Too many Africans?
|Stephen Corry 27/07/2019|
“What are all these famines in Ethiopia? What are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land. That’s what it’s about.”
– Sir David Attenborough
The cry that the world is overpopulated is more than two hundred years old, from a period when perhaps a billion people stood on the planet. There are now nearly eight times as many and it’s become normal to blame them – us – for the ills which beset “nature.” There are just too many of us, and we’re using up too many of the world’s resources. But how true is this really? And, what should be done about it?
A series of very different numbers are needed to point to a sensible answer. The first obviously is the number of people alive in any specific region at any time. This number is, equally obviously, changing every minute as babies are born and older people die, so the second important factor is the rate at which the overall population number is growing. That’s the basis for all forecasts. Sticking with these two numbers for the moment, there’s already a surprise: The world’s population is indeed increasing, but the rate of population growth has actually been falling since the 1970s. Not only that, but the fertility rate has been decreasing too. In the Global North, the richer countries (let’s call them the “North” as shorthand), it’s now below “replacement level,” as it is in nearly half the world’s countries. If that half were cut off from the rest of the world, the population there would be shrinking. This would bring problems for them fairly quickly because there wouldn’t be enough working people to look after those not able to look after themselves, but leave that aside.