Monday, 30 January 2006

Germans in decline. Great for conservation.

Returning from a short holiday in Sicily last weekend, I read in the Daily Telegraph about the new German Chancellor's fears concerning the declining birth rate. According to the report, Angela Merkel is concerned that the falling birth rate will eventually lead to Germans disappearing. (see for a summary ). I always feel guilty when flying back from a holiday, but feel that my flying a few times a year is no worse than producing a large family of future consumers -- as exemplified by the British Prime Minister.

It may be the way the Daily Telegraph reported the issue, but it seemed almost to have neo-Nazi overtones, concerning a decline in German-ness. According to Merkel, an aging population would not be able to support itself, and more children were needed.

This of course is a hoary old myth, that expanding economies depend on. Surely the German Chancellor realises that children cost thousands and thousands of euros, pounds or dollars to rear to maturity. Health care, education and countless other facilities over the first 20 years of a person's life add up to a tidy sum. The elderly, by comparison, generally only become very expensive in the last four or five years of their life, and they also often have the means to pay for it. The problem is, that the elderly often want to hang on to their wealth, and expect the state to pay for their health care.

But my interest in the subject is that the one hope for the modern world is declining populations of humans in the developed world. It is the populations of countries like Germany and Britain that consume disproportionate amounts of energy and other non-renewable resources. So any decline in population has to be beneficial, both in the short term and in the long term. Every baby brought into this world will consume, and possibly reproduce itself with more consumers. The quality of life for huge numbers of people throughout the world is already terrible, and even in the more prosperous parts of the world, there are increasing gaps between the haves and have nots.

Malthus got it right, and human populations are limited by resources. Those who deny this connection are ignoring the fact that the only way that the current human populations are being sustained is by reliance on irreplaceable fossil energy, the systematic over-exploitation of renewable resources, and by huge, and steadily increasing levels of abject poverty. Anyone who thinks that all the world's human population can live at a reasonable standard of living, is living in a fool's paradise.

I hope the German Green Parties are celebrating the fact that the population is declining. It gives some hope for the future.

And as an afterthought, take any one item of consumerism, such as face-washes (what's wrong with water?), bottled water, or pet foods. If we devoted 1% of the amount spent on any of these items to preserving what's left of the planet, we could achieve a huge amount. Now there's a thought.


  1. It is good to see that the population crisis is *finally* starting to be discussed in the media. See for example

  2. Why pick on Tony Blair? What about the Queen's even larger family of consumers? It can be argued that both our "royal families" have the personal resources to support oodles of offspring.
    More seriously, it's not just the German leader who is worried about a declining birth rate. In the Feb 19 issue of the Sunday Times, there is an article about Britain facing a "baby gap" of 92,000 a year. Britain is urged to learn from France on how to encourage women to have more children and the EU employment commissioner says Europe "needs more children".
    Back in the 1960s, a group of senior scientists asked Prime Minister Harold Wilson what he was going to do about the country's overpopulation. The answer included the statement that a rising population was good for productivity. What a reason for being children into the world! The words "carts" and "horses" come to mind.

  3. My thoughts exactly, Robert. One of the 'big' concerns of the conservatives in the US fighting birth control and abortion is that once women obtain an unlimited access to all forms of birth control, they will have too few babies. It is true. Women in charge of their own reproductive health, even in the absence of advanced technology, rarely 'overpopulate'. This is the case in a few remaining matriarchal societies (like the Mosuo tribe in Southwest China)- they DON'T GROW, period. I mean, for thousands of years- a status quo with the nature. So, there should be no fear that Germans, or English or any other ethnicity will disappear from the face of the earth. Once women everywhere will have all the knowledge and means to control their reproductive function- as is case in these developed countries, the population will follow the resources, and once shrunk to that measure, will remain constant. The overpopulation is a product of patriarchal system.