Population growth rate bodes decline in living standards

Dec 10, 2013 by Bruce Henry, The Conversation
Our current trajectory suggests that the world system will realise a decline in living standards. Credit: Shutterstock

In 1972 a group of scientists, known collectively as the Club of Rome, constructed a detailed mathematical model to test whether population growth and economic development could continue indefinitely and if not, what the limits to growth and its manifestations would be.

Their findings were published in a report called The Limits to Growth. The standard future scenario in their computer projections showed positive growth in both the population and the economy until the mid-21st century - and then a decline. The public responded firstly with a mixture of alarm and scepticism, and then disinterest. But in recent years there has been renewed interest in this body of work, including a recent article in The Conversation, with updated studies showing that we are on track to realise the standard scenario in The Limits to Growth.

Our current trajectory suggests that the world system will realise a decline in living standards. There needs to be a shift in the global economy that moves away from wellbeing measures based on GDP, and which embraces new meaningful measures of progress, as well as better accounting of resources and people.

In we are now beyond the point of inflexion. For tens of thousands of years the rate of population growth has been increasing. But since midway through the second half of the 20th century this rate has been decreasing. Most population modellers anticipate population rates midway through the 21st century to remain steady, or decline.

The world’s population is no longer growing - will economic development follow? Credit: US Census Bureau

The rate of also appears to be slowing. In standard macro-economic models, slower population growth also translates to slower economic growth. The other key driver of economic growth, productivity, usually requires capital investment and borrowing from future generations, but this too would be hard to support with a declining population.

Against this backdrop it is a good time to revisit The Limits to Growth. We have the data and computational power to answer questions such as: where are we now? and where are we going? But we also need to answer: where do we want to be? What do we need to do to get there? Our default scenario is surely not ideal. Is it possible to construct a new world economy that can deliver a more optimal outcome?

Many leading thinkers around the world have begun to address these issues. One of the lead authors of The Limits to Growth, Jorgen Randers, has re-examined future scenarios in 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.

He argues that rich nations should change their goal from one of economic growth to that of "increased happiness in a situation of stable income and declining population". This sentiment is echoed by both Graeme Maxton, leading economist and author of The End of Progress, while Charles Sturt University Professor of Public Ethics Clive Hamilton observes that in our developed economies, "people buy things they don't need, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't like".

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has been leading the world in developing new measures of progress and wellbeing. ABS Deputy Australian Statistician Peter Harper is overseeing Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP), which moves away from using GDP as a key measure of a nation's progress and instead considers progress to be "multi-dimensional covering a range of economic, social, environmental and, more recently, governance concerns".

Peter Victor, a Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, and author of Managing without Growth: Slower by Design, not Disaster, has undertaken detailed simulations of the Canadian economy without economic growth as a goal. He finds that "it is possible to have full employment, eradicate poverty, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and maintain fiscal balance without economic growth".

Another important step to progress towards a sustainable economy with improved wellbeing is to build better connections between resources and people and the economy. This has been the driving message of Columbia University economist Graciela Chichilnisky, the architect of the scheme underpinning the Kyoto Protocol. In Australia, the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, led by Director Peter Cosier, has recently developed a tool, Accounting for Nature, which connects the state of the environment and the economy in an accounting framework. These economic reforms can drive investment in sustainable technologies.

We live in a time unprecedented in human history, where the limits to growth are in clear sight. It is time for an intelligent and informed discussion that goes beyond political horizons.

Explore further: World Bank says universal health coverage key in growth

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Scottingham
2 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2013
As long as people can live in their 5 million+ dollar mansions in their gated communities doing jack-all, we're boned.
foolspoo
not rated yet Dec 10, 2013
Oh where oh where art thou tipping point?

if the population growth slows to this estimated .5% growth, we will have passed 10bn folks before the year 2100. drastic, unprecedented change is upon us. social, ecological, economical. there has never been a time of such connected, acceptable hatred. nations must dispel and become a planet for life. not for man
3432682
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 10, 2013
Limits to Growth was an utter fraud 41 years ago. There is no reason to believe the same people, and others of the same ilk, will produce anything different this time. This is just more warmed over Malthusian bunk. Wealth and prosperity produce health, happiness, progress, and have lifted billions out of dirt-floor poverty, and will lift the rest soon. Unless we listen to these greenie killjoys. Ignore their warnings that the sky is falling. Again.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (11) Dec 10, 2013
Limits to Growth was an utter fraud 41 years ago
The propaganda you fell for back in the 70s failed to include the ONE BILLION ABORTIONS along with the hundreds of millions of births prevented through worldwide family planning campaigns. How could it? This all hadn't happened yet. One sixth of the worlds population, a country the size of India, was never born.
http://www.johnst...bortion/

For example russians abort close to 50% of all pregnancies, the US 24%. Without these programs we would have all perished in nuclear wars fought over dwindling resources.

