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World demography: from the fear of overpopulation to the fear of extinction

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Back in 1982, Ridley Scott’s brilliant movie “Blade Runner” created an image of a dirty overpopulated future world where in the streets of Seoul and Tokyo hung posters calling for only one child to save the country’s economy from extra mouths. A classic at that time was the famous Chinese “one child” policy and the constantly changing logo of the company Nestl√©, where the number of chicks in the nest gradually reduced from three to zero. However, the realities of the XXI century have turned everything upside down, turning each additional person from a threat into a strategic resource that is increasingly difficult to preserve. It is now clear that the world is facing a global drop in fertility, and people are ill-prepared for the consequences of a sharp decline in the world’s population. It used to be erroneously believed that the fewer people living in a state, the more abundant the national wealth could be distributed among those who remained. But in practice, despite the increasing role of machines and automation in production, the shrinking number of able-bodied people drags any economy inexorably downward. In the end, extinction is alarming in many countries today, if only because man is a social creature and has an existential anxiety that the world he is accustomed to may collapse, even after his own death. 

Almost all countries will face population decline by the end of the century, but this has been especially the plight of developed countries, which were not only cultural and economic but also demographic leaders in the 19th century. Twenty-three of them, including Spain and Japan, will see their populations halve by 2100 if current trends continue. In addition, humanity will age dramatically, with the number of people crossing the 80-year mark exceeding the number of newborns. This not only reduces human labor capital, but also creates an atmosphere of hopelessness and depression, which was perfectly depicted in the movie “Child of Man”.¬† The average number of children per woman is steadily declining, and the rate falls below 2.1, which is the “reproductive threshold” beyond which attrition begins. In 1950, this global average was 4.7, and by 2017 it had almost halved to 2.4, dropping to 2.3 children per woman in 2022. And even the poor countries of Asia and Africa could not stop this process. At the same time, in Europe this indicator is even lower and is about 1.5. The lowest coefficient in the world is currently observed in South Korea, which is 0.84, and no efforts of the country’s government to encourage women to procreate can stop its decline. According to forecasts of a number of experts in 2100 the indicator will fall to 1.7, that is more or less evenly will be dying out the whole world, and in such countries as South Korea and Singapore it can be as catastrophic as 0.6-0.7 children per woman. Scientists predict that the number of people on Earth will peak by 2064, when it will reach 9.7 billion, but then will begin to decline and by the end of the century will amount to 8.8 billion people.

The real “center of extinction”, paradoxically, has become the countries vying for global hegemony – the United States, Europe, China and Russia.  The phenomenon of a rapid decline in birth rate is not related to a decrease in the number of spermatozoa in men’s sperm and other things that the left and right radicals are so fond of, writing off everything to the deliberate destruction of people and the Earth’s ecology by the “world government”. The reason for this phenomenon is the destruction of traditional society, the change of the social role of women from mother to “workhorse”, and the liberal depression, in which in a prosperous society the child is perceived in advance as a victim of the “cruel world”, which is better not to be born at all. And such views, close to the heresies of the Gnostics in the Middle Ages, spread precisely in the countries of the cultural West (the way even sometimes in Asian countries), because they have long passed their civilization peak and are full of decadent moods of “collective suicide”. 

Thus, the population of Japan, the first “tiger of Asia” back at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, has already reached a historic high of 128 million people in 2017 and has begun to decline. According to the forecast, by the end of the century it will be less than 53 million. Italy, formerly the abode of traditional Catholicism, will see an equally steep decline from 61 million to 28 million over the same period.  China, once the world’s most populous nation, is close to making the list. Experts predict that it will peak at 1.4 billion people by 2024 and then begin to decline, and by the end of the century the Chinese will be 732 million, almost half the current number. The UK is predicted to have 75 million people by 2063, and by 2100 the UK population will have fallen by 4 million. But such a “moderate decline” will be achieved in theory only due to unprecedented immigration from Africa and Asia, which will totally replace the native population. And given the current difficult economic situation in this country, such a forecast may be overly optimistic. However, the problem is global, because 183 of 195 states have fertility rates below or rapidly approaching the level necessary for reproduction. If today’s trend continues, by 2100, the number of babies under five in the world will fall from the current 681 million to 401 million, while the number of those over 80 will, conversely, rise from 141 million to 866 million. And this world of old people waiting for their death will indeed be extremely depressing, seriously differing from the picture of heroic exploration of space, which was seen by science fiction writers of the middle of the last century at the end of the century in which you and I live. 

The only ones who continue to rejoice are left-wing environmental sectarians like Greta Thunberg. In their fictional world, a small humanity is good for the Earth, with few carbon emissions and plowed fields changing “natural” landscapes. In reality, however, this misanthropy threatens serious trouble for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which will be left with this extinct world after 2050. And this cruel world will not be familiar with the prosperity and social security that Europe and the United States achieved at the end of the 20th century, and which will become unthinkable because of the decay of European traditional values, where there will be 4-5 old people per working adult citizen. This apocalyptic picture of the decay of the welfare state and impoverishment is already before the eyes of the authorities of many states, and they are even trying to somehow prevent these events. A number of states, including Great Britain, are still solving demographic problems with the help of immigration, but this method will soon cease to work, since almost all of them are facing population decline. And, even if these processes can be stretched over a long period of time, they are not a radical solution to the problem. Some countries are trying to stimulate fertility by extending parental leave to care for newborns, free kindergartens, cash payments and expanding the employment rights of young mothers, but their effectiveness is questionable. Sweden, for example, has been able to raise its fertility rate from 1.7 to 1.9 children per woman at great cost, but other countries in Europe have not succeeded. Although in the Swedish case it should be noted that the effect was short-term and was largely due to the influx of migrants, who preserved the traditional family in some form.

There is no doubt that population decrease is likely to become one of the main political issues in many countries, and the ways of solving it may be more and more radical every year, and may even touch upon the “women’s rights” that have become the “sacred cow” of modern liberals. After all, for the sake of economic growth and stability, the state, which is society’s apparatus of violence, will always put any human weaknesses far below collective interests. And yet, there remains a chance to avoid the most apocalyptic scenarios. Today, the only region of the world where the population will triple by the end of the century is sub-Saharan Africa. For example, Nigeria is projected to have 791 million people in 2100, surpassing China and becoming the second largest country in the world after India. However, these forecasts, like the prophecies of total extinction in Europe, are based on linear trends and do not take into account all the variety of factors. It is obvious to almost everyone that not so large Nigeria or desert Niger will not withstand the demographic strain they are prophesied to face. Yet the threat of tragic demographic changes with inter-ethnic conflicts and economic upheaval does not disappear because of this. Arithmetic suggests that the simple reproductive rate is two children for every woman, and if two parents produce two children, the population does not change. But even with the best health care, some babies do not survive to adulthood. That is why it is considered that for developed countries the rate of simple reproduction is 2.1, and in states with high infant mortality the birth rate should be even higher. And so the arithmetic where this rate is only 1-1.5 is quite tragic. Many people laugh at this threat, but people may simply disappear from the Earth in 500-600 years if nothing changes. This disaster can be overcome by overcoming the “liberal depression”, reviving the traditional family and realizing that children are not a burden, but one of the main human values. However, this realization will come only through suffering and crisis, and optimism is added by the fact that humanity is experiencing a similar crisis not for the first time. And people are able to survive it, and the Earth will be inherited by those who have more love for life and progress than immoral attitudes to social suicide.

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