Demography and Sustainability

Author: Thierry Gaudin, President of Fondation 2100, member of the board of WFSF

First, let’s recall some fundamental facts about year 2050. The children born in 2020 will be thirty years old then, and they will be still alive in 2100, as their life expectancy implies. In 2050, members of the “baby boom” generation, i.e. people born after the second world war, will be no longer alive, while in Russia, the declining fertility tendency, observable after the fall of the Iron Curtain (1990-2000), will be represented by the ageing generation, later replaced by a younger one.

In China, the implications of the peculiar one-child policy will still be felt, at least in the mature generation.  Africa, India and South America will be under demographic pressure. We can reasonably expect them to be able to reject the economic subordination that they are subject to today.

Since access to information on Internet and via portable phones has simplified by today, it will be even easier in the future, and the cultural gap between people born in different countries will be much more narrow. The current leading role of the Anglo-Saxon culture is quite likely to be just a memory. We can witness the revival of ancient cultures, since we will perceive the limits of the planet more and more intensively.

The approach of the limits relates first to the so-called “revenge of Malthus”. At the end of 18th century, after having completed a long visit to different continents, Thomas Robert Malthus came back formulating his demographic law: In every civilization, the population grows up to the saturation of resources, and then inevitably stabilizes or declines.

A similar statement was made nearly 40 years ago, in the early 70’s, by the Club of Rome in his famous report “Limits to growth”. It is important to notice, regarding our 2025 horizon, even if the evolution of technology has been able to push the limits, leaving place for a surplus of growth, that most Meadow’s models predicted a collapse of our civilization during the first quarter of 21st century. Similar conclusions, taking into account technological evolution, were made in 1990, in the “2100, récit du prochain siècle” study, operated by a team of the French ministry for research on request  of the minister Hubert Curien.

Nowadays, many more signs of saturation appeared. They are detailed in the first part of the report, particularly on warming, water management, biodiversity and demography. One can estimate it would be difficult, if not impossible, to push again the limits. Technology undoubtedly makes miracles, but it would be unwise to carry forward our children’s safety on miracles. Therefore, the foresight landscape splits in two basic scenarios:

The first scenario is a tragedy, giving to the word “tragedy” the meaning it had in the antique Greek theatre: a tragedy describes an evolution in which the actors, caught in their prejudices, are unable to escape their tragic destiny. In Shakespeare performances, many die at the end, and their death bears a meaning, expressing the contradiction between their deep identity and their destiny.

In the case of the present world, the trend can be described as follows: globalization of the market economy, excessive consumption and throw away mentality, after having invaded the so called developed world, spreads over the developing countries, faced to global warming and energy scarcity. It appears to lead to a global collapse. Some experts even foresee an extinction of human species and many others species as a result of mankind behaviour. They call this sixth extinction the “anthropocene”, as due to humans (anthropos), differing from the preceding extinctions, at least the one of the dinosaurs (-65M years) and the biggest one at the end of the Permian period (250 M years), that were probably caused by the impacts of meteorites.

The second scenario is self-control of mankind. But how can we expect 6.5 billion humans to reduce their consumption and restore the equilibrium with natural resources? Certainly not with a laisser-faire policy! Therefore, a major task of foresight is now to estimate the nature and the magnitude of the constraints and incentives that might be generated by the consciousness of the limits, and also the ways these constraints and incentives may be decided and operated. According to the presently available data, the order of magnitude of this necessary self-control appears important. The ecological footprint analysis initiated by WWF2 points that, after having consumed non renewable resources, assuming a standard of life comparable to the Europeans by year 2000, the planet would be able to carry 2.5 billion humans, compared to the present level of world population: 7 billion, 8 to 9 being expected in 2050. One must add to this rough evaluation the need to control rapidly the greenhouse effect, the droughts and floods pushing climate refugees out of their land and the rise of the level of the oceans.

It can reasonably stated that, before the end of 21st century, the reduction of the world population should have started, the consumption of natural resources per capita should have been cut approximately by half, at least in the so called developed countries, and the greenhouse gases emissions totally compensated by absorption. These would be the conditions to leave a living planet to our grand children.

