Smaller Families and Ageing Populations

New report dismisses Elon Musk’s population collapse fears 

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 28 October 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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New research led by respected economist Lord Turner finds countries with falling populations are richer as well as mitigating climate change. 
 
The report, commissioned by charity Population Matters, flies in the face of recent claims by Tesla CEO Elon Musk that ‘population collapse’ is possibly the greatest risk to the future of society.  
 
It found the UK could cut CO2 emissions by some 38 million tonnes, equivalent to taking 19m cars off UK roads, by 2035 if its population were to reduce at the same rate as Japan’s over the next 15 years.

Lower birth rates

The report, Smaller Families and Ageing Populations, was drafted by environmental consultancy Higginson Strategy. It concludes that embracing and promoting lower birth rates would improve planetary health, people’s wellbeing and long-term economic sustainability.  
 
Japanese women will give birth to an average 1.36 children in their lifetime – down from 2.1 in 1974 – while women in England and Wales will give birth to an average of 1.6 children. 
  
By 2035, the Japanese population will decrease by 9.6% from 125 million to 113.1 million, while the UK population is predicted to increase by 5.2% to 71.1 million over the same period.  
  
The report said if the UK achieved the same downward trajectory as Japan, it would help alleviate the housing crisis with four million fewer homes needed, and provide 435,000 acres of nature to address Britain’s rapidly declining natural environment.

Embracing population decline

The report says ‘population decline is not something to be feared, but embraced for the multiple benefits it brings’.  
  
While smaller populations can bring challenges, the report highlights policy changes to encourage a wellbeing economy as crucial in reaping the benefits of smaller, sustainable human populations.  
  
A transition to economic principles which are based on securing human wellbeing and environmental sustainability will provide the best framework in which to meet these challenges.  
 
The report’s foreword is written by Lord Adair Turner, former chair of the Financial Services Authority and Climate Change Committee.

Empowering women

The global population is expected to grow from 7.8 billion today to almost 10 million by the middle of this century. 
   
In his foreword to the report, Lord Turner, former chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Authority, said:  ‘The biggest reason to welcome this demographic shift is that it results from the free choice of empowered people, and in particular women. 
   
‘But ceasing endless population growth will also reduce humanity’s future pressure on the natural environment, ease the challenge of adequate housing provision, and make it easier to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions while supporting prosperity growth in developing countries. 
  
‘Human welfare is best served in societies where women are empowered, smaller families are the norm, and populations are stable or gently declining.’

‘Those panicking about ageing societies and lower birth rates should look at the evidence and the available, positive solutions which offer greater wellbeing for a greater proportion of people globally. Formerly poor countries like Costa Rica, now enjoy some of the highest wellbeing in the world, having prioritised family planning and women’s empowerment as their springboard to sustainable development.  
 
‘Elon Musk’s apocalyptic pronouncements on this issue are ill-informed, harmful and his motives questionable. Women’s bodies are not an economic tool to provide a growing supply of cheap labour and new consumers to the very wealthy.   
 
‘An economy which ignores the environmental limits of our planet can’t deliver long-term wellbeing. Contrary to the alarmist headlines, lower birth rates are key to greater opportunity and progress. The fact of more people living longer, healthier lives is a triumph, not a tragedy.’

ROBIN MAYNARD
Director, Population Matters

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