet.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matthew Powell
Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

”Is it just me or does this article not actually give any reasons why we should not be worried about either scenario?”

I just assumed a Panglossian proof that all scenarios are for the best, because, as we know,

””all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.””

Bill Tomlinson
Bill Tomlinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

The author says Elon Musk should read Huxley.

More to the point is that the author should read Paul Ehrlich ( “The Population Bomb”)

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“baffling that societies today provides billions more in support to healthy, active retirees, â€œ
Robust, healthy, greedy retirees: a nice generalisation to bolster your argument. What’s baffling about a caring society? “Someone else’s childrens’ labour pay for your pension” i.e. the younger help support the passing generation, as it’s done for the life span of successful societies. And what benefits are you thinking of when you mention the ones they forgo? There are many benefits now that did not exist for previous generations, that were unheard of. What sort of society do you want? And what’s your alternative?
Your concerns about the rate of decline seem to be that there won’t be enough funding for the next group of retirees. But you think retirees are a drain on society. Or is it just the existing group you find a drain?
Having children is not a lifestyle choice, nor is it done to create a healthy society. It’s done because of a love for children. Or have you forgotten that aspect of life.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Well, there is a case to be made that, as we live longer, we should retire later.

But you’re absolutely right about children. How sterile a world these people are creating.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

The point is that in most western societies the retirees are by far the wealthiest demographic, yet they expect the young (who are battling record high rents and house prices, as well as stagnant wages, large student debts and insecure employment) to fund their pension and expensive end of life care that they haven’t bothered to saved for.
To really rub salt in the wound those older generations got rid of most of the leg ups they received to get a foothold in life such as council houses, free further education or on the job training as they didn’t want to fund it, yet now expect to be looked after in their old age

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

First of all, they’re the wealthiest demographic because of the years behind them. If you expect someone age 30 or 40 to be in the same financial situation as someone in their 60’s then obviously times would be even better than those experienced by the older age group. They don’t expect the young to fund their pension, they bank on a promise made by government. And just bare in mind that this younger generation are now beginning to receive the biggest transference of wealth than any previous generation.
Pensioners also battle high rents, falling value of their pensions, debt, insecurity and something the young don’t experience: old age. Society decided to support the aged. That’s a policy similar to giving women maternity leave and subsidising child care. That’s the society we seem to agree on having,
I don’t see how you can blame a whole generation for government policies, on both sides of politics, in education, housing or training. You talk as if this age group is still out there making policy, when in fact it’s the next generation who are out there, in business and politics, and able to effect change but still blaming the generation who stopped playing a part a long time ago.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

They have had longer to accumulate wealth I grant you that, however the millennial cohort are the first generation on record forecast to earn less over the course of their lifetime and die poorer than their parents. Therefore to me it’s not as simple as “they’ve had more time to accumulate wealth” as given the same amount of time the youngsters today won’t be able to do the same.
Rising rents and house prices also affect very few of the elderly as almost all of them owned a family home at some point, even if a few have lost through divorce etc. in the years that followed. I stand by my belief that they effectively pulled the ladder up after themselves by selling off council houses, blocking new much needed housing being built and scrapping most of the assistance they had to get a start in their working lives. They also expect the pension triple lock to continue, despite it becoming ever more unaffordable for the nation to fund.
Also don’t take this as a case of sour grapes as I’m not one of the struggling youngsters, I just believe they’ve been well and truly stitched up by their predecessors. It’s a sad society that cares more about those at the end of their lives to the detriment of those just beginning theirs in my opinion

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“At age 30, millennial home ownership hit 42%, compared with 48% for Gen Xers and 51% for baby boomers.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-23/why-aren-t-millennials-buying-home-4-charts-explain
This suggests it’s not as bad as the media makes out. It’s not great, but does it justify all the stories about following generations.
I don’t see how anyone can forecast that they will earn less over the course of their lifetime when they’re only middle aged now. And the idea that they will die poorer than their parents is also supposition when, as I’ve said, they will inherit the greatest transference of wealth of any generation.
In fact, the lives of one generation from another vary greatly. Each lives in radically different times. Comparisons seem a bit pointless and finger pointing even more so.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brett H
Desmond Wolf
Desmond Wolf
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I agree that generational warfare encourages people to be angry with the wrong people (old people themselves, rather than the Thatcherite policies that facilitated this degree of wealth hoarding at the expense of subsequent generations), but in repeating that the biggest generational transfer of wealth is currently underway aren’t you just making Billy’s argument for him? Ie that despite all spending and selling for their own gain, boomers still have enough left over to make this huge transfer because they have been able to earn so much more than young people today (whom I’m assuming will, despite this transfer, not be able to make one like it to the generation after them)..

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“It’s a sad society that cares more about those at the end of their lives to the detriment of those just beginning theirs in my opinion”

It might be your opinion but is it fact?

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I chose not to have offspring and populate an already over populated world.
So now I must feel guilty about someone who had the ‘pleasure’ of having children?
When are people finally going to take responsibility for their own lives!

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Andy O'Gorman

What do you mean “feel guilty”?

Paige M
Paige M
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Where I live, by a percentage of tax dollars spent and the way our health system dealt with Covid it is most definitely true.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paige M
Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

What rubbish! I worked for every dime i have. Never born with a silver spoon and did not attend an Ivy league University.
Now retired and trying to enjoy what is left of my life before my pension runs out.
Geez man, grow up.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

This rather overlooks that most people paid very significant amounts of their earning away in government subventions for 40 years or more; not just income tax, VAT, etc, but all those hidden little taxes that knaw away and take so much. It is hardly unreasonable to expect some of that back to pay healthcare costs – the state pension is so small now as to be almost neither here or there, pity those that have only that to live on

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Don’t generalise – I’m soon to be a retiree. I have no savings and no pension.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

The current generation of retirees will extract a far greater sum from their children, than they ever paid for the care of their own parents, so great that their children, will likely not be able to afford the same for themselves when they retire.

