14 Jan 2010

Was China wrong?

(via DL):
If only one child per female was born as of now, the world's population would drop from its current 6.5 billion to 5.5 billion by 2050, according to a study done for scientific academy Vienna Institute of Demography.

-By 2075, there would be 3.43 billion humans on the planet. This would have immediate positive effects on the world's forests, other species, the oceans, atmospheric quality and living standards.

-Doing nothing, by contrast, will result in an unsustainable population of nine billion by 2050.
Did you really think that bottled water and solar power was going to save the planet?

Bottom Line: There are too many of us, and the easiest way to have fewer of us is to not have kids. (And, no, there's no free pass for PhDs!)


  1. DZ: Congratulations ! You have stroked the #800 gorilla in the room !

    Having traveled to China, it is my opinion, that the Chinese are very proud and OK with their one child rule. If I remember correctly, breaking the rule costs $40K, loss of both jobs and refusal to educate/care for the 2nd child. Divorce and remarry means a new child for man, but not for the woman.

    Having just returned from the Dubai region, the Muslim world is quite proud/OK with their birth rate per female of in excess of 12 (and up to 4 wives for the wealthy is permitted). When asked, many responded that they could care less about their population explosion and its affect to the world's environment.

    To me, the struggling impoverished populations that I have visited need access to free voluntary vasectomies to accompany the donated food/medicine/water/housing ...

  2. Watersource, where did you get the number for Dubai's birthrate? I flat-out don't believe it.

    David, you know I don't see births as the big problem in the world, but consumption patterns; so you know I don't agree with you here.

    In fact, the only relationship between birthrates and carbon emissions on this Earth is an inverse-proprotionate one; that is, the lower your country's birthrate, the higher your carbon emissions per capita, and this to an astronomical rate. The only countries that buck that trend, I believe, are Denmark and Japan.

    Env-econ posted an entry on the failure to find a direct relationship between a country's wealth and its environmental record (thus putting a stake in the Env. Kuznet's curve, as they put it). This finding can directly relate to the birthrate issue, too: Rich countries (with two exceptions) have declining native populations, and a country's wealth and its women's education are the only factors (with one exception, the totalitarian regime of China) are the only reliable impacts on birthrate.

    So, it seems we are stuck in a conundrum: If we want to lower birthrates, we must do so in a way that will lead to vastly higher carbon emissions and provide no direct environmental benefits.

    Our time is better spent looking for ways to maintain (and expand) the standard of living while decreasing our environmental impacts, than it is telling brown people that they should make fewer babies because they will make it harder for us to ruin the world.

  3. WaterSourceWater Bank14 Jan 2010, 20:18:00

    Josh: I got those birth rates from the conversations I had from being on-site. Many proclaimed that they came from small families because they only had 10 brothers and sisters.

  4. WaterSource: Then, what is the death rate of women prior to giving birth? Also, of the people you were speaking to (I'm guessing young people), how many kids were they having/planning on having?

    You are speaking about a one-two generation change from a feudal system to a modern economy, so the most recent generation's habits and behaviors determine birth rates, not folks who grew up in Dubai in the 50's and 60's.

  5. Washington Report

    January 1994, Page 35
    By Abdullah Khayat

    Gaza's TFR is 7.9, meaning the average woman in Gaza will have a total of 7.9 children in the course of her lifetime, given current birthrates. The only figures near that fertility rate anywhere in the Middle East are 7.8 in Oman, 7.6 in Yemen, 7.1 in Syria Saudi Arabia (6.8), Kuwait (6.5) and the United Arab Emirates (5.9 (Dubai is in the UAE).

    Note: These numbers were from 15 years ago

    By comparison in 2008 reported Sweden rate is 1.54, Bulgaria is 1.14.

  6. Watersource, now you are getting closer to the real numbers, and my point.

    15 years ago is a big time, in fact about half the lifetime of the current median ages of the countries you point out. (Palestine has the highest percentage of people under 20, for example.)

    Now, compare the number you found from 15 years ago to the anecdote you provided earlier... less than half, if you assume that you meant "per couple" and not "every female". Now, look at the numbers today:

    Wikipedia shows the U.N. rankings by TFR (total fertility rate), and it puts UAE's TFR at 2.52 in 2000-2005, below the world average of 2.65. I'll bet dollars that UAE's birt rate was closer to your anecdotal number even 40 years ago, maybe even 30 years ago. Today, it is not, and it is declining.


  7. Thomas Malthus is one of my least favorite economists. I much prefer Julian Simon. While many people have believed Malthusian predictions and new versions are introduced as soon as the old predictions prove wrong those predictions are based on static models of knowledge and behaviors.

    Niether assumption is close to being correct. Human knowledge is dynamic and increases at an exponential rate. "The Lever of Riches" by Joel Mokyr provides an interesting read on the history of technological progress.

    Other trends are also important however. The birth rate generally declines as incomes increase. Our hierarchy of needs (Maslow) imply that as pysical needs are satisfied we consume things that are less resource intensive. As energy costs increase it takes less energy to produce a unit of GDP.

    Bottom Line: The crisis meme of resource depletion evokes a powerful emotional response, but empirical evidence is only anecdotal.

  8. Jay, though I love most of your comments here, I'll take some exception to this:

    "Other trends are also important however. The birth rate generally declines as incomes increase. Our hierarchy of needs (Maslow) imply that as pysical needs are satisfied we consume things that are less resource intensive."

    As a former educator, I find it hard to shoehorn Maslow into macro. stuff. Environmental Economics posted a link to some research that shows that there is no direct relationship between a country's economic wealth and its environmental record. In fact, CO2 emissions per capita expand at an egregious rate with development.

    However, the light you propose is true, too, and I like the succinctness of your comment:
    "As energy costs increase it takes less energy to produce a unit of GDP."

  9. @ Josh: Thanks for your comments.

    I think Maslow is under-appreciated in economics, and macro models seem to do a poor job of reflecting the sum of individual utility functions. In the U.S. our political and regulatory institutions are heavily focused on the safety need. China and other less economically developed countries put a much lower emphasis on safety.

    Consider also we are consuming knowledge and entertainment here at Aquanomics. Techology has enabled us to consume these things at lower environmental costs (I think) than if all writing was still on paper (or clay tablets).

    If there is a question on the environmental record of richer conutries, consider the difference in the environmental records of totalitarian countries versus democracies. The communist countries of the former Soviet Union had terrible environmental records. In the U.S. we have organizations like The Nature Conservancy, and we have regulations.

    Since CO2 has only recently been considered a pollutant (and I do not believe that status is fully settled), that particular emission is not one I would use to judge the environmental records of countries. It may be worthwhile to look at the rate of change of air and water pollution emissions of substances that have been regulated or otherwise controlled for a period of time, such as those identified by the clean water act and the clean air act passed several decades ago.

    As a thought experiemnt, consider that water vapor is a greenhouse gas, yet I have not heard of a discussion about regulating H2O emissions. As regulations evolve, will water vapor also become a pollutant? Calling carbon dioxide a pollutant was almost as unthinkable a few years ago.

    Bottom Line: So far, the human race has been able to make adjustments to stave off predicted catastrophies. As we gain more knowledge we should be able to make necessary adjustments.

  10. @All -- per capita emissions are higher in "rich" countries, so the only way to "reduce" them is with fewer people -- in total. That means less than 2.1 kids/woman. LDCs are worse, if only b/c their carbon efficiency is worse AND they have more kids/person. My bottom line is that there are TOO MANY people on the planet. Malthus was wrong about population, but not the environment. More: http://www.env-econ.net/2008/05/was-julian-simo.html


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