The Demographic/Natural Resources Tension

“Connected with the spread of modern contraceptives and the increased educational levels is the fact that young western adults can experiment more extensively with union formation before settling down and start a family. As a result, patterns of union formation (and dissolution) have changed substantially: unmarried cohabitation has increased, marriage takes place later and divorce occurs more often. Childbearing has become a result of deliberate reflections (i.e. unwanted pregnancies are getting scarce) and occur much later in people’s lives;

The best way to understand fertility behaviour is via birth cohort (birth year) analysis, not via period (calendar year) analysis. If women postpone childbearing (Phase 1) i.e. they have their first child later in their life than women born in previous cohorts, one will observe a rise in the age at first birth and, as a consequence, a drop in the number of children born per calendar year (period Total Fertility Rate – TFR). This ‘tempo effect’ may sometimes lead to ‘dramatically low’ TFR levels, like currently in several Central and Eastern European countries. Because the first postponing couples start to catch up having children but those from subsequent birth cohorts are now postponing. Phase 2 is characterized by a more or less stable low period TFR. When the increase in the age at first birth starts to diminish (Phase 3) or stalls completely (Phase 4) people are catching up having children that were postponed before, and the period TFR increases substantially again. However it will not reach the initial higher (cohort) level, since a later start normally leads to a lower ultimate number of children (quantum decline). Making a forecast with keeping lowest low TFR constant in a period of a rising age at first birth may lead to a very inaccurate picture of the future.

There is increasing evidence that it may be easier to influence the timing of children than the ultimate number of children. If policy measures appeal to people they may be stimulated to have a child rather soon, but not necessarily have more children in their lifetime. If all of a sudden children are only born earlier, one will observe a baby boom, together with stagnation in the increase of the mother’s age at first birth, followed rather rapidly by a baby bust (see Sweden 1990-1995).

It will be an enormous challenge to get population sizes more sustainable, and, more important, their life style? If that would be similar to what is normal now in the USA or in Europe then there is a major food and energy challenge. We do not know what is neither the maximum nor the optimal world population size, and have probably only ideas about the optimal worldwide life style. Both the optimal population size and life style depend on food and energy supply, on peaceful international cooperation, as well as on where these persons prefer to live (cities or countryside)”.

“According to ILO’s projection, total population is to increase from 6.6 in 2007 to more than 8 billion people in 2025. The most important increase will come from Africa (North Africa, SADC and Rest of Africa should have around 404,000 extra persons), India (around 267,000 extra person), Asia (without China and India around 264,000 extra persons) and China (+144,000 extra persons). China increase appears limited considering its current total population. China will start to lose active population over the period: it should reach its maximum in 2015 at around 830,000 persons and decrease to 809,000 by 2025. As a consequence, China will be in a comparable situation with the countries from the previous Soviet bloc and developed countries with an aging population. This is apparent as well in the shares of the future world population. China’s share is to shrink by 2 percentage points, the European Union by 1.4 points, while Africa’s share should increase by 3 points.”

Ageing Populations and Young Ones

“The current process of population ageing that started already more than 100 years ago is ‘unprecedented, pervasive, profound, and enduring’ (UN, 2007). World wide the percentage of persons of 60 years or over was 8 in 1950, 11 in 2007 and it is expected to rise to 22 by 2050. Almost no country escapes from this trend. Europe is frontrunner but also the first to see some relief by mid-century. Variation within Europe is large; specifically Eastern Europe was hit by the world wars, which is still visible (also because of its recurrent effects in the next generations).

As ageing basically results from falling numbers of children, the process normally shows that first the youngest age groups get smaller, but with time running the following age groups are ‘affected’.

Population Pyramid Graph of the EU in 2050

Gradually the labour market population will start ageing as well, first due to lower entrance streams, many years later due to larger exit streams. Then a boom in retirement follows (which is expected at short notice when birth cohort 1946 turns 65 years), later on followed by a boom in the number of very old people. Consequence of this process is of course that the dependency ratios are changing fundamentally as well, in the sense that the number of dependent people per independent person will rise substantially. Currently the ‘window of opportunities’ or ‘demographic bonus’ is in many countries relatively large: the number of 0-19 years together with the number of 65+ years compared to the number of 20-64 years (the potential labour market population) is around the lowest point, i.e. those who are economically active have only to care for a small number of dependents (who were mainly youngsters in the past, but now increasingly older)

The attitude of the politicians and the press regarding ageing is ambiguous. They may agree that the planet is overcrowded, but the ageing in their country is still perceived as a problem. Ageing is not a disaster but a challenge. Ageing will challenge intergenerational solidarity due to changes in family patterns (more unmarried cohabitation, later marriage, more divorce, more repartnering, smaller family sizes, and later childbearing). This will trigger social protection systems in finding social cohesion to support people to interact as much as possible within and between generations, both in countries with cultural traditions of stronger or weaker family ties. Measures in support of child and elderly care as well as measures that make work-family balances more compatible can strengthen intergenerational solidarity”.

