This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Corn is for People, Not Cars

I have mentioned before that it makes no sense to divert the production of corn to fuel for cars rather than fuel for humans. We aren't adequately feeding our current 7 billion, and we certainly can't feed 9-10 billion without more corn for people, rather than less. An Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times makes the case that this is the right time for the EPA to cut back on earlier US Government mandates that some corn be used for biofuels. The current drought in the midwest is driving up the price of corn, which will naturally be reflected in higher food prices--pushed that much higher if corn continues to be diverted away from the dinner table.
By suspending renewable-fuel standards that were unwise from the start, the Environmental Protection Agency could divert vast amounts of corn from inefficient ethanol production back into the food chain, where market forces and common sense dictate it should go.Previous droughts in the Midwest (most recently in 1988) also resulted in higher food prices, but misguided energy policies are magnifying the effects of the current one. Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7 billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year’s crop.Any defense of the ethanol policy rests on fallacies, primarily these: that ethanol produced from corn makes the United States less dependent on fossil fuels; that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline; that an increase in the percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline increases the overall supply of gasoline; and that ethanol is environmentally friendly and lowers global carbon dioxide emissions.
The ethanol lobby promotes these claims, and many politicians seem intoxicated by them. Corn is indeed a renewable resource, but it has a far lower yield relative to the energy used to produce it than either biodiesel (such as soybean oil) or ethanol from other plants. Ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy per gallon than gasoline, so mileage drops off significantly. Finally, adding ethanol actually raises the price of blended fuel because it is more expensive to transport and handle than gasoline.

We need to get our heads on straight over this issue, and the sooner the better.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Iraq Resists Syrian Refugees

In a new complication to the Middle East situation, the New York Times reports that Iraq has turned a very cold shoulder to Syrians fleeing the violence in their country.
Alone among Syria’s Muslim neighbors, Iraq is resisting receiving refugees from the conflict, and is making those who do arrive anything but comfortable. Baghdad is worried about the fighters of a newly resurgent Al Qaeda flowing both ways across the border, and about the Sunni opponents of the two governments making common cause.
This is a very different story from the warm reception that Iraqi refugees received in Syria when they fled violence in their country.

The differences have everything to do with the changing fortunes of the two neighbors. In the height of the Iraq war, Mr. Assad had firm control of his country, and an interest in destabilizing Iraq and undercutting its American allies. Syria routinely helped Al Qaeda to infiltrate fighters and suicide bombers into Iraq. Now, American troops have left Iraq, and Al Qaeda has switched sides, taking up arms against the Assad government.

For the moment, Jordan has taken in the largest number of Syrian refugees, followed by Turkey and Lebanon.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hong Kong Takes Over From Japan in Life Expectancy Race

The big health news today is that for the first time in a long time, Japanese women are not the longest lived in the world. The new leaders are women in Hong Kong. BBC News reports that:

The expected lifespan for Japanese women dropped from 86.30 years in 2010 to to 85.90 years in 2011.
The official life expectancy for women in Hong Kong last year was 86.70 years.
Japan has topped the women's rankings for a quarter of a century, with longevity attributed in part to a healthy traditional diet.
While some of the drop for Japanese women might have been due to the devastating earthquake, it appears that a rise in suicide and deaths from natural causes also contributed to the drop. Japanese men also experienced a drop in life expectancy and went from fourth to eighth on the global list. 


Note, by the way, the typical confusion in the BBC story about the difference between life expectancy and lifespan.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

People Still Postponing Babies in the US

The USA Today that was shoved under our door in the hotel here in Savannah, Georgia has the big headline "National birthrate lowest in 25 years." This isn't really big news, and I commented on this trend nearly two years ago. What is interesting, though, is that the story emanated not from the US National Center for Health Statistics, but from a demographics firm--Demographic Intelligence--