That does not sound like the actions of those who love children.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“The current generation of retirees will extract a far greater sum from their children, than they ever paid for the care of their own parents”
Are you able to substantiate that?
You’re obviously unaware of the wealth currently being transferred from the baby boomers to their children.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

State pension cost have increased 165% over the last 20 years, far out stripping economic growth of around 30%, meaning that todays workers are paying a greater share of their earnings to fund retirement than those who came before and those figures don’t include the defined benefit pensions which, though now discontinued in the private sector, continue to hold up taxes and hold down wages to meet the liabilities these overly generous entitlements.

Inflated asset prices are a form of unearned wealth and actually represent a wealth transfer from those without property, to those with it, through increases in rent and mortgage payments. For there to be any transfer of wealth back from the boomers to their children, house prices would have to fall and we all know they won’t let that happen.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matthew Powell
Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I asked you if you could substantiate your claim. Throwing figures around doesn’t do it.
“Inflated asset prices are a form of unearned wealth”
Only if you sell it. And if you don’t then your children inherit it, unearned wealth and all.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Hang on, that last bit isn’t right. The ‘transfer of wealth’ is very simply accomplished, not by some notional fall in house prices, but of course by snuffing it and leaving the wealth to the next lot. All this is much simpler and more normal than the moaning about inter-generational inequity makes out. And we are all forgetting the baseline shifts that have made young people vastly more comfortable, well-travelled and well-informed (on average) than their supposedly richer and better-served parents were fifty years ago.

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

Well said.

Charlie Rose
Charlie Rose
1 year ago

And the younger generation can afford $7.00/day for Starbucks coffee, and $1,000/yr for the latest and greatest IPhone!
Their grandparents would never have considered such luxury items while raising their families.

John Ramsden
John Ramsden
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

But lets not forget that in a few years the aged and infirm will be waited on hand and foot by robots! So fretting about a shortage of minimum-wage youths to care for the old is outdated.
Also, as the World population declines then all things being equal, the remaining population will increase in peace and prosperity accordingly. They will thus most likely feel more secure in their property and finances, enough to have more children.
Longer term, off-Earth settlement and interstellar emigration will be a vital means to avoid the terminal decline which would inevitably occur over a few centuries if everyone remained on Earth and today’s nations consolidated into a single “World Government”, which some misguided naive fools see as a desirable aim. Society always needs “others”, even at the cost of conflict.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Do you have children? I have two. They are both adults. Were it not for our support, both financial and emotional, they would not be the successful people they are today. The policy decisions made by our governments are the cause of deprivations. Transferring money from the productive to the non-productive are not the actions of those who love their constituents.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

The future won’t have enough money to pay retirees what is being paid now. That’s another can being kicked down the road.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

If people are going to criticise retirees getting a pension now then you can be sure there won’t be one like it again. If you want it later then support it now.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Considering that, throughout their working lives, older people are forced by government to pay for the social security many later live on, I don’t get how that burdens young families. My husband and I married in our early twenties, waited nine years before our first child was born, and another three for our second. We did that so we could be sure we could afford to house, raise, and educate them. We didn’t want to be a financial burden to our parents.

Robert Routledge
Robert Routledge
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I have always understood that a strong desire to breed is an incredibly strong instinct for the survival of your species

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Robots and AI. Depopulation isn’t a problem.

Tim Beard
Tim Beard
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Earth isn’t at risk humans are and not from climate change from idiocy, as has always been the case.
Earths resources are not finite.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim Beard

Good to remind people that humans are no threat whatsoever to the planet per se – after all it survived a major meteor hit not so long ago just fine. Humans need to maintain the health of the planet for THEIR own comfort !!!

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim Beard

Earth’s resources are not finite.
An infinite supply of gold, uranium, copper? ALL resources are finite. The Earth, after all, is only so big. You may be thinking that we will continue to get better at extracting resources, but, in the end, the supply is NOT infinite. Nothing is.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Just chip in here cos I read this a while back, you’re quite right, following taken from article linked at the bottom:

Half of all the oil consumed since the dawn of the modern oil age in 1859 has been consumed from 1998 through 2021 inclusive based on data available from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Approximately 1.4 trillion barrels of oil are thought to have been consumed to date (though there are estimates as low as 1.1 trillion). That means that in just the last 24 years total historical oil consumption has doubled.

It is hard for most people to imagine the vast increases in the rate of consumption of practically everything that makes modern life possible. Resources appear without most of us ever thinking about how or whether the rising rates of consumption can be sustained.

For copper, one of the critical metals we depend on for electrical, mechanical, and even monetary purposes, the story is similar. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that about 700 million metric tons of copper have been extracted to date. Based on mining statistics from the Copper Development Association, that means about half of all the copper ever mined has been mined from the year 2000 through 2018 inclusive.
From this article well worth a read for anyone really:
https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Technology-vs-Scarcity-The-Worrying-Reality-Of-Exponential-Growth.html
I do think we are going to be forced to have a major rethink in the way we use resources, I think we may be hitting the peak of stuff that’s cheap and easy to extract.

Christopher Bingham
Christopher Bingham
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

I remember someone talking in the 80s about the idea of a billion Chinese driving internal combustion engines would be the final nail in the environmental coffin.
Our problem is every creature will do what it needs to love in inwhat ios confortable for the species. Jimmy Carter asked us all to wear sweaters, and Ronald Reagan came to office by saying “Turn up the heat and drill.”
The jury is out on Malthus, but I wouldn’t vote against him, it’s just that the resources he knew about couldn’t take modern agriculture into account – or the effect of moving rural populations into cities.
Having a half dozen kids on a farm is free labor. Having two kids in the cities is an expensive hobby.
Now we’re facing demographic collapse, with most people in the citiies, who wouldn’t know how to farm if they were facing starvation. The environmental limits are just as hard as they’ve always been, they are just manifesting in unexpected ways.
I highly recommend Peter Zeihan for a lot of the data. The next bunch of years are going to be rough, even if we avoid WWIII.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christopher Bingham
Deb Grant
Deb Grant
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Healthy retirees do most free childcare and voluntary work. They also worked their whole lives, so what more could they have done?