The projection above shows at the same time the growing share of elderly people and the end of growth of world population around the middle of 21st century, as a result of the decline of global fertility rates. It covers very different situations: African countries still have a high fertility and an important base of young generations, as shown by the following graphs:

The demographic regulation of Europe and North America is already at work. The one of Asia and South America is taking place between now and 2025. And the one of Africa will not be operating before 2040, according to the projections made by professional demographers22. Anyhow, some countries, Russia for instance, who suffered an important demographic slow down during the past decades; tend to foresee the possibility of a future “baby boom” before 2025.

Demographic forecasts are traditionally the most secure predictions for the long term. In our present situation, it is however necessary to point some important uncertainties regarding 21st century’s evolution.

Stabilization or maximum followed by a slow down? Since the end of the 80’s, the common knowledge of the demographer’s community describes the present evolution as a “demographic transition”. It means more precisely the transition between an evolution with high fertility and high mortality to an evolution with low fertility and low mortality, leading to a stabilization of the world population around 10 Billion, with an average fertility of 2.1 children per woman.

But according to the fact that fertility rates are lowered by female education and urban way of life where both members of the couple work; according also to the fact that a world population of 10 billion reaching a consumption level of natural resources close to the one of the average European in 2000 would not lead to a sustainable world by a factor of 4, it is more realistic to predict a maximum followed by a slow decline lasting one or two centuries. That hypothesis would fit with a stabilization of the birth rate around 1.8 children per woman, instead of the 2.1 stabilization hypothesis.

Mortality evolution. Inside the demographer community, an important debate is taking place about mortality. Here is a graph made out of the official World Health Organisation figures: Some demographers, following the medical community, point the progresses in vaccination and treatment of developing countries diseases like neonatal, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria… Other experts point the deterioration of health conditions in so-called developed countries, due to unhealthy food, stress, lack of exercise, leading to obesity, tobacco alcohol and drugs, hard working stress and poor living conditions. The above graph shows the growing importance of vascular diseases and cancer, which are typical of modern urban environment.

The demographers also point the growing proportion of elderly people, which may be felt as a burden by younger and less numerous new generations. These elderly may suffer less care than the previous old people who, having many children, could expect to be assisted and live peacefully over 90. All these factors would lead to estimate not a reduction of mortality as during the previous half century, but on the contrary an increase of mortality rates. This debate shows clearly that medical research is not the determining factor. It may help to cure difficult illnesses like AIDS. It has no influence on the environment factors that determine most modern pathologies. Looking at mortality globally, as shown by the above graph, the question is raised to the social and economic organization, to social sciences and governance rather than to hard sciences. The third question mark about demography is the one of migrations:

Migration to Cities

The first and massive migration in 21st century is the one to cities. Urban population passed 50% in 2008: 3.3 billion. Urban population grows twice faster than total population growth (1.78% vs. 0.95% annual rate for 2005-2030): projected resulting 4.9 billion (about 60% of total population) by 2030 (out of 8.2 billion) 1.8 billion urban population will be added in 2005-2030 out of which 1.1 billion will be added in Asia.

Cities in Asia:

11 out of 20 world mega-cities (over 10 million),

17 out of 30 cities of 5-10 million,

184 out of 364 cities of 1-5 million,

225 out of 455 cities of 0.5-1 million.

From these data, we can make a simple and clear statement: 21st century is, at least during the first half, a period where the majority of world population lives in cities. And the majority of these city dwellers are in Asia. The first impression given by these facts is that the new “centre of the world” (if there is any) will be Asiatic.

The second impression relates to daily life. Most mega cities are highly energy consuming, they contribute massively to carbon dioxide emissions and they experience enormous traffic congestion, air pollution and unhealthy environment. Some of these negative points may lead to popular protests and rebellions. And, as it happened previously in history, at the middle of 19th century in Europe for instance, the public authorities would launch in response huge reshaping programs, including common transportation, green spaces, energy conservation, floating structures for the seashore towns (as quoted previously), and many other initiatives aiming at ecological sustainability.