--a Charlottesville, Va., company that produces quarterly birth forecasts for consumer products and pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.
Marketers track fertility trends closely because they affect sales of thousands of products from diapers, cribs and minivans to baby bottles, toys and children's pain relievers.
The less-educated and Hispanics have experienced the biggest birthrate decline while the share of U.S. births to college-educated, non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans has grown
"What that tells you is that births have clearly been affected by the economy," says Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence. "And like any recession, it doesn't hit all people equally, and it hit some people much harder than others."
And the US Today reporter tracked down others with useful comments:
Many young adults are unemployed, carrying big student loan debt and often forced to move back in with their parents — factors that may make them think twice about starting a family.
"The more you delay it, the more you delay the possibility of a second or third child," says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. "This is probably a long-term trend that is exacerbated by the recession but also by the general hollowing out of middle-class jobs. There's a growing sense that college is prohibitively expensive, and yet your kids can't make it without a college degree," so many women may decide to have just one child.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life Expectancy Along the Tube in London

With the London Olympics about to start, Justin Stoler at the University of Miami suggested that this was a good time to link to a recent study by James Chesire at CASA (Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis) at University College London. The study shows life expectancy around each of the stops along the London Underground (the Tube), with the catchy title of "Lives on the Line." Even in as wealthy a city as London, there are considerable spatial inequalities or gaps in longevity, in ways that appear to Cheshire to be generally consistent with people's expectations (no pun intended).
Whilst the average life expectancy predictions show that today’s children are expected to live longer, the range is startling. For the stations mapped, it is over 20 years with those around Star Lane (on the DLR) predicted to live, on average, for 75.3 years in contrast to 96.38 years for those around Oxford Circus. The smaller disparities are no less striking. For example, between Lancaster Gate and Mile End (20 minutes on the Central line) life expectancy decreases by 12 years and crossing the Thames between Pimlico and Vauxhall sees life expectancy drop by 6 years. The stations serving the Olympic Park fair badly and contrast with the Olympic volleyball venue at Earl’s Court whose spectators will be passing through areas with far higher life expectancies and lower child poverty.
And, of course, you knew I couldn't resist it: Mind the gap!

China Stokes Up Its Emissions

The Nature News Blog this morning has the story that a new report shows that China's per capita carbon emissions per person are now comparable to Europe's, although still well below emissions produced per person in the US.
For years, China has dismissed concerns about its rising carbon emissions by pointing out that, per capita, Chinese citizens still emit far less than their counterparts in the industrialized world. But now that China’s per capita emissions are on par with those of the European Union, that argument will be much harder to make.
This is in line with the news from the New York Times today that China is making a play for a large Canadian energy company.

China is making its biggest and boldest grab for overseas energy resources yet in a $15 billion deal for a Canadian oil producer.
A takeover of Nexen by China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the Chinese state-run oil giant known as Cnooc (pronounced SEE-nook), would give China a number of footholds in the Gulf of Mexico, the Canadian oil sands in Alberta, the North Sea and the waters off Nigeria.
The Nexen deal, announced on Monday, is the latest effort by China to amass the natural resources it needs to stoke its powerful engine of growth. In particular, the country’s leadership has been focused on reducing dependence on oil imports, as China consumes some nine million barrels of oil a day, second only to the United States.
This is not good news for the planet.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beyond 7 Billion

RubĂ©n Rumbaut at UC-Irvine has just alerted me to a series published this weekend on-line by the Los Angeles Times titled "Beyond 7 Billion." Reporter Kenneth R. Weiss and photographer Rick Loomis spent time in developing nations interviewing people and taking photographs and producing a truly excellent set of reports on the demographic challenges the world faces over the next several decades. How we respond to this will, of course, quite literally determine the fate of the human race (you may think I'm exaggerating, but I don't think so). There are lots of resources here and I encourage you to check it out.