Is it perhaps though their fault that indulgent parenting has been passed on and multiplied down the generations, so that we seem doomed to low productivity?

Gregory Prang
Gregory Prang
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Before we finish calculating how many people the Earth can physically, logistically support (the usual definition of “overpopulation”), we should consider the other way of answering the question, that is: when everyone you know says the world has too many people, the world has too many people. That’s the reason to ignore Huxley.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
1 year ago
Reply to  Gregory Prang

Everyone I know says the world has too many people.

James Longfield
James Longfield
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

And who do they think should be removed? Not them I presume

Rick Hart
Rick Hart
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

The population is not reducing in Africa. Quite the opposite

steven schmidt
steven schmidt
1 year ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

C’mon man. The human productivity is way higher than you seem to think. Mechanization, the first machine age, the second machine age means human productivity has improved astronomically. One man on an average sized tractor can plant 1000 acres of wheat in a week. That is old technology. The issue is that medicine and agricultural production has increased population to a level where there is an excess of humans who cannot be productively employed so they have to be entertained. So productivity is now measured on a foundation of infinitely printable paper money and hype. If we go back to fundamentals we can easily see that human productivity has already reached an optimum level to support for the human race. The main problem is that productivity is now a favorite term used by politicians to keep the runaway train rolling. It is also true that even if the population stopped growing at 8 billion and everyone on the planet had equal access to modern productivity enhancement technology, there would be catastrophic consumption of resources and production of waste such that our environment and sustainability would collapse.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago

50% of the Nitrogen in our bodies comes from the Haber Process.
This process takes atmospheric Nitrogen molecules, splits them apart, and joins them with Hydrogen atoms to produce NH3 (Ammonia).
Nitrogen from this process is required for plants to grow at the levels required to support the billions of humans on this planet. Plants need Ammonia to make chlorophyll and to synthesise proteins required for metabolism.
Atmospheric Nitrogen is of no use to them because the N-N bond is not breakable.
So it is this single invention by Fritz Haber, made industrial in about 1911, that allows yields of crops to be 4-5 fold higher than they would otherwise be, and which, to now, has rendered Malthus’ prediction about population limits, wrong.
But keep in mind that the Haber process requires extreme heat, extreme pressure, and a hydrogen source, all of which come from fossil fuels.
Malthus, in our own time, is only wrong, therefore, in so far as the Haber process continues to work seamlessly.
Should this process stop, or should the products of the process be untransportable to their required destinations, then Malthus would be right rather quickly.
Whether or not the world is overpopulated, then, rests on two key questions: How reliable is the flow of fossil fuels into the Haber process? And how reliable are the transport networks of the final fertilisers to where they are needed?
And the answer to this is: they are reliable until they are not. Much as continuing house price rises before 2008 were reliable, until they weren’t. Much like economic growth since 2009 was reliable, until it wasn’t.
In a global infrastructure of expanding complexity, with interwoven supply chains, both the supply of fossil fuels for this process, and the transport networks required for their distribution, have become perilously fragile.
This is the result of decades of globalisation dictating that we should optimise cost at the expense of resilience, predictability and national self interest.
The war in Ukraine and the Covid pandemic have laid bare how fragile this interconnected web of moving parts is.
To speak of the world not being overpopulated then, is to show a certain hubris about our ability to indefinitely extract, process and transport the core inputs and outputs of the Haber process.
Add to this the Eurocentric assumption among our political class that other peoples from other cultures are motivated by peace and harmony as we are, and we remain utterly incapable of predicting, much less handling, people like Vladimir Putin, or migrant populations who hold their host country in contempt.
The current supply chain shocks should be a wake-up call to the political class to secure energy and raw materials required for farming so that, first and foremost, each nation has the ability to generate and store calories to meet the basic survival requirements of its populace.

Last edited 1 year ago by hayden eastwood
Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago

Excellent comment, so interesting, thank you Hayden.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
1 year ago

I would add freshwater availability / usage / future prospects to this equation.
See Our World in Data for a comprehensive review with nice multicoloured graphics :
https://ourworldindata.org/water-use-stress
Water abstemious crops / 1000 kcals : bananas, potatoes, maize and barley
and water abstemious crops / 100grams of protein : poultry, other pulses, peas.
One can of course use crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil without using industrially produced fertiliser – its just that the annual yields for the (human and cattle consuming) crop of interest drop automatically and dramatically if you do this.
Bacteria have this system called quorum sensing that does all sorts of neat things in order to optimise the survival of a bacterial colony (including stopping cell division). One of the inputs to these systems is the availability of chemicals (food) the bacteria need to thrive. I have a possibly misplaced faith that homo sapiens is demonstrating a similar process right now.

Last edited 1 year ago by Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago

Good point Elaine, absolutely right – I mentioned but 1 of the many interconnected things. There are many others, as you so well point out.

Duane M
Duane M
1 year ago

Smack on target, and one large reason that humanity is heading into a perfect storm of population, climate change, and exhaustion of natural resources.
As population continues to increase (and will hit 10 Billion around 2080), it requires more farmland and more fertilizer. But arable land area is decreasing due to climate change, while natural gas and petroleum are already past peak extraction, meaning, the price for those will increase and they will be pretty well tapped out by 2080. So food will become more and more expensive, while the demand for food will increase.
We can add to this mix the very finite availability of rock phosphate, which is another limiting nutrient for crops.
Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention water. The increasing scarcity thereof, as world glaciers melt and rainfall becomes more chaotic. We can look forward to wars over water, beginning probably with India vs. Pakistan.
The Huxleys would be very alarmed.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Duane M

I will add only one further point to your comment – arable land is decreasing not just because of climate change, but also because of mass population growth in Africa.
Many of the headlines I have seen in the Guardian, for example, wrongly attribute flooding in places like Nigeria to climate change.
In most cases the flooding is caused by destruction of water catchment systems through deforestation, unmanaged livestock populations and cultivation on hills and river-banks.
What climate change takes 50 years to achieve, a few thousand humans, with their plagues of ungulate livestock, can do in just 2 years.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Duane M

Arable land is decreasing in some areas and increasing in others. It’s not as straight-forward as you are making out. Large swaths of Canada, Russia and Siberia will do well on a warmer planet. Other areas not so well. You do realize it has been much, much warmer than now in the distant past? Just like there has been a lot more CO2 in the atmosphere. We aren’t all that far above the absolute lowest concentrations ever (about 192ppm at the end of the Permian – it corresponded with one of the longest duration ice ages ever).

