Peoplequake

‘Peoplequake’ by Fred Pearce
  2010, Eden Project Books. ISBN 9781905811397


Chapter 1: ‘A dark and terrible genius’ reviews Rev. Thomas Malthus’ prediction that populations grow at an exponential rate, whereas food production increases in a linear way. This will lead to inevitable hunger and disease restricting human population growth. However many people consider poverty to be a result of social conditions, not by limitations of actual resources. The Socialist Karl Marx called Malthus’ ideas “a libel on the human race...building the capitalist case for the inevitability of poverty”

In addition, Malthus ideas were a result of the Victorian obsession with restricting any discussion of sexual activity, or contraception. Within two centuries some countries had significantly changed in their ability to produce more food yet reduce more births. So in many respects Malthus was wrong on his predictions in ‘Essay on the Principles of Population’



Chapter 6: ‘Three Wise Men’ comments on Paul Ehrlich, the biologist, and the ‘Carrying Capacity’ concept in his book ‘The Population Bomb’. Various scenarios explored in discussions, including ‘overshoot and collapse’ for human population size. This is followed through in Ch. 7 looking into India’s forced sterilization programme under Indira Gandhi between 1967-68. Her son, Sanjay Gandhi, continued the programme through into the early 70s despite increasing opposition. At the 1972 UN Environment Conference in Stockholm the discussion turned from overpopulation of poor people to overconsumption by rich nations.



Chapter 8: ‘Green Revolution’ discusses increases in crop yield during 1970s and 1980s. “Whenever famines occur today, the problem is rarely a shortage of food, but rather one of poverty” [p.90] An economist, Julian Simon, explained that there were “No true limits to growth”; whilst population increases create resource shortages, technical innovation will fix the shortages. Simon waged a bet with Ehrlich that the price of five metals would fall between 1980 and 1990 despite increasing demand. He won the bet as metal prices, and for many other raw commodities, continued to fall.



Chapters 9-14: Discuss ‘One Child’ policies in China and India. The declining birth rate in some European countries, and the risk that some cultures will dwindle to extinction through lack of new children. Some evidence is provided for declining population levels, but overall Pearce does not cover the continuing Global population increase which offset these statistics.



Chapter 15: ‘Singapore Sling’ continues the theme of declining birth rates falling below the replacement population (slightly more than 2.0, some women have no children). Native Singaporeans had reduced the birth rate to a level where their population will be halved by 2050. Given the choice between having children and having a career-based life, the women choose a life.

Government policies have cajoled married couples into producing at least two children. In addition to a ‘Social Development Unit’ which promotes pro-fertility charities such as ‘I love Children’ there are campaigns named ‘Heart to Heart’, ‘goMovieDate.com’ and ‘Club2040’ - a Speed-Dating event. Singapore is unusual in having extremely compliant citizens (Chewing Gum was once banned in public!), but many countries are also looking at similar campaigns to address low fertility rates.

Russian government offers £5000 (= 250,000 Rubles) for every child born after your first one. Australia offers a ‘Baby Bonus’. British Government provides a ‘Baby Bond’ which is invested at birth, and can be cashed in once the recipient reaches age 18.



Chapter 16: ‘Missing Girls’ looks into Indian preference for a male child over female. Gender-selected terminations rarely result in prosecution (p.166) Similarly, in China the ratio in 2000 of boys to girls born was 100:85 (p.173). 



Chapter 22: ‘The Tigers and the Bulge’  Across East Asia, between 1965 and 1990, the working-age population grew four times faster (p.230). This can be termed the ‘Youth Bulge’. 
Some environmentalists see a new nexus of disorder where youth bulges, worsening environmental problems and conflicts feed off each other.  The violent youth culture of the Gaza shanty towns may be indicative of the coming era’. The small Palestinian enclave trapped on a strip of desert between Israel and the ocean is today one of the most densely populated, environmentally damaged and violent places on the planet (p.237).



Chapter 23: ‘Footprints on a Finite Planet’ recalls Paul Ehrlich estimate of the planet’s carrying capacity at about five billion people. In 2008, with 6.8 billion people on the planet we were consuming 30% more resources each year than the planet produces (p.239)



Chapter 27: ‘Silver Lining’ examines increasing longevity in wealthy countries with some people remaining active into the 80s. Many examples show this is not a problem in practice. An optimistic picture can be drawn.