Syrian Refugees Arriving in Lebanon

As the fighting in Syria has intensified, especially in the capital city of Damascus, people have been getting out.and heading towards Lebanon (keep in mind that only about 50 miles separate Beirut from Damascus). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in the past 48 hours about 30,000 people have fled to Lebanon. These refugees are in addition to the thousands of people displaced within Syria, including many Iraqi refugees who had fled to Syria from the war in Iraq. Lebanon, too, already has thousands of Iraqi refugees.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A New Way of Thinking About Malaria Prevention

Since I'm here in Orlando in the middle of summer, I am reminded of mosquitos. Indeed, although Orlando is now in Orange County, Florida, the original name of the county in the 19th century was Mosquito County. We know a lot more about malaria (such as its connection to mosquitos) than people did then, but efforts to control deaths from malaria have still focused mainly on prevention and treatment. Insecticides designed to kill mosquitos and drugs designed to treat malaria in an infected person run the risk of actually creating stronger mosquitos and parasites that are then ever harder to deal with. But, what about trying to change the parasite itself? Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University have just published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about their search for a way to genetically alter the malaria parasite. The paper is not yet available free to the public, but the LA Times has summarized it in a story today.


Insecticides have a major flaw, said Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, a malaria expert at Johns Hopkins University and an author of the new study. "When insecticides are used — say, inside of houses — many of the mosquitoes in the area get killed but some will always survive. It's a perfect way to select for resistance," he said. That's because the mosquitoes most resistant to insecticides will survive and have insecticide-resistant offspring. The same problem exists for anti-malaria drugs.
As a result, Jacobs-Lorena said, mosquito populations have continued to thrive, becoming more immune every day to the poisons we expose them to.
Ten years ago, his group was the first to show that mosquitoes could be genetically engineered to produce anti-malarial proteins in their guts, rendering them incapable of harboring the parasite. The idea was that the insects would be released into the wild and spread their new genes around.
For a variety of reasons, that approach turned out not to work so well, so the team has embarked on a new strategy.
Instead of modifying mosquitoes, they are genetically engineering bacteria that naturally live in the mosquito gut. The altered bacteria produce several parasite-killing proteins, including one that inserts itself into the outer membrane of the parasite, causing it to leak its contents and die.
The devil is obviously in the details, but this is the kind of creative thinking that is necessary with such a complex and deadly disease.



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is Canada Exceptional When it Comes to Immigrants?

Without question, Canada is an exceptional place if for no other reason than that it has more immigrants per person than any other western nation. But Irene Bloemraad of the University of California, Berkeley has just authored a report for the Migration Policy Institute that shows a broader side of that exceptionalism.

            A frequently cited reason for this Canadian exceptionalism is the fact
            that a majority of Canada’s immigrants are selected through a points
            system that admits people with skills that are thought to contribute to
            the economy. This, coupled with the fact that Canada’s geography
            makes it difficult for unauthorized immigrants to enter, helps alleviate
            the concerns often expressed in other countries about illegal entry or
            immigrants becoming a drain on the welfare state.

But she argues that it goes beyond these reasons, despite their obvious importance. Canadian immigrants have strong community and governmental support for integration into society, while at the same time that Canadians are generally tolerant of multiculturism and diversity. To be sure, the high fraction of Canadians who are themselves of immigrant origin probably encourages this, but there is no guarantee that this would be the case. 
 
At the same time, Bloemraad notes that there are issues of religious accommodation, such as attitudes towards the wearing of head scarves in public by women. This is epecially true in predominantly francophone Quebec, which you may recall actually tried to secede from Canada a few decades ago.
 
           This is especially apparent in debates around the veil, which some
           Francophone elites interpret (as do some feminists in France) as an
           issue of women’s subjugation, while among Anglophone Canadians,
           it is seen more as a debate about freedom of religion.
 
As always, immigration is a phenomenon that raises a lot of fears, creates a lot of problems, and continually challenges a society's sense of integration. Thus far, however, Canada has coped considerably better than most societies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

As Texas Goes...

I've just flown from San Diego to Orlando and the cross-country flight gave me the opportunity to read Gail Collins' new book "As Texas Goes...How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda." She is an engaging writer, covering an obviously important story--how did the US wind up where we are at the moment? Her answer is that the culture of Texas has played a huge role over the past few decades. It's history, politics, and demographics all wrapped up together. The demographics come toward the end of the book as she notes that the Lone Star state is already majority-minority and will soon be Hispanic-majority, which will have implications for the future political scenarios in Texas and, in her view, the rest of the nation. She adroitly sought out Steve Murdock, Professor of Sociology at Rice University, who is former State Demographer of the State of Texas and former Director of the US Census Bureau.