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

This bears repeating. There is no evidence that I’m aware of that warmer periods led to an overall decrease in biomass in the ecosystem of the whole earth. The opposite seems more likely given that at bottom, energy is energy and the more of it that is captured by a system, the more of it there is to sustain living things or be captured by humans or w/e.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
1 year ago
Reply to  Duane M

Natural gas and oil/petroleum will be nowhere near tapped out by 2080. In fact its likely that we hit peak demand soon, not peak production. Look at the increase in renewables. Climate change will encourage, on average, more growth. That maximum population of 10B is only 30% higher that now (as opposed to the tripling in the last 60 years) and may not be even get that high. Neither melting glaciers nor extra rainfall harm the water supply.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago
Reply to  Duane M

You might have overlooked the fact that the productivity of the globe is actually increasing. Since 1992 the amount of vegetation has increased by 14%. Fewer acres are needed for the same – or even more – food production. And deserts are receding as plants encroach on their borders. You are entirely wrong.
Also, with advances in crop strains the yields of grains etc are many times what they were just 70 years ago. Thank you, Norman Borlag. Along with Haber, mentioned above, he made the true green revolution possible. With genetic modifications in the pipeline the yields of plants will increase further.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Terry your statement is quite simply wrong.
Since the 1990s net vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been increasing (which is what your quoted statistic actually refers to).

But this increase has not been enough to counteract the net deforestation taking place in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Net global deforestation in 2020 was 47 million hectares: https://ourworldindata.org/deforestation

Last edited 1 year ago by hayden eastwood
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

We await that solar furnace (or nuclear reactor) that creates hydrogen from water and then cooks the Nitrogen from the air to arrive at ammonia. We must find a way independent of fuel to get the hydrogen we need for the real future cars. We can never deal with the battery powered EV. We need too much dirty digging for minerals.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago

well put sir !

Louise Galvin
Louise Galvin
1 year ago

So interesting. Thank you.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
1 year ago

Hayden
I always enjoy reading your contributions. You have a powerful intellect and advance penetrating arguments and insights into the debate. Your perspective here is fascinating.
“… globalisation dictating that we should optimise cost at the expense of resilience, predictability and national self interest.”
Spot on, Hayden!
“… the Eurocentric assumption among our political class that other peoples from other cultures are motivated by peace and harmony as we are …”
This is so very true. Western civilisation has been overwhelmed by alien cultures and worldviews that are inimical to our democratic ideals and pursuit of truth.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago

This article would have been more interesting for me if it had focused on Aldous and Julian Huxley as intellectuals of their time, and left out the writer’s opinions about their links with modern feminism, ecology and overpopulation, but I realise that’s a bit much to expect these days.

There seems to be an assumption in the article that the West – Australia, Europe and the US – should maintain it’s current progressive trajectory. I doubt whether it will. The thing with ‘progress’ is, despite what the progressives think, it cannot be decided or planned upon ahead of time, because stuff happens – wars, pandemics, unpredictable responses by ‘the people’ to conditions. We actually progress in a sort of push me pull you kind of way.

I think the final paragraph is a bit daft with it’s suggestion of a sinister threat of Handmaid’s Tale proportions on the horizon if we’re not careful. Definitely puts me off reading Alison Bashford’s book, not indicative of a clear thinker, more of someone brainwashed with modern feminism. As far as I am aware at no time in history have women been forced to bear children at a state level. Even under Stalin women were encouraged and rewarded to bear children, not forced. There is some evidence that the Vikings might have kidnapped women in order to mate with them and reproduce. Perhaps something similar went on with Genghis Khan considering how widespread his genes are, but that’s over a thousand years ago and no ‘state’ as such was involved.

Are we supposed to believe the beastly patriarchy of the feminist imagination is plotting in the shadows ?
Tiresome.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Claire D

Hear hear.

Tom Blanton
Tom Blanton
1 year ago

The only thing that keeps me coming back to UnHerd – the comments are so much better than the articles.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Blanton

Exactly! It’s weird. These moderately (usually) left-leaning essays they post – often with interesting ideas but some obvious biases. But then the comments are filled with vastly more researched information which contradict them – and civil, judicious (for the most part) discussion.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
1 year ago

The first thing the Brothers Huxley would ask on learning that the average global fertility rate were just 2.3 per woman would be “how is this distributed across the globe’s regions and societies”? For they were eugenicists.

Aldous was of course well aware that by the 1950s that population growth rates in Western Europe were much lower than in less developed regions. In his lecture entitled “The Population Explosion”, given at the University of Santa Barbara on 9 March 1959 (available in compilation with a number of other interesting lectures the series in “The Human Situation” published by Triad Granada in 1980), he makes clear his concern about the “awful probability that we are just going to go on having more and more illiterate adults than we hand before”, and that “in very many cases the effort to raise human quality is being thwarted by the mere increase of human quantity, that quality is very often incompatible with quantity”. Uneducated, malnourished masses living in “gigantic cities” that cannot, by virtue of their size alone, be beautiful cannot, in his view, sustain a democratic system of government and he fears that within “a hundreds to two hundred years an immensely hypertrophied human species will have become a kind of cancer on this planet and will ruin the quasi-organism on which lives”.

He advocates “international policy” to implement some “intelligent and humane method” to solve the over-population problem, which is a “profoundly religious problem, a problem of human destiny”.