Chapter 28: ‘Peak Population and Beyond’ examines how peak population was in the 1960s with growth at 2.1% (per annum presumably) Since then it has fallen to below 1.2% (p.292) It is expected there may be a global peak population of 7 billion in 2040, after which it will fall to 5 billion by 2100. Others see a peak at 9 billion as more likely. In the ‘Notes’ after this chapter Pearce provides some references as being:

Vaclav Smil ‘How Many Millions to Go?’ Nature,1999, 401, p.249 
Joel Cohen. September 2005. ‘Human Population Grows Up’ Scientific American. Also see: www.bos.frb.org/economic/conf/conf46/conf46d1.pdf (plus related papers at : www.bos.frb.org/economic/conf/conf46/  )




Comments: Whilst Pearce clearly defines the trend and various country reactions over the past 300 years, his conclusions suddenly emerge without the same level of evidence. The claim of a Population Peak is not based on an objective analysis, merely some isolated examples. The very fact that the Global Population now exceeds 7 billion (in 2014) should be referred to as a critical indicator (see Ch. 27 abstract above). 

Examples of declining population, such as in Europe following a change in cultural lifestyles, have been swiftly reversed in recent preferences to have three children within each family. At a very parochial level the UK population has recently grown, partially due to increased birth-rates and partially due to increased immigration levels from European countries which permits free unrestricted migration between European Union member states. In cultures where a cohesive family across several generations is highest priority, great importance is placed upon children as an asset. The successful family will bring up many children.

In 2015 it appears the trend has swung away from population restrictions imposed by  natural resources back toward a “can do” attitude by politicians and business managers. Encouraging a ‘Free Market’ of entrepreneurs and competing providers is expected to provide new unique solutions to shared problems. The Natural World is no longer seen as a constraint upon population growth but instead provides the resources and ‘Ecosystem Services’ which support continued growth. Sometimes the term ‘Sustainable Growth’ is even used by today’s politicians and business managers.


Afterthoughts....  Having thought I'd been a bit harsh, I had a look at that barometer of sensible comment - Amazon Reader Reviews...


Comment by C. F. Boyle "Snodgrass" on Amazon ( 4 June 2011)

This review is from: Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash (Paperback)

 'Tabloid journalism'
"For an esteemed scientific journalist, Pearce writes in a very sloppy fashion. Like this. With sentences. No verbs.

It's also full of the usual 'accessible' journalist tricks of human-interest tales of individuals. This isn't poor science, it's not science at all!

He clearly has an axe to grind against 'Malthusians' and 'Eugenicists', who let's face it, may not have been the finest specimens of humanity.

But this guy writes science stuff for New Scientist! Why aren't we told what Malthus's theories actually were, and why they proved as useful as an economist's forecast? (Any fool can work out why the nasties adopt theories which support their nastiness)

And eugenics was mainstream prior to WW2. Just because the Nazis used it as cover for their policies doesn't mean it was wrong. Pearce makes no attempt to show why the science -- yes The Science of Eugenics was wrong. And of course 'genetic counselling' (eugenics in all but name) now flourishes.

On mass migration, Pearce shoots off at a tangent, unrelated to the main theme of the book. He makes the entirely obvious point that if Capital is entirely free to seek the best returns world-wide, then Labour -- people should be free to move too.

But the final round (of this turgid, badly written, over-long, journalistic diatribe) is that there has been an amazing drop in fecundity of developed societies around the world. As a result the Population Bomb is defused, he claims. Population will stabilise at 7 - 8 billion around 2040, and start falling after that. So that's alright then! Ignore the need to limit populations! It's an automatically self-adjusting system, so the anti-abortionists and the condom-banners can ply their patriarchal nonsense. Attenborough and Co are silly scare-mongerers.

As the old saying has it "Never make predictions, especially about the future". Pearce seems to be blithely ignoring the possibility that the liberated sisterhood will always be satisfied with 1.2 children each (i.e. below replacement level). He accepts that these 7,500,000,000 people will never be able to consume like rich Americans. The planet could not cope.

And having just returned from a few days in London, the idea of forcing people to survive in such rat-runs is just inhumane. Where is the vision for humanity living in wide open spaces, in harmony with nature, not stripping her bare and raping her?

This book is like a Daily Mail article -- an easy read, superficially convincing. It is though-provoking too: you can amuse yourself working out why this is propagandistic nonsense. There is a good book to be written about this subject, but this is certainly not it!"



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