             Murdock has made it his great mission to educate the state about what's coming. The degree to which Texas is prepared to become a majority Hispanic state, he feels, will decree the success to which the state will march into the future.

             And where Texas goes, so goes the nation.

           "This is the US," says Murdock, pointing to one of his many piles of printouts. "Look at the under-eighteen. Had there not been Hispanic growth in the number of children, we'd have had the largest decline in the number of children since the 1930s."

This is an excellent book on all counts--something close to required reading, in my view.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Food and Biofuels Don't Mix Very Well

In a world in which we aren't properly feeding the current 7 billion residents, and aren't really sure how we will feed the expected 9 billion who will soon be looking for a seat at the table, it is madness to insist that biofuels must be part of an energy policy. I have mentioned this before, but it keeps popping up as an issue because, as John Vidal in the Guardian reminds us:
The 2008 decision by EU countries to obtain 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020 has proved to be the catalyst for many evictions, says Oxfam. To meet the EU target, the total land area required to grow industrial biofuels in developing countries has been estimated as 17.5m hectares (43.2m acres), more than half the size of Italy.
One of the more recent and egregious issues is in Guatamala.
Maria Josefa Macz and Daniel Pascual were called at five in the morning, and asked to come quickly to the Polochic valley in southernGuatemala. Ethnic Maya Q'eqchi communities of smallholder farmers said they were being violently evicted by state security forces from land they had farmed for generations. Helicopters with armed men leaning out were flying overhead, private security guards and paramilitary forces were attacking people, and houses and crops were being burned. The farmers could not speak Spanish and needed help dealing with the police, as well as legal advice on how to stop giant biofuel companies taking their land.
"What happened in the Polochic valley exemplifies what is now happening all over the world. The latest data suggests up to 203m hectares of land has been acquired by companies in land deals and two-thirds of that is for biofuels," says Hannah Stoddart, economic justice adviser at Oxfam. "The UK government should immediately freeze its biofuel targets and call on the EU to scrap the directive. There is a mass undermining of rights and livelihoods, and no improvement in food supplies. They are just diverting food for stomachs to gas tanks."



Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Bit of a Cut-Up in Germany Over Circumcision

Female circumcision has been in the news over the past several years, but little has been made of male circumcision until recently when, in Germany, a regional court effectively said that male circumcision should not be practiced in that country. As the New York Times reports:
When the time came to have their son circumcised at age 4, Muhsin Sapci and his wife, Gonca, both first generation immigrants from Turkey, assumed they would simply take the boy to the nearby Jewish Hospital, used by many Muslim families who also prefer to have the procedure done by a surgeon.But since a German court’s ruling that equated circumcision with bodily harm — and a criminal act — many hospitals across the nation have stopped performing the procedure. Germany’s ambassador to Israel was called before a parliamentary committee to explain the ruling. Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s foreign minister, said Friday that he had been showered with questions and criticism surrounding the ruling.
“They are all greatly concerned about the ramifications of the ruling, but mostly for Jewish and Muslim life in Germany,” Mr. Westerwelle said. There are 100,000 Jews and four million Muslims living here.

Fortunately, the German government stepped in quickly to reassure everyone that this was not something that the government was behind. The BBC News reports that:
The German government says Jewish and Muslim communities should be able to continue the practice of circumcision, after a regional court ruled it amounted to bodily harm.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said it was a case of protecting religious freedom.
Steffen Seibert said: "Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible without punishment."
Now, from a demographic perspective the issue of circumcision has two prongs: (1) forbidding it can obviously be seen as discrimination against minority ethnic/immigrant groups; and (2) research suggests that throughout the world, males who have been circumcised are less likely to spread HIV. Either way, the ability to choose circumcision is a potentially important demographic issue.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Croatia Eases its Fertility Law

