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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

A Conversation About Global Population Growth

The New York Times today published a lengthy Op-Ed "conversation" between Serge Schmemann, editor of the International Herald Tribune Magazine, and three population experts/thinkers: Hania Zlotnik, who heads up the Population Division of the United Nations (which produces the most famous of the population projections suggesting that we may well be sharing the planet with 10 billion people by the end of this century); Chandran Nair, who is the founder of the Global Institute For Tomorrow, an independent, for-profit think tank based in Hong Kong, and the author of Consumptionomics: Asia’s Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet; and Fred Pearce, a British science writer and the author of Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash. So, the conversation includes a demographer (Zlotnik), an environmentalist (Nair), and a science writer (Pearce). Out of this came a very articulate and compelling set of ideas (by which I mean, of course, that I am generally in agreement with what they have to say!). It is a lengthy article that deserves a careful reading, but here are the concluding comments:

NAIR: The next 30 years are critical, and this is why this issue of consumption and the growing global sense of entitlement and privilege needs to be addressed very decisively and critically by the governments here. Billions in Asia cannot aspire to all have more, because we don’t have the time for it to correct itself. It comes back to how we plan to live in a constrained resource base, and that will require very strong state institutions starting to dictate — I use that word very deliberately — how we create a new society around protecting these resources by curbing excessive consumption.
PEARCE: In my optimistic frame of mind, I do think that, as we age as a society, we may become less consumerist, less concerned with economic growth, more concerned about well-being and happiness and living environmentally sustainable lives. I think the end of population growth will give us the chance to solve the environmental problems, solve the resource problems, without the constant fear that anything we do will be overwhelmed by population growth. We have the chance to think, “Look, these things are in our own hands.” With good governance, of the kind that Chandran is talking about very persuasively, we can get it right, even now.
ZLOTNIK: I agree. The chance of achieving a stable population is much better today than it was 50 years ago. Populations have grown enormously and yet the world has not collapsed, although, as Chandran says, we haven’t paid for everything that we have used. The payment will have to be made by future generations and it is important that the changes in population growth achieved so far continue in the same direction so that young people today and in the future have more degrees of freedom in tackling the problems that they will face.

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