Overpopulation is the Wrong Focus For Environmentalists
A green myth is on the march. It wants to blame the world's over-breeding poor people for the planet's peril. It stinks. And on World Population Day, I encourage fellow environmentalists not to be seduced.
The actor Jeremy Irons has announced that he plans to make an Al-Gore style movie about the population problem. The screen idol with a social conscience — who famously has seven homes and a pink castle in Ireland — says his inconvenient truth is that "there are just too many of us".
Overpopulation is driving global warming, mass starvation and accumulating pollution, making the planet uninhabitable. Irons thinks a new plague, like the Black Death 700 years ago, is going to be nature's way of solving the problem.
He is far from alone in thinking that all efforts to save the world are doomed unless we "do something" about continuing population growth. But this is nonsense. Worse, it is dangerous nonsense.
For a start, the population bomb that I remembering being scared by forty years ago as a schoolkid is being defused fast. Back then, most women round the world had five or six children. Today’s women have just half as many as their mothers — an average of 2.6.
Not just in the rich world, but almost everywhere.
This is getting close to the long-term replacement level which, allowing for girls who don't make it to adulthood, is around 2.3. Women are doing cutting their family sizes not because governments tell them to, but for their own good, the good of their families — and, if it helps the planet too, then so much the better.
This is a stunning change in just one generation. Why don't we hear more about it? Because it doesn’t fit the doomsday agenda.
Half the world now has fewer than the "replacement level" of children. That includes Europe, North America and the Caribbean, most of the Far East from Japan to Thailand, and much of the middle east from Algeria to Iran.
Fred Pearce is author of The Coming Population: Crash and Our Planet’s Surprising Future (Beacon Press, 2010)