As the London Summit on Family Planning was winding down, the Croatian parliament took action that made it easier for women to control their own fertility, but not in the way that you might think. At last count, Croatia's total fertility rate was 1.5 children each, so women in that country obviously know how to limit their family size. The problem was that some women who were having difficulty conceiving were being denied the right to infertility treatment, and that is now fixed.
The new law notably authorises the freezing of embryos and recognises the right of single women to assisted fertilisation.The main conservative opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) said the new legislation was a "violation of the right to life" echoing the position of the influential local Catholic Church, which have qualified it as "profoundly immoral and inhuman."
This is a good lesson on the nuances of religion and fertility. If you assumed that the Catholic Church was mainly pronatalist, then you would assume that it would be in favor of measures that would encourage a rise in the birth rate. In this case, at least, that is not true.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NIH Funds Huge New AIDS Vaccine Project

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has awarded up to $186 million over the next seven years to fund the search for an AIDS vaccine. The work will be done jointly by the Scripps Research Insitute in La Jolla, California and Duke University. The San Diego Union-Tribune has the story:
The size of the grant reflects NIH expectations that researchers at Scripps and Duke may finally be on the right track toward developing a vaccine, said Carl Diefenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.“The beauty of the work Scripps is doing is that the team is incredibly gifted and collaborative,” Diefenbach said. “It’s wonderful that they were able to compete successfully for this grant.”
Scripps and Duke will use the grant to lead newly created Centers for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology & Immunogen Discovery, or CHAVI-ID, in doing research into a disease that has infected 60 million people and killed 27 million worldwide since the early 1980s.
Researchers hope to develop a vaccine that induces antibodies in the blood to find and destroy the virus in the body before it attaches to T cells.
Three previous efforts to develop a vaccine advanced to early clinical trials with limited success. Two failed to show any effectiveness and the third had modest results.
Multidisciplinary teams of scientists at Scripps and Duke will take a new route. Their work will investigate the antibodies of people whose immune systems seem to effectively neutralize HIV, and use their findings to try to create a vaccine that induces the same immune response.
Professor Dennis Burton and other scientists at Scripps will build on their previous investigations of what are called broadly neutralizing antibodies, which can block infection from many types of HIV.
This is encouraging, but it also is a reminder that we are not yet at the point of having such a vaccine and, even if successful, it will likely be many years before this comes to market.
Burton said the need for a vaccine is critical despite the success of antiretroviral drugs that have allowed millions of people to live with manageable cases of HIV.“Sometimes people think that AIDS is solved because the drugs are incredibly effective,” Burton said. “But they’re not a long-term solution, especially in places like sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is an epidemic. We really need a vaccine to put an end to this disease.”
To which we might add that it is particularly important for women in places like sub-Saharan Africa who have been victimized by men insisting on having sex without condoms. Condoms remain the single most effective weapon against AIDS, but there seem to be a lot of barriers, so to speak, to their use.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

World Population Day 2012

When most people think of 7-Eleven they probably think first about slurpees or a big gulp. But the other thing that is 7/11 every year is World Population Day, as declared by the United Nations Population Fund. The theme for this year is "Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services":
Reproductive health is at the very heart of development and crucial to delivering the UNFPA vision — a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
Universal access to reproductive health by 2015 is also one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals. But we have a long way to go.
Not coincidentally, today is also the London Summit on Family Planning, hosted by the UK Government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as I have mentioned before.


And, from a more personal perspective, today is also the second anniversary of this blog. Thanks to all of you who have sent me links to good ideas to talk about, have commented directly, or have just read and thought about the momentous and transformative issues wrought by population growth and change. The more we know, the better we can cope.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's All About the Children

Economic inequality is a major global theme, and the recession has created concerns about inequality in the US, especially due to the "hollowing out" of the middle class, as I discussed yesterday. David Brooks of the New York Times pointed out today that the more troubling aspect of inequality is that which seems to be occurring among children in the US. His article draws heavily on the work of Robert Putnam at Harvard (author of Bowling Alone), who just presented his latest research at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
While most studies look at inequality of outcomes among adults and help us understand how America is coming apart, Putnam’s group looked at inequality of opportunities among children. They help us understand what the country will look like in the decades ahead. The quick answer? More divided than ever.Putnam’s data verifies what many of us have seen anecdotally, that the children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities. Decades ago, college-graduate parents and high-school-graduate parents invested similarly in their children. Recently, more affluent parents have invested much more in their children’s futures while less affluent parents have not.
Brooks offers his opinion of the source of these trends:

