Welcome to the year 2023: we stand on the brink of a remarkable era in history
Today is the first day of the most remarkable 40 years humanity will ever experience: By 2063, the world population is predicted to have finally stopped growing and begin to shrink. Today is also the first day of a year in which the EU population begins to shrink from its peak of 446.8 million.
y 2063, according to a study published in The lancet, the world’s total population will peak at 9.73 billion people before declining to 8.79 billion by 2100 – with some estimates putting the population down to 6.83 billion by this year. Imagine a world with nearly a billion fewer than today’s population of 7.9 billion?
Are we prepared for this massive shift or are we even aware of it?
The myth of so-called “overpopulation” is at the root of many of the world’s deepest concerns about issues ranging from species extinction and resource depletion to climate change. However, this reversal in growth has been known since the late 1960s, when the global fertility rate peaked in 1966 at 2.1 percent.
Activists who market themselves have now spent more than 50 years exploiting concerns about this so-called “population bomb”. This activism has wrongly convinced everyone that developing countries are suddenly multiplying like rabbits – when in fact they had stopped dying like flies due to advances in medicine and agriculture.
By 2063 Ireland will have a population of at least 5,730,000, although some Central Statistics Office projections estimate a population of up to 6.7 million by 2051 if high fertility and immigration rates continue.
If these claims seem far-fetched, consider that in 1845, before the famine, the island of Ireland had a population of more than 8.5 million. It remains the only country in the EU that still has fewer inhabitants than it had in 1900.
This great detente in world population will be surprisingly quick. It will have a huge impact on policy and planning as each year after 2063 the world will need less land, buildings, energy, food and water. Forty years in the future may seem like a long time, but it is a very commonly used time period in making plans for future infrastructure such as energy, water, and transportation systems. Forty years in the future is sooner than most people think: it’s as close as 1983 was in the past.
Examples of such farsighted planning in Ireland’s past include: Dublin’s Vartry water reservoirs, built exactly 160 years ago and on which the city still depends today; the construction of most of Ireland’s railway network in the 1840s; the construction of the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station; and rural electrification in the 1920s. Begun more than 50 years ago, Ireland’s motorway system was mostly built between 1990 and 2010 – and is just the latest example of a project designed and built over a long period that we still benefit from today.
These are all examples of planning for a rapidly growing population, but how do we plan for a static or declining population? This is already a problem for countries like Japan, which passed its population peak of 128.5 million in 2010 and is projected to have fewer than 100 million people by 2060. The same precipitous decline in birth rates and population is already beginning across Asia—first in wealthy countries like Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, and increasingly in the giant states of China and India.
Many countries have tried unsuccessfully to reverse the decline in population. Most efforts included various financial incentives, but there are almost no examples of sustained success. The main motivation for reduced fertility appears to arise from couples’ desire for greater financial security and less effort and responsibility than their parents.
Planning how cities can shrink is a major challenge for city planning and funding. Almost all infrastructure finance depends on the concept of “discount rates” to trade current spending for future prosperity. This system collapses when there are fewer future citizens. Accounting for future urban contractions will undermine the viability of financing large expensive projects.
The financing of social housing, schools and health facilities is also based on a requirement of at least 50 years. Planning for shrinking urban areas will require very different financial planning.
The decline in world population is accompanied by a decrease in the land needed for agriculture, as well as a sharp increase in populations of animals threatened with extinction in the 1960s. There are already remarkable recoveries of numbers from the conservation movement’s one-time icons. Almost all whale species are recovering quickly, as are populations of tigers, pandas, and polar bears. Almost 15 percent of the earth’s land surface and 10 percent of its territorial waters are already covered by national parks and other protected areas.
In this way, many of the drivers of today’s pessimism are seen as temporary problems for which permanent solutions are wholly inadequate.
It must be sad for anyone who understands the facts surrounding the human population to hear that fear of the future keeps them from becoming parents.
Today’s 20-year-olds, growing old in an era of shrinking populations and ever-expanding nature, may bitterly regret decisions based on unfounded pessimism.
Surely the time has come when the adults in the room will start calling out alarmists about the damage they are causing to the mental health of an entire generation? Given the many discussions of intergenerational responsibility, shouldn’t today’s parents and elders protect the very existence of future generations?
Shouldn’t we, for the sake of our children, oppose the doomsayers who try to distract us from the very real and imminent emergence of a much better world?
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/welcome-to-2023-were-on-the-precipice-of-a-remarkable-era-in-history-42255283.html Welcome to the year 2023: we stand on the brink of a remarkable era in history