Demography is destiny. It underlies many of the issues that shake the world, from war and economics to immigration. No wonder, then, that fears of overpopulation flared regularly over the last century, a century that saw the world's population quadruple. Even today, baby booms are blamed for genocide and terrorism, and overpopulation is regularly cited as the primary factor driving global warming and other environmental issues.
Yet, surprisingly, it appears that the explosion is past its peak. Around the world, in developing countries as well as in rich ones, today's women are having on average 2.6 children, half the number their mothers had. Within a generation, world fertility will likely follow Europe's to below replacement levels—and by 2040, the world's population will be declining for the first time since the Black Death, almost seven hundred years ago.
In The Coming Population Crash, veteran environmental writer Fred Pearce reveals the dynamics behind this dramatic shift. Charting the demographic path of our species over two hundred years, he begins by chronicling the troubling history of authoritarian efforts to contain the twentieth century's population explosion, as well as the worldwide trend toward the empowerment of women that led to lower birthrates. And then, with vivid reporting from around the globe, he dives into the environmental, social, and economic effects of our surprising demographic future.
Now is probably the last time in history that our world will hold more young people than elders. Most fear that an aging world population will put a serious drain on national resources, as a shrinking working population supports a growing number of retirees. But is this necessarily so? Might an older world population have an upside? Pearce also shows us why our demographic future holds increased migration rates, and reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the developed world: the simple fact is that countries with lower birthrates need workers and countries with higher birthrates need work. And he tackles the truism that population density always leads to environmental degradation, taking us from some of the world's most densely packed urban slums to rural Africa to argue that underpopulation can sometimes be the cause of environmental woes, while cities could hold the key to sustainable living.
Pearce's provocative book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what demographics tell us about our global future, and for all those who believe in learning from the mistakes of the past.
About the Author
Fred Pearce is an award-winning former news editor at New Scientist. Currently its environmental and development consultant, he has also written for Audubon, Popular Science, Time, the Boston Globe, and Natural History, and writes a regular column for the Guardian. He has been honored as UK environmental journalist of the year, among his other awards. His many books include When the Rivers Run Dry, With Speed and Violence, and Confessions of an Eco-Sinner. Pearce lives in England.
Clear, accessible, and smart, this book cuts through the complexity of current population dynamics and politics to make a compelling case that we are on the brink of a low-fertility, low-mortality future in which women's equality is the main motor force of change. Pearce challenges the apocalyptic fears of overpopulation in the Third World and declining population in the West that too often dominate and distort public policy on family planning, social welfare, immigration, and the environment. This hopeful, thought-provoking book deserves to be read widely, from the corridors of power to the classroom.—Betsy Hartmann, author of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control
"Fearless and well-informed; every paragraph crackles. Pearce evokes past and present with vivid detail and startlingly coherent insight."—Jesse H. Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment, Rockefeller University
"The population 'debate' is so fraught with the history of colonialism that no one wants to touch it. Thank goodness that Fred Pearce has had the courage to write this informative, timely, and brilliant challenge to the commonly held vision of overwhelming population growth laying waste to the earth. This book is about hope-just in the nick of time."—Maude Barlow, author of Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water
"What a wonderfully rich and humane book! As a generation of newly empowered women sweeps away our wrongheaded Malthusian nightmare, Fred Pearce demonstrates persuasively that the end of the population surge may well usher in a new era of ethnic tolerance, increased global integration, and a period of kinder and more nurturing governance."—Ross Gelbspan, author of Boiling Point