Migrations Increased by Climate Refugees

“International migration has become a larger player in demographic trends. International comparable statistics are scarce, also because the definition of what is a migrant varies. Migrants are mainly driven due to economic reasons or to political instability (refugees / asylum seeking), in the future likely more often also to natural disasters of which some may be the result of climate change.

Migrants orient towards countries where they have historical or cultural bonds with (including language bonds), or where already larger groups from the same country of origin have settled and have send positive information. UN estimates suggest that about one third of all international migrants in the world live in Europe (i.e. persons born in another country). These 64 million persons make up 9% of the total European population. North America (44 million) and Oceania (5 million) have lower absolute numbers but higher shares of their population being born in another country than where they live, respectively 13 and 25%”.

Observing the present movements, it is possible to anticipate strategic questions that may come on the front of the stage before 2025. Important flows of migrants silently move from overcrowded countries to places less occupied and with a low birth rate. Three places of the world can be mentioned: United States and Canada, target of an important flow from Mexico, South America and from different Asiatic countries; Europe, target of an important flow from North and sub Saharan Africa and Turkey; Siberia, target of an important flow from China. The key question is raised by the cultural difference of the migrants and the tensions it may generate with the existing population.

Regarding climate refugees, the estimation by Norman Myers, published also by IPCC is 150 million in 2050. It shows an order of magnitude of the climate impact on migration comparable to the one of international migrations for economic and social motivations at the end of 20th century. It should be added to these figures that the estimation of climate effects in terms of hurricanes (like New Orleans Katrina), floods and drought are rough ones. And if, as explained previously, the rise of the ocean level would reach 3 meters, most mega cities being built on the seashore, another 135 million displaced people should be added (OECD). The conclusion of these estimations is that huge public works should be expected (reshaping town, water supply, ocean cities…), which will probably determine the shape of 21st century’s economy.

The Future of Poverty

Ray Hammond writes: “Within our societies inequality will continue to increase, as it is increasing today. Even though the poorest groups in developed societies have become much better off over the last twenty-five years (and will be very much better off comparatively by 2030) the wealth of the richest in our society has grown far faster. This trend will continue and although the middle-classes will continue to expand and become more affluent, the super-rich will become mega-rich and then hyper-rich. And there will be many more hyper-rich people in the world of 2030.”

Displacement of tenth of million people means an increase of poverty, even in case of important solidarity mobilization. The fast urbanization process, often due to the migration of poor peasants searching for survival opportunities in a big city, is also generating poverty.

The classical economic definition, often quoted in international talks, considers as poor a person earning less than 2$ per day. According to this kind of definition, one third of mankind would be in a situation close to poverty. But we should remind that our ancestors lived in the countryside earning less, and survived producing freely for their own consumption. Many civilizations: Aborigines, Inuits, some Amerindians and Africans still survive that way.

It is necessary to take a distance with the previous definition. It is the one that suits to the merchants, which are not interested by people not using money. Anyhow, if we follow Toffler’s analysis on the rising “prosumer” attitude, we must take into account the development of investment strategies aimed at escaping the merchant power by developing self-production systems. Seen by the merchants, it looks like impoverishment (economists would call it recession), but seen by the end user, it looks like an improvement in safety and comfort.

The important point, anyhow, is that, in a big city, survival is difficult or even impossible with 2$ a day because, there, survival needs a minimal compulsory consumption. A recent analysis in France shows that compulsory expenses (housing, electricity, telecom, but food not included) mobilizes in average more than 40% of the revenue of the households. And this percentage has grown approximately 5% during the last 5 years. In spite of the increase of their revenues, the citizens feel a decline in their standard of living, because their freedom of choice is reduced. In many cases, poverty occurs when the prices increasing and the debts too, compulsory expenses grow over the level of the income of the household. Such situations are exemplified by the “subprime” crisis (2007, 2008…) in United States.

It shows at least that poverty has two faces: the one for instance of refugees in a poor country, and the one of decay in wealthier countries for those who has lost access to the minimal survival needs. Therefore, the “wealth of nations” should not be measured through their GNP but, as suggested by Amartya Sen, at least by the non-compulsory expenses for which the average citizen keeps a freedom of choice. In many countries, very rich people and very poor people live close to each other, particularly in big cities. But very rich people may have a great freedom of choice, without having time for it. Cognitive saturation lowers also governance awareness, increasing the gap between rich and poor.