A long series of cultural, economic and social trends have merged to create this sad state of affairs. Traditional social norms were abandoned, meaning more children are born out of wedlock. Their single parents simply have less time and resources to prepare them for a more competitive world. Working-class jobs were decimated, meaning that many parents are too stressed to have the energy, time or money to devote to their children.
Affluent, intelligent people are now more likely to marry other energetic, intelligent people. They raise energetic, intelligent kids in self-segregated, cultural ghettoes where they know little about and have less influence upon people who do not share their blessings.
While this may not tell the whole story, these are certainly elements of it. Note, too, that the story does circle back to the adults, among whom "working-class jobs were decimated." 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where Have All the Jobs Gone?

As the US presidential campaign heats up, everyone waits breathlessly for each month's employment statistics, brought to us of course by the US Department of Labor and the US Census Bureau, using data from the monthly Current Population Survey. The last two months' worth of data suggest a slowing of job growth and Thomas Edsall has taken on this issue in his blog today in the New York Times.

The issue of the disappearing middle is not new, but credible economists have added a more threatening twist to the argument: the possibility that a well-functioning, efficient modern market economy, driven by exponential growth in the rate of technological innovation, can simultaneously produce economic growth and eliminate millions of middle-class jobs.
Michael Spence, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, and David Autor, an economist at M.I.T., have argued that this “hollowing out” process is a result of twin upheavals: globalization and the hyper-acceleration of technological progress.
However, it turns out that the entire discussion is about technological advance, and how that may be driving workers from the labor force (read Karl Marx's Das Capital for one of the earlier versions of this theory). Missing is the discussion about "globalization," which really means the transfer of jobs to the growing working force in developing countries (actually, Marx talked about this, too, except that he was thinking of the growing population of England, not of developing countries). If we ignore the impact of population growth on the current economic situation in the rich countries, we are never going to understand what is happening in the world.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What Happened in Rio?

There was a huge build-up to the mid-June conference in Rio de Janeiro, hosted by the United Nations and billed as Rio+20 (20 years after the 1992 UN Conference that did, in fact, set a world agenda for trying to deal with global climate change). The UN says that Rio+20 "was the biggest UN conference ever and a major step forward in achieving a sustainable future – the future we want."


But the reality seems more like "What happens in Rio, stays in Rio." As nearly I can tell, no one was very happy with the outcome of the conference. As The Economist reports:
By the reckoning of WWF, a big green group, a preliminary version of the draft agreement included the word “encourage” 50 times and the phrase “we will” just five times; “support” appeared 99 times, but “must” only thrice. 
The Guardian was equally scathing:

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said it was a time to be optimistic. "A more prosperous future is within our reach, a future where all people benefit from sustainable development no matter who they are or where they live."
However, civil society groups and scientists were scathing about the outcome. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo called the summit a failure of epic proportions. "We didn't get the Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported business as usual, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet."
Rio+20 was intended as a follow up on the 1992 Earth Summit, which put in place landmark conventions on climate change and biodiversity, as well as commitments on poverty eradication and social justice. Since then, however, global emissions have risen by 48%, 300m hectares of forest have been cleared and the population has increased by 1.6bn people. Despite a reduction in poverty, one in six people are malnourished.
While the problems have grown, the ability of nations to deal with them has diminished because the EU is distracted by economic crisis, the US is diverted by a presidential election, and government power has declined relative to that of corporations and civil society.
There was little in the document about population per se, beyond noting that a growing population continues to put pressure on the earth's resources. Here's one of the few paragraphs in "The Future We Want" document that refers directly to population:
21. We are deeply concerned that one in five people on this planet, or over one billion people still live in extreme poverty, and that one in seven—or 14 percent—is undernourished, while public health challenges including pandemics and epidemics remain omnipresent threats. In this context, we note the ongoing discussions on human security in the United Nations General Assembly. We acknowledge that with the world’s population projected to exceed nine billion by 2050 with an estimated two thirds living in cities we need to increase our efforts to achieve sustainable development and in particular, the eradication of poverty and hunger and preventable diseases. [p. 4]
So, there is "concern," and there are "discussions" and "acknowledgement" but no real plan for action. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