In a later lecture in the series, “The World’s Future”, he lauds the “most elaborate and essentially optimistic evolutionary philosophy” of Herbert Spencer and other ‘progressive’ thinkers interested in charting a better future for mankind. Huxley discusses Bertrand Russell’s “extremely realistic and sensible” conclusions that the only alternatives for the future are a catastrophic nuclear war or “the creation of a single world state 
 by force, as the result of one power being victorious in a nuclear war 
 or under the threat of force, under the fear of what might happen, and as a result of reason and considered enlightened self-interest and humane ideals”. He suggests that this might only come about when there is some external threat that forces people to unite: “Undoubtedly, the best thing for world government under law would be an invasion from Mars”, but perhaps humans can persuade ourselves that “we are our own Martians” to “unite against ourselves for our own higher interests” and solve problems including over-population.

That is what you often get when you scratch below the surface of the progressive globalist environmentalists: a deep-seated disregard for the value each and every human being in and of itself, a deep-rooted distrust of the wisdom of individual people and traditions, and a desire to “follow the science” to impose supposedly enlightened control in the greater good, with legitimacy and power established through fear.

Sound familiar?

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

“the wisdom of individual people” – you mean the ones who have created our current global leadership through ignorance, greed, laziness and fear ?? I want to live on your happy planet….where Joe average is self educated, morally astute and motivated to act for a decent, wise world – where is this delightful place ??

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
1 year ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Chris, seriously? You blame the billions of individual, decent and upstanding innocent men and women of this works for “creating” the very amoral parasites that feed off them? That is a courageous position to take, if I may say so.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

Africa is the big problem – huge increases in population, that they can’t support long term, in the last thirty years of relatively under-developed countries that will inevitably, and understandably, seek a bigger slice of the global pie, led by autocratic leaders with primitive solutions, a la Putin.
What happens when they finally get nukes?

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart
hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

And not just nukes, but nuclear reactors that are mismanaged. Look at the collapse of South Africa currently under way. Do you really want Koeberg nuclear power plant being run by cousins of the president who never attained GCSEs, much less degrees in physics?

D Walsh
D Walsh
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Countries with an average IQ of 70 won’t be building nuclear bombs anytime soon, the smart fraction is too small

Last edited 1 year ago by D Walsh
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

they dont need nukes, they just have to travel…..

Samuel Turner
Samuel Turner
1 year ago

Depopulation will be a massive issue. Mostly so for the East Asian societies, but also for Eastern Europe which will struggle to grow before they get old. The welfare state will need to massively expand to care for the tens of millions of elderly, hundreds of millions in China and India, countries which will most likely get old before they get rich. Now I’m all for reproductive freedom, but in rich countries I believe that people are simply not able to have as many children as they would like because of the high cost of living and excessive work hours. Also, the status of the mother and family in society has been so massively reduced which has also reduced women’s happiness.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Turner

No it hasn’t. Freedom from the ‘family’ in all its forms has substantially increased mine.

Sam Barkes
Sam Barkes
1 year ago

Maybe you’re happier but women as a whole report higher levels of dissatisfaction and anti-depressant use.

Paige M
Paige M
1 year ago

Let’s see how that looks when you are 80.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

Me, me, me.

Samuel Turner
Samuel Turner
1 year ago

How can you possibly know? Besides, do you not think that the continuation of society is important? Family is the bedrock of society and without society we are all lonely, atomised individuals.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 year ago

Be a rebel and have a big (happy!) family.

Maureen Hughes
Maureen Hughes
1 year ago

Whichever way you choose to look at it, higher population means less habitat for the other denizens of the planet. We need more land to feed ourselves, to live on, to produce energy, to divert water resources. It would be sensible to consider the whole earth, and all that depends on it, before saying we are not overpopulated. I think we are now and any increase in population will cause further depletion of the earth’s resources and the ability of other species to thrive. Just because we can support more people, does not mean we should.

James Longfield
James Longfield
1 year ago
Reply to  Maureen Hughes

Who do you propose we should get rid of to meet your point?

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 year ago

‘Aldous and Julian would wonder why Mars was still so interesting for someone as clever as Musk.’ —-where to start………

‘What we really need to be alarmed by are crude rationalisations for women to breed more. There lie the truly sinister lessons of history.’

??????????????????

I refrain from commenting further.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Aaron James

I’m not sure what you mean here. But crude rationalisations for women to breed is a sobering lesson, when the point of having children is a love of children.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I have this vision of Aaron, spitting at his keyboard in frustration, desperate to say more, eyes bulging, sweat dripping off his forehead
..refraining from comment being such an alien concept. 🙂

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Stewart
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago

The problem is that educated people, who live on the fruits of their own labour, are restricting their families to a reasonable number whose comfort, education and achievement in their turn they can support, whilst the benefit-dependent underclass, and those influenced by peasant interpretations of religion, breed large numbers of predominantly useless people. There is, therefore, an imbalance between the number of people contributing to society and those who are taking out of it.
There is a strong argument for letting a real pandemic (not the imaginary one that we have just endured) do its worst.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“the benefit-dependent underclass, and those influenced by peasant interpretations of religion, breed large numbers of predominantly useless people”
A remarkable statement. Is this supposition, or do you have something to back it up?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

My guess would be bitter misanthropy.

James
James
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Look at birth rates for Natives vs those of “asian” (Pakistani) descent in the UK, that should be revealing enough.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago

That’s a very high horse you’re riding, is it called fascist?
‘those influenced by the peasant interpretations of religion breed large numbers of predominantly useless people’ what does that even mean??