Deep poverty escapes to present statistics. But common sense would accept that when a human being has to sell a part of his body (the kidney for instance), or to get his food out of municipal waste piles (like in some Brazilian towns), or to sleep in the street, or to accept situations offending his dignity to survive, she/he is in poverty. But this is not the case of most village traditional communities, in spite of their low purchase power.

Outsights Scenarios

In 2004, the “outsights” consultancy has been commissioned by UK department for international development to elaborate scenarios for the poorest in 2030. In one of them, named “moral warming”, the companies begin to sign up the UN declaration of human rights, the shareholders police the ethical codes of conduct, the consumers turn to fair trade and ethical products and the super rich host philanthropic foundations.

In another scenario, named “on the move” it is assumed that in 2030 the proportion of the world population who live and work outside its mother country has doubled compared to year 2000 (from 1.5 to 3%), due to economic globalization, rural to urban shift and global warming. Deregulation removes the obstacles to migrations. Informal economy is accepted, except in the case it shelters criminal activities. The social and health services are harmonised internationally.

Another approach for Europe has been published in Futuribles. It focuses on states or EU intervention, either through financial and education support of the poorest or even declaring misery outlaw.

Obviously, the weakness of all these scenarios lies in minimizing the role of NGO’s.

This difficult question of poverty should be analysed also through historical references. A global change concerning at the same time technology and civilization as a whole, like was the Industrial revolution in the 19th century, generates huge social difficulties. During a first period, the technology provides new unexpected services and brings satisfactions to the customer. In a second stage, the new activities displace the employment of the old ones and may generate a social crisis. It was the case in Europe in 1848, when the competition of industrial manufactures had cut down craftsmen’s market. Migration to towns and poverty increased, as described in the novels of Dickens (Oliver Twist) and Victor Hugo (Les Misérables). The 1848 revolution, all over Europe, gave the powers to new teams who operated a new set of policies: great public works (Haussmann’s urban planning in France for instance) and compulsory popular education, in order to give to the lower class access to the minimal knowledge necessary to operate in the new technical system. This effort lasted for half a century and was successful.

Clearly, 21st century is also a period of transition between an old technical system, the industrial one, and a new one, quoted as the “cognitive civilization”. Therefore, a similar strategy of the ruling class is to be expected: huge public works and popular education. Public works, necessary to reshape the cities and face global warming consequences, will provide employment. Renewed education will be necessary to get familiar with the new tools (Internet) and the new goals (planetary gardening).

Conclusion: Governance and Consciousness

The word “governance” has been promoted during the last decade as an alternative concept to overcome the difficulties emerging around the words “government” and “power”. It implicitly refers to systemic analysis and tries to put decision-making processes under close examination. It refers also both to legitimacy and efficiency. The state of governance is poorly considered when decisions are slow and formalities heavy. But it also pays attention to legitimacy. Dictatorship, in spite of its fast decisions may not be considered as ideal governance. To make it short, governance relates to the rules of the game, their clarity and acceptability. But it bears also the idea that collective decision-making is feasible. Anyhow governance assessment is not yet established as a discipline in social sciences.

The transition from industrial to cognitive world

Our investigation leads to a vision of the period between 2010 and 2025 as a time for disruptions.

Local, economic, social, technological disruptions that will all result of a major change: the transition between

1-the industrial civilization, which started during the 18th century, using the nation state divide established in 17th century, and giving birth to the present so-called “democratic” forms of governance, and

2-the cognitive civilization, which started at the end of 20th century. In this new civilization, the dominant activity is no more production. It is nature care and information handling. The communication network crosses the former institutional frontiers and renders progressively obsolete the former divides, including the nation state one.

The word “cognitive” is here preferred to the classical “knowledge based economy” mantra because it bears the assumption that, as quoted first by Alvin Toffler, hyperchoice and cognitive saturation appear as a specific problem in that civilization, facing the industrialization of the persuasion activities. This transition, because of its magnitude, will take several generations and probably transform the societies in shapes that are now difficult to foresee. Regarding the next 33 years, what should be expected is a shift in the consciousness, occurring amongst both conflict and cooperation processes. This difficult shift in consciousness, we call it the challenge to reason. It is a challenge involving a change in the representation of life. Most political views of the late centuries were inspired by the Darwin-Spencer idea of the “struggle for life”. It was interpreted in terms of revolution by the late Marxist ideology and as economic competition by the free market ideology. Knowing the limits of the planet, both assumptions are false.

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