US Urban Scene Getting Demographically More Complex

Two recent articles in The Atlantic Cities illustrate the increasing demographic complexity of urban life in the US. Both stories build on comparisons of 2010 census data with previous censuses. The first story is fascinating in that it shows that despite long-term declines in residential segregation, in some cities levels of residential segregation by race/ethnicity are unchanging, even at the same time that the demographic composition of the cities in question is becoming more diverse.
Nationwide statistics suggest more blacks and whites now live side-by-side, but plenty of communities have seen no such effect. It appears as if the once-prevalent all-white neighborhood has gone virtually extinct. But its all-black counterpart has not. The number of multi-ethnic neighborhoods in America is on the rise, but recent research suggests that when blacks move out of predominantly black neighborhoods, they usually head to… other predominantly black neighborhoods.
Researchers Richard Wright, Steven R. Holloway, and Mark Ellis have offered a more useful way to think about this: New forms of diversity are emerging in America, but so, too, are new forms of segregation. 
Rather than thinking of segregation and diversity as being on a continuum from segregated to diverse, moving linearly between those two points, our research admits to the possibility of folds in that continuum. You can have segregation and diversity in the same place, at the same time.
This story has a bunch of great maps and a video interview with Professor Wright--well worth your time exploring this.


The second story comes from William Frey at the Brookings Institution who has noticed that in some cities, the city center is growing faster than the suburbs.
According to his analysis of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people, the primary cities in those metros grew an average of 1.1 percent, compared with 0.9 percent growth in the suburban areas of those metros between July 2010 and July 2011. Metros like New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. saw their urban populations grow faster than their suburban populations, while metros like Baltimore, Detroit, and Jacksonville saw higher growth in their suburban areas than the central cities.
San Diego was not included in the research, but my own analysis in San Diego showed that the only census tracts in the county that became more white non-Hispanic between 2000 and 2010 were right on the edge of downtown, in a gentrifying neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Measuring the Wealth of Nations

The modern era of nation-states has generated a lot of thinking about how to measure the wealth of such places, as opposed to measuring the wealth of an individual person (and, no, let's not talk about whether nations and corporations are people!). In the early years of the Enlightenment, mercantilists thought that national wealth depended upon exports, which demanded a growing population to stimulate trade. Physiocrats believed that the wealth of a nation lay in land, not people, and that more productive land led to population growth and more exports. Adam Smith fused these and believed that the wealth of a nation was created by labor applied to the land--a combination of human and natural resources. Despite at least two centuries of thinking about these things, we much more often  compare nations on the basis of income (GDP) than on measures of wealth. World Bank researchers have been working on this problem for a while now, as I discuss in Chapter 11 of my text, but the Economist reports that the latest attempt to create a measure of national wealth has been produced by a United Nations team headed by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University. As the authors note:

The main message is that important elements of a wealthreport do already exist, but there are significant gaps whereresearch and analysis will be required to increase the depth andbreadth of the wealth estimates. This report draws on the WorldBank measures of comprehensive wealth but goes beyond themby revising the theoretical framework and the methodology ofcomputing the various capital asset bases. These are clearly elaboratedin the data and methodological annexes presented at theend of this report.
The report is 370 pages in length so it is not for the faint of heart, but the Economist has pulled out some of the main messages. 
They included three kinds of asset: “manufactured”, or physical, capital (machinery, buildings, infrastructure and so on); human capital (the population’s education and skills); and natural capital (including land, forests, fossil fuels and minerals).
Indeed, the inclusion of "Physical" capital is one of the main differences between this measure and the previous World Bank efforts. The other important difference is the weighting given to human capital:
Officials often say that their country’s biggest asset is their people. For all of the countries in the report except Nigeria, Russia and Saudi Arabia, this turns out to be true. The UN calculates a population’s human capital based on its average years of schooling, the wage its workers can command and the number of years they can expect to work before they retire (or die). Human capital represents 88% of Britain’s wealth and 75% of America’s. The average Japanese has more human capital than anyone else.
And here's the bottom line:
By this gauge, America’s wealth amounted to almost $118 trillion in 2008, over ten times its GDP that year. (These amounts are calculated at the prices prevailing in 2000.) Its wealth per person was, however, lower than Japan’s, which tops the league on this measure. Judged by GDP, Japan’s economy is now smaller than China’s. But according to the UN, Japan was almost 2.8 times wealthier than China in 2008 (see charts).In 14 of the 20 countries studied, these increases in wealth outpaced the growth of their population, leaving per-person wealth higher in 2008 than in 1990. Germany, for example, increased its human capital by over 50%. China expanded its “manufactured” capital by an extraordinary 540%.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Nigerian President Urges People to Limit Family Size