And yet religion-dominated cultures reign in much of the world today which force women to do nothing else but make babies until it kills them. These are the regions embroiled in near-constant war. Waves of refugees are bankrupting western economies.

You should update your opinions with 21st century facts. Overpopulation is the single most pressing problem the world faces.
FiniteQuantity
5 / 5 (6) Dec 11, 2013
"The world's population is no longer growing - will economic development follow?"
That statement is below a graph that shows the world population is still growing, and expected to continue to grow for decades more.

@3432682
"There is no reason to believe the same people, and others of the same ilk, will produce anything different this time."

It is true that the ilk that sees a finite earth and finite resources will produce the same warnings, while those of the ilk that the earth is infinite as are it's resources, will continue to argue for infinite growth.

"Wealth and prosperity produce health, happiness, progress, and have lifted billions out of dirt-floor poverty, and will lift the rest soon."

Wealth and prosperity don't produce anything. They are a result, not a production method.

"Unless we listen to these greenie killjoys. Ignore their warnings that the sky is falling. Again:"

The sky isn't falling, but oil is the most expensive it ever has been and cheapest it will be
FiniteQuantity
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 11, 2013
@TheGhost...
" Overpopulation is the single most pressing problem the world faces."

Couldn't agree more, but the elite of America not only don't see it as a problem, they see it as part of the solution. You not only don't hear any of the elite calling for an end to immigration, they will call for increases or bluster against decreases and are actively promoting another amnesty for illegals so we can get started on building towards the next amnesty in 15 or 20 years.

The US population is projected to go up by around 100 million in the next 40 years. It will be decades, with bitter debates and those calling for an end to it called every name in the book and associated with Hitler numerous times, before immigration to the US ends.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Dec 11, 2013
The US was conceived as that 'city upon a hill' where the brightest and most ambitious could be collected from around the world. You know, the melting pot?

It has never been easy to get here. Those who make it are pragmatic, resourceful, and courageous enough to do so. This country supports a culture full of people who by and large know how to plan for the future and live within their means.

History has seen waves of immigration from regions embroiled in conflict and misery caused by overpopulation. I believe that these conditions are created according to Plan. Leaders who could create such a melting pot could also decide just how it would be filled, and when.

Demographics runs the world. Agriculture began to degrade the human race and so a Method was found to enrich it once again. The best and brightest come here for their education and stay to work and raise their families. The dullards, the hotheads, choose to remain where they are and fight, and starve, and die.
FiniteQuantity
4.8 / 5 (4) Dec 11, 2013
"The US was conceived as that 'city upon a hill' where the brightest and most ambitious could be collected from around the world. You know, the melting pot?:

The US was not conceived. It just evolved from English who were looking for a religious climate they could control or other Europeans looking for land they could farm or resources they could plunder. Because there were already people living in the US, in order for the Europeans to take it over they had to do a lot of human slaughter. A lot of human slaughter. And, although some poet put a poem by a statue (the statue being a gift from France to represent American liberty, as in freedom of Americans do do more things than they could in other countries) from 1921 to 1965 immigration was skewed towards the people of the countries that were already here. Only in 1965 did Teddy Kennedy lead the charge to open it up to Asia and Latin America as well.
It appears you are against population growth, except in the USA.
11791
Dec 14, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2013
There are two effective ways to control population as demonstrated by the communists.
The population in Romania under Ceaușescu was declining with easy birth control and abortions because the economy was so bad parents couldn't afford children. Ceausescu banned all birth control and abortions without improving the economy, creating the Romanian orphan atrocity.
The other effective way to decrease population is prosperity. Prosperous economies around the world have falling birth rates and are quite worried about disappearing.
The socialists can't abide prosperity so they must follow the path of control and continue the fiction of 'limits to growth.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2013
"The other key driver of economic growth, productivity, usually requires capital investment and borrowing from future generations, but this too would be hard to support with a declining population."

Capital investment does not borrow from future generations.
Govt borrowing and ponzi schemes like social security, and many govt retirement programs around the world DO borrow from future generations.
Sigh
5 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2013
There are two effective ways to control population as demonstrated by the communists.
The population in Romania under Ceaucescu was declining with easy birth control and abortions because the economy was so bad parents couldn't afford children. [...]
The other effective way to decrease population is prosperity.