The Bible, especially the old testament has been interpreted in numerous different ways, by a multitude of different religions. And even within Christianity itself you have very different interpretations, Catholicism, protestant, Baptists, Methodists etc.
My grandad was ‘a peasant’. He grew up in a one up one down in Yorkshire with two brothers, two sisters, his uncle and his parents. He was too young to go to war, born 1929, but one of his brothers, also a ‘peasant’ had his foot blown off on the landing beaches in Normandy, the other was rear gunner in the RAF, the only reason my nan and grandad own a house is due to Margaret thatchers right to buy, my uncle was born in a caravan and my mum was born in a prefab, my grandad worked as a better ware man then managed to get a job with bt and my nan worked as a cleaner her whole life. Their ‘peasant interpretation’ of religion extended to them voluntarily maintaining the local churchyard and helping with all the community events for the whole of their retirement. So do think they deserve to be cleansed from the earth too?
Those that ride the highest of horses have the furthest to fall, you might want to remember that

Last edited 1 year ago by B Emery
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

Wonderful retort to a inhumane post.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Thank you, I had a touch of the angries when I wrote it 🙂
This country as is it is today was built on the bloody hard graft of ‘the peasants’ from george orwell, the road to Wigan pier:
For it is
brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior
persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of
the Times Lit. Supp., and the poets and the Archbishop of
Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants–
all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to
poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their
throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with
arms and belly muscles of steel.

Not to mention the endless droves of the lower classes sent to front lines in ww2 TO DEFEAT FASCISM, including my great uncles, at the sharp end of the stick, most of the ‘beneficiaries of welfare’ you write off Caroline these days are the carers, the warehouse workers, the labourers on sites across the country doing some of the most important jobs in the country for shit money while you sit in your ivory tower sneering. Sorry. I’m still angry though. I might stop now.

Last edited 1 year ago by B Emery
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

i rather doubt Alison was talking about your forebears – so you may have missed her point….

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Users name is Caroline watson I’m replying to? ? And her comment was: ‘whilst the benefit-dependent underclass, and those influenced by peasant interpretations of religion, breed large numbers of predominantly useless people.’

Followed by:
‘ There is a strong argument for letting a real pandemic (not the imaginary one that we have just endured) do its worst.’ sounds like blatant fascism to me. Im just reminding her of the value of ‘ peasants’ as she put it.

Also when the schools are in this state https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11345421/amp/Head-teachers-warn-nine-10-schools-run-money-academic-year.html its hard for any at the bottom to move up.

Last edited 1 year ago by B Emery
Bella OConnell
Bella OConnell
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

Agree wholeheartedly with your comments. The real heroes in life are incredibly often unsung.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

“Useless people”. Are you related to Adolph?

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

He must have escaped that bunker.

Phil Mack
Phil Mack
1 year ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

She’s defo related to Chris Sullivan

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
1 year ago

I believe a large of the educated class are useless and parasitic

Last edited 1 year ago by Karl Juhnke
B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl Juhnke

I will add, for balance, now I’ve calmed down, as a youngerish person in the UK I’m just so sick of the far left and the far right. I’m sick of the concept actually. I’m sick of the middle ground do actually as we likers, like Tony Blair and his stupid interference in iraq. I’m absolutely furious with ‘the markets’ and the imf and now completely dispair of our democracy. Before I just dispaired a little bit. I’m sick of people rehashing old extreme arguments like ‘cleansing the underclass’ or eugenics when we have been there, fought a world war over it and hopefully moved on. I’m sick of the extreme climate nuts when we will be lucky to have our power on and diesel in our cars, lorries, tractors, after we’ve finished this stupid war. If we stop oil, the world stops. What is happening to the world? I’m genuinely worried by the rise of both extreme right and left and the lack of sensible discussion and diplomacy in the void. I’m sorry I got on my own high horse there a bit Caroline but I’m pretty convinced cleansing the earth isn’t the answer, literally millions of people have already had to die in ww2 to decide that. Anyway, who in your fantasy would get to decide who lives and who dies? You? In the times that are to come, we may have to help each other more than ever, we will divide ourselves at our own peril.

Samuel Turner
Samuel Turner
1 year ago

You’re a sick human being. A eugenicist. Truly backward.

Emma Baillie
Emma Baillie
1 year ago

Everyone seems to want to micromanage the population to get their preferred outcome.
Since everyone’s preferred outcome is different, that’s a bit of a problem.
If the fertility rate halved, it would still take centuries to get back to the population that existed at the start of the twenty-first century. Talks of “empty planets” are just trying to fix 2200’s problems today. No trend continues forever, and the trend to small families is included. Many couples have fewer kids than they want because they’re living in crowded conditions. And when the population is lower, there are fewer people living in crowded conditions.
Seems like a self-correcting problem to me … and if it doesn’t we have literal centuries in which to figure it out

P Robinson
P Robinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Emma Baillie

I calculate that we need a world human population of one billion, and it will take three centuries to get there.

Rodes.pub/OneBillion

The underlying point of Ms. Bashford’s interesting article is the astounding drop in worldwide fertility. But too little attention is paid to the fact that this trend comes none too soon. Neither the article nor the comments pay much attention to the fact that the immense mass of 8 billion humans is crushing nature. Our planet will host 10 billion humans before population growth ends, and that is worrisome indeed.

We need to encourage lower fertility (well below replacement) in every nation on Earth. Our progeny and the biosphere will thank us.

Peter Rodes Robinson

Paige M
Paige M
1 year ago
Reply to  P Robinson

Anti-human and nihilistic. One billion people is what happens after a nuclear war and winter. Maybe we are closer to your goal than you think.

James Longfield
James Longfield
1 year ago
Reply to  P Robinson

Wow. You are literally advocating for the extermination of 6 billion people. You might to reflect on that for a moment

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
1 year ago

“ it would be women bearing the brunt of it. And that would be impossible to justify.”

Most surveys show that people with children, men and women, both want more children. So while women will inevitably bear the brunt of it, having to give birth (with the exception perhaps of women with penises) the real reason for the falling birthrates is economic.

The argument here is pretty badly made. Find people in the past who worry about A, find somebody today who worries about B (the inverse of A) . Show that A in the end wasn’t as much of a problem. Assume from that that B is also not a problem.

This is literally illogical.

Falling demographics is a problem, as China is finding out and Japan has found out. Best case scenario is lower growth. Worst is economic collapse.