In a genuinely important development, the President of Nigeria has come out publicly encouraging Nigerian couples to limit their family size. A few days ago BBC News reported that:

President Goodluck Jonathan said people were having too many children, and went on to back birth control measures.
He said that in particular, uneducated people were having too many children, and urged people to only have as many children as they could afford.
Mr Jonathan said legislation and policies aimed at controlling the number of births might be considered in future.
He said he had asked the National Population Commission to inform people about birth control before taking the issue further.
Indeed, it appears that the National Population Commission has been mobilized into action. The Population Media Center reports that:
He said at the swearing-in of the newly appointed chairman and 22 of the 23 commissioners of the National Population Commission (NPC) at the Presidential Villa Abuja that though regulation of population is “very sensitive”, the Federal Government cannot wait until it becomes uncontrollable before facing the menace.
He, therefore, directed the new NPC team to start advocacy campaign on birth control, promising them of government supports and funding.
Now, it may just be a coincidence that all of this happened only a few days after The Onion poked a bit of fun at population issues in Nigeria. Or, perhaps The Onion had the inside scoop on President Jonathan's intentions. Either way, this is bound to be beneficial in the long run.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Is Fertility Really Collapsing in Europe?

This week's Economist has as one of its cover headlines this item: "Europe's Fertility Collapse." Now, to be fair, the article itself doesn't carry that headline nor a message that would imply quite such a dramatic headline. Rather, it notes that "Recession is bringing Europe's brief fertility rally to a shuddering halt." There is quite a bit of dissonance between those two messages. In fact, a footnote to the article indicates that it was clearly inspired by a paper published in March in the journal Population and Development Review. In that paper, John Bongaarts of the Population Council in New York, and Tomas Sobotka of the Vienna Institute of Demography discuss a new method of decomposing period fertility rates into their "tempo" (timing of births) and "quantum" (number of children born) components. They show that the rise in fertility in Europe from 1998 to 2008 (not a collapse!) was due largely to women deciding to have children that they had previously postponed, with women coming closer to their preferred family size--which is a bit higher than people feared it was back in the 1990s. Indeed, they suggest that "This new trend suggests that the potential adverse consequences of population aging and population decline will likely be substantially smaller than feared in the 1990s" (p.83).


The Economist also notes correctly that the recession has led to a slight reversal (not a collapse!) of this decade-long increase in fertility. However, Bongaarts and Sobotka believe that this reversal will be relatively short-lived, and that European women will return to a pattern of below replacement fertility--low, but not real low--closer to two than to one child per woman. 


There can be little argument that the current, probably temporary, drop in fertility in Europe is due to the economic uncertainty of the times. The Economist, which sees itself as inspired by Adam Smith, suggests that "Adam Smith thought that economic uncertainty was bad for fertility." Perhaps he said that, but I would love to see the citation!! What Adam Smith did say in his famous Wealth of Nations (1776:I:viii.37) was that
“barrenness, so frequent among women of fashion, is very rare among those of inferior station. Luxury in the fair sex, while it enflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken, and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation.” 
He was, in fact, laying out the case for why we would expect low fertility in the rich countries of the world today. People of "fashion" (meaning people of wealth) have low fertility, while those in an "inferior station"(meaning economically less well off) have higher fertility.