You forgot three more. There is China's coercive programme. There is female education and economic opportunity, which is probably too liberal for you. And Hans Rosling says the most successful programme has been that of Iran, which is a public education programme. But you can't use that to associate population control with coercion and socialism.
Govt borrowing and ponzi schemes like social security, and many govt retirement programs around the world DO borrow from future generations.

So does screwing up ecosystem services, so that they are not available for future generations. Dumping CO2 in the atmosphere would be an example, and overfishing and deforestation.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2013
Dumping CO2 in the atmosphere would be an example, and overfishing and deforestation.

I don't buy CO2 is a pollutant, but in general, these are tragedies of the commons where govts are not protecting property rights.
Paul Ehrlich lost his bet and will always lose that bet if free markets and innovation are promoted.
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2013
"Despite ups and downs in prices over the course of the past century, a wager in 1900 would have been won in 1999 by the person who predicted a decrease in natural resource prices."
" Simon, an economist who died in 1998, contended that human ingenuity would always come up with substitutes if needed. Thus humanity would never run out of key materials. In contrast, Ehrlich, a neo-Malthusian biologist, contended that overpopulation and excessive consumption were already forcing shortages of key materials and that this trend would continue. - See more at: http://perc.org/a...gln.dpuf

"In one way or another, all environmental and natural resource problems associated with overexploitation or under provision of public goods, arise from incompletely defined and enforced property rights. - See more at: http://perc.org/a...uW2.dpuf
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2013
Ceausescu banned all birth control and abortions without improving the economy, creating the Romanian orphan atrocity
So you admit that without family planning programs the natural tendency is to outgrow the means to support pop growth? Because even in repressive economies most couples will continue to have sex and make babies until they starve.
Prosperous economies around the world have falling birth rates and are quite worried about disappearing.
No as usual you have it backwards. Western economies have enjoyed prolonged prosperity and peace because family planning has limited the birthrate. This is in conjunction with the emancipation of women who can now support themselves and who can now choose whether to have children or not.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2013
In contrast, Ehrlich, a neo-Malthusian biologist, contended that overpopulation and excessive consumption were already forcing shortages of key materials and that this trend would continue
Shortages would have indeed continued and accelerated without the institution of family planning and the ONE BILLION ABORTIONS which occurred during the 20th century.
http://www.johnst...tion/#SU

-Why is it your deniers never include these statistics in their grand pronouncements ?

A population the size of India and their descendants to 3 and 4 gens were never born. Malthus was right. People accepted this and sought to address the problem before it destroyed civilization.

And so world wars were fought to destroy the religionist cultures which would have resisted these programs, and brutal communist martial law regimes were established over much of the world to ensure that these cultures would stay destroyed.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 15, 2013
" Simon, an economist who died in 1998, contended that human ingenuity would always come up with substitutes if needed.
Well yeah. Latex and RU486.
ShotmanMaslo
5 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2013
Poor people tend to reproduce fast, resulting overpopulation leads to more poverty.

Without cutting this vicious circle there wont be much progress.

With the circle cut, there are no limits to growth in sight.
Sigh
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
Dumping CO2 in the atmosphere would be an example [..]

I don't buy CO2 is a pollutant

So we disagree on the science. Do you remember the article on trust, when I asked you whether it had ever occurred to you that your own hostility erodes trust? You replied:
My hostility?
I guess I can trust that socialists openly want to plunder my wealth and control my life and why shouldn't anyone be hostile to those who want to violate their property rights?

Your replies then and now illustrate my point. We have the same motivation: don't burden future generations with our debts. We disagree over the scientific evidence whether CO2 is an instance of burdening future generations with our debts. But all you can see is socialists who want to plunder your wealth and control your life. And your perception that the disagreement is not over science but evidence of evil motivation colours all your comments here.
Sigh
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
" Simon, an economist who died in 1998, contended that human ingenuity would always come up with substitutes if needed. Thus humanity would never run out of key materials."

I read that one key material that is getting scarce is phosphorus. My understanding of the chemistry is that the closest substitute is arsenic, and it tends not to work so well. Do you expect there to be another substitute?

In one way or another, all environmental and natural resource problems associated with overexploitation or under provision of public goods, arise from incompletely defined and enforced property rights.

I have read of cases where property rights based approaches worked, and it is plausible that they worked better than regulation would have. I am not convinced that it always works. Can you tell me how it would have been better than regulation in the case of CFCs and the ozone hole?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
So you admit that without family planning programs the natural tendency is to outgrow the means to support pop growth?


No.
Do you expect there to be another substitute?

Is phosphorous being destroyed? It is an element and the only way to destroy it is for it to decay to another element.

As for CFCs, Who said it was effective?: " The banning of ozone-depleting chemicals hasn't yet caused detectable improvements in the Antarctic ozone hole, new research suggests." http://www.nbcnew...11736034
Without the power of the state, scientists can't use force to push incomplete theories and increase the power of the state to control lives. They would be relegated to the marketplace of ideas and would be required to persuade instead of coerce.

CO2 is an instance of burdening future generations with our debts.

Do you think socialist spending is a burden?
Sigh
not rated yet Dec 16, 2013
Is phosphorous being destroyed? It is an element and the only way to destroy it is for it to decay to another element.

As an element, no, as a usable resource yes. It gets washed off the fields into the sea, where the concentration is so low that continuing to use it as we do means burdening future generations with extremely high costs to recover it from the sea. You oppose such burdens.

And you are changing the subject. You cited approvingly a claim that human ingenuity could always come up with a substitute. Do you still support that claim?

As for CFCs, Who said it was effective?

Then it should be so much easier for you to offer me a better alternative based on property rights. So what is your effective policy to fix the ozone hole?

I will happily discuss your other points once you have answered these two. I don't want to get sidetracked.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
No.
Of course you don't. You only accept as fact the info which supports your stunted and corrupted world view.

Re that, here is something that should make you happy

"Advocacy groups for polygamy and individual liberties on Saturday hailed a federal judge's ruling that key parts of Utah's polygamy laws are unconstitutional, saying it will remove the threat of arrest for those families."

-We must reconstitute the holy armies of Joseph smith, savior of navahoes and the Cree, for coming holy wars against Dearborn Moslems, Lancaster anabaptists, El Paso Catholics, and Williamsburg Hasidim, all of whom are propagating at similar rates.

Whose side do you think god is on? Only time will tell. I locate Armageddon somewhere in the vicinity of Indianapolis.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
extremely high costs to recover it from the sea

Maybe today because there is no economic incentive to recover or recycle P. Ingenuity is also involved in recycling.
a better alternative based on property rights.

First define property rights from the center of the earth into space.
Like riparian rights, if someone is polluting your property, you have the right to have it stopped and be compensated to for the damage. {Many rivers are owned the govt and people have no property rights. This is why citizens couldn't sue to stop pollution on the Cuyahoga in OH.
The part of the law that needs to change is proof of damage. If someone violates your property, damage or not, you have a right to have the violation ended or be compensated.
That is how one starts the process instead of following a socialist, regulatory state, process that enables the collusion between polluters and state.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
"The bottom line is, perhaps, that scientists could show some humility, recognise that the interface with policy and policy makers is a dialogue to be engaged with, not a monologue to be dictated.
While we as scientists treasure the quality of scientific information and processes above all other knowledge systems, creating policy around issues with a basis in science is a far more complex endeavour than simply playing by the laws of nature.
"A policy derived straight from science with no regard to social or political context is doomed to fail no matter how faithful it is to the original science. "
"...science as an important but not exclusive source of wisdom from which to determine how our community will deal with the world in which we all live."
http://www.abc.ne...8930.htm
Sigh
not rated yet Dec 16, 2013
extremely high costs to recover it from the sea

Maybe today because there is no economic incentive to recover or recycle P. Ingenuity is also involved in recycling.

The cost will remain high. You need energy to extract a substance from extremely low concentrations, you need energy to pump the large volumes of water. Basic physics tells you the minimum amount of energy you need, and it will always be high. You are happy to burden future generations with that cost. If your answer is that something will turn up then I don't see how you're different from a cartoon socialist who thinks that more money can always be squeezed from the rich or from future economic growth. "Something will turn up" is not a solution, it is merely a statement of faith.

And you have yet again changed the subject. You claimed it is always possible to find a substitute. Now you claim that it will not be necessary to find a substitute, but without acknowledging that you have changed your claim.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
"Sigh" how many times has 'peak oil' been declared?
a statement of faith.

You don't have faith science can solve the problem? Why not?
If you don't have faith in science why do you trust the doomsday predictions?
it will always be high.

'Always'?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
"When phosphorus becomes even more scarce, interest in recycling will increase. Phosphorus can be regarded as a strategically important raw material, as it is absolutely necessary in food production. Of the phosphorus used in Europe, 95 percent is imported. Phosphorus is extracted from phosphate rock, a non