Sam Barkes
Sam Barkes
1 year ago

I don’t think the reason for the falling birthrates is an economic issue, we are still richer than we ever were. Our grandparents would hustle and live austere lives to make ends meet, and yet they had several times the number of children we do. It’s a cultural issue. People want children just not enough to sacrifice their standard of living like in the past.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam Barkes

It’s partly a cost of housing issue. And a cost of having children issue. And a technological change issue.

In the past children could actually be economically productive and were a bulwark against the worst poverty of old age. And there was no easy birth control.

Yea, culture has changed but as I said couples are not having the number of children they want, and the reasons therefore can’t be cultural.

https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-global-fertility-gap

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

“the real reason for the falling birthrates is economic.”
You might have to define what you mean by “economic”. Do you mean that it’s impossible to afford a family, or do you mean that they don’t want to go without for the sake of having a family?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

I believe I’ve read repeatedly that it is the latter to some degree: people with means keep putting off having children because they don’t want to interrupt careers and lifestyle and then because they start later have less children in the end (or not at all). I know quite a number of people in my life’s path that fit this pattern, but I don’t know that anyone has actually researched it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeff Cunningham
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

They get economically poorer for having a family. Obviously. Nearly everybody does.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago

Only if your wage stays the same and you don’t manage your income. I know that’s not the case for everyone. But it does suggest that you can’t generalise.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
1 year ago

as we approach eight billion on planet Earth in 2022, the average fertility rate has declined to 2.3 births per woman.”
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman ensures a broadly stable population.
Together with mortality and migration, fertility is an element of population growth, reflecting both the causes and effects of economic and social developments.
Most Western and Asian nations now have fertility rates far below 2.1 per woman, while Middle Eastern, African and South American nations have rates that are far higher.
https://data.oecd.org/pop/fertility-rates.htm#:~:text=Assuming%20no%20net%20migration%20and,of%20economic%20and%20social%20developments.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago

What we really need to be alarmed by are crude rationalisations for women to breed more.

Well, generic women, the answer is in your grasp. Ignore those crude rationalisations and consider that a carefully managed lowering of the global population makes it far easier to achieve any necessary climate change behaviours, and makes more resources (land, food, water, sanitation) available per person relieving social stress.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

That’s a very simplistic equation; why will it make more resources available? How will it?

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

More resources available per person.
In 1961 there were 0.36 hectares of arable land per person. Global population was just over 3 billion people.
In 2020 there were 0.18 hectares of arable land per person. Global population was 7.8 billion people.
Arable land figures from worldbank.org and population figures from worldometers.info

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

But the level of food produced from an acre of arable land has increased over six-fold over that time period. There is actually less land being farmed world wide now but producing far more food. Matt Ridley’s latest book, “The Rational Optimist” talks about this in detail.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I wonder if that fact matters when we are so much better at producing more food, or making that land more productive than we might have in the past? Lowering population means more resources available per person only if we keep up the same level of production with a smaller population. Can a smaller population do that? Otherwise we’re back to a small level of production for a smaller population.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
1 year ago

The title is misleading – whether or not overpopulation is a threat, the risk of overpopulation is on current trends receding.
I’m not sure I’d want the Huxleys at the table – both were committed eugenicists and members of the Galton Society.

D Walsh
D Walsh
1 year ago

Eugenics gets a bad rap, its clearly better than dysgenics, which is what western governments now support
We are all eugenicists BTW, unless you select your partner randomly

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  D Walsh

That made me laugh.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago

I think the comment was serious……

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

The headline says overpopulation isn’t a problem, but then the text seems to imply that it is. One can understand the fears of the Aldous Huxley’s of the world given the exponential population growth era they lived in, but our era is not theirs, and humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future. The Huxley’s could scarcely have imagined that in a world as chaotic and unmanaged as our modern world is, the birthrate would decrease so spectacularly over such a relatively short period of time. The only thing holding the world birthrate positive at this moment is sub-Saharan Africa. Extrapolating today’s trends suggests the population will peak by the end of this century and population will begin to decrease. That comes with its own problems, but public awareness lags reality by several decades at least, and the problems of depopulation are not as intuitive or ingrained as those in overpopulation. Not having enough food is an instinctual fear drilled into us by millions of years of evolution and a history filled with famine and starvation. It’s no great leap of logic for people to fear an overpopulation apocalypse. Musk is simply using his fame to point out that the other extreme could also be very bad. Then again, the current trends could reverse, or some other event could render the discussion moot. We can all try to guess at the future in whole or in part, and the chances are high that most of us, or all of us, are going to be wrong.

Tony North
Tony North
1 year ago

As much as it pains me to suggest this..but…in Brave New World terms ..artificial wombs and baby factories are probably already being developed …in China? Where the self inflicted one child policy will see the first effects of the ” missing children”.

Duane M
Duane M
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony North

Artificial wombs are being developed by scientists in the US (and doubtless in other countries, too). They are working with mice, so of course it has not hit popular awareness. But they are making good progress…from a scientific angle.

michael harris
michael harris
1 year ago
Reply to  Duane M

Speaking of mice, I saw mention recently (here or on another site) of the experiment I read about 40? years ago in the ‘Herald Tribune’ where a breeding group of mice was given all the food and water and nesting material it needed as it grew in numbers- but NO MORE SPACE. And how at a point the birthrate declined… and went on declining, the mice losing interest in copulation, the males sitting passively grooming themselves, until, some years and generations later, the last mouse died.
The writer who referenced this experiment (I have never forgotten it) ended by saying ‘this was mice, of course, not humans’. But he did not seem quite convinced,
What do you, my fellow posters, make of this?

Phil Mack
Phil Mack
1 year ago
Reply to  michael harris

Were the increasingly indolent mice spending an inadvisable proportion of their disposable income on elaborate tattoos and piercings?

michael harris
michael harris
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mack

Touche!

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  michael harris

The experimenter was John B. Calhoun and his experiment coined the term ‘beautiful ones’, the name he gave to the obsessively grooming mice. His work was extremely influential and you can be stone certain that Musk is well aware of it. It was a highly influential experiment that influenced the study of demographics and population density and their possible effects on behavior. It has been studied by many political and economic leaders. Musk could probably give a lecture on that experiment himself, as the conclusions from that experiment are relevant to and linked with his personal fears of depopulation and his desire to expand into space. There is an element of grow, expand, and proliferate or stagnate and die to Musk’s philosophy.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_B._Calhoun

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Jim Davis
Jim Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony North

China scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit which has failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births. (https://www.google.com/search?q=when+did+china+remove+the+one+child+policy&rlz=1C1RXQR_enUS983US983&oq=china+eliminates+one+chil&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0i22i30j0i390l2.7551j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8)

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

There are actually quite a few reasons to be very alarmed at a globally shrinking population. Industrial human society is premised on perpetual economic growth: more consumers buying more stuff made by more people. No economist has a clue what happens to that equation if the number of consumers starts to shrink, since it’s never happened outside of catastrophic events like famines, wars, disease, etc. Such unexpected events may not map well to global birthrates gradually falling below replacement, but it is fair to say that shrinking populations have never produced positive economic results.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

The old canard about economic growth meaning people “buying more stuff” .
OK, maybe so, but by far the biggest expenditure in developed countries, the one that requires economic growth to fulfil its ever-increasing appetite, is welfare.

Vici C
Vici C
1 year ago

Here’s an idea: pay women to be pregnant, give birth then give up most of their adult lives raising kids. Where would you put their salary? You guys can pontificate all you like, if we cross our legs there’s not much you can do about it. Oh yes, I know, invite millions more immigrants. Very clever. What’s to say their women will oblige indefinitely? And who will pay millions more oap pensions?

Paige M
Paige M
1 year ago
Reply to  Vici C

Hungary is doing exactly this. Incentivizing couples to have offspring through bonuses and lowered taxes etc. guess what, apart from a slight initial burst it hasn’t moved the needle on birth rates. What seems to make a difference on birth rates, a society’s optimism about the future. Can’t say we have done anything but heap doom and gloom and apocalyptic thinking on our youth. Is it at all surprising people don’t breed with all the fear porn circulating on climate change?

r pinches
r pinches
1 year ago

I find it odd that each generation says the same thing – we have too many people – but in an ordered western society that doesn’t seem to prevent us having a comparable if not better life style than the previous generations.
World population is a different matter and we are already seeing economic migration which together with climate change and access to water are the real dangers facing future generations.
It will require a global strategy to invest in the future. Will it happen – based on current experience probably not – we can’t even plan for the retirement of our older citizens in a wealthy country when we had at least 65 years notice – but still blame them for holding back the younger generations.

Peter Grajczak
Peter Grajczak
1 year ago

Ah, the forlorn hope to control the uncontrollable! Prices (see Soviet Union), population (one-child policy anyone?), oil supplies (president Biden), stock market, global warming, food shortage, etc., etc. The birth rate growth, i.e., the first derivative of growth, has been flattening for decades now, even in the countries with youngest poplution like Egypt and Indoensia. And the key reason for the slow down, and eventually a reverse, is one metric: prosperity, which explains why all developed countries experiences population growth significantly below the 2.1 (child per child bearing female) replacement rate. Yes birth control and women liberation are important factors but those are typically the consequences of the former.

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 year ago

Crude rationalizations for women to BREED more?
I hardly think of women as breeding stock. Nor do I see men as bulls that need to keep the cows pregnant. What I see is a normal desire to pass on ones genes and what one has learned in a life. Kinda hard to see the point in building things, learning things, if your not going to pass them on. A life CHOSEN to not include children is a narcissistic and lonely choice. At the end of your life, everything you have built, learned or created has zero value outside of your family. There is no podium to stand on. There are no medals to receive. Any accolades will die with you. Who you were and what you did will die with you and that is true for all but the very tiniest portion of us.Everything from the preservation of the species, to the welfare state, to economic growth and stability is based on having children.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 year ago

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” — Herbert Stein
Now. Do we need top-down, centralized solutions to make things stop … or not stop? Or would we do better to just let these complex processes unfold on their own? Is the conceit that we’re equipped to competently influence these processes nothing more than a hubristic conceit?

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
1 year ago

O RLY?

Gail Lambert
Gail Lambert
1 year ago

As I understand it in the West human population is just over replacement levels so I do not know how you can say that population is not an issue because of this. We really need the overall human population to go down. By the way, reproduction rates are still too high in Africa.

Paige M
Paige M
1 year ago
Reply to  Gail Lambert

Illogical. Exponential growth in reverse is not something we have contended with ever. China is forecast to be 800 million by the end of the century, down from 1.2 billion. Korea, Japan all aging and shrinking populations. It’s an economic and social catastrophe. The West is not far behind and the implications are dire.

Brett H
Brett H
1 year ago
Reply to  Paige M

You seem to think there’s an optimum balancing act. Based on what? Why is it catastrophe? What do you base that on?

Paige M
Paige M
1 year ago
Reply to  Brett H

Our current economic models and welfare states do not align with depopulation. It’s pretty simple really. The math doesn’t work. That’s not to say there isn’t room for innovation and new technology and inventions, something that radically shifts the paradigm but as it stands what we have built is based on growth. It’s going to happen faster than any one perceives. Most of the Western world is obsessed with overpopulation. We don’t even have this on our horizon as a risk and so far governmental response is to buttress the tax base with immigration solely and raising taxes.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 year ago

What a pointless twaddle.

Debbie Radcliffelkolio
Debbie Radcliffelkolio
1 year ago

MI’m I’m just ppuul

Andy O'Gorman
Andy O'Gorman
1 year ago

The population when the Huxley’s were alive was vastly different from today and even in the sixties, it was noted that with some alarm, that the world population had surpassed three billion people.

Never bothered to read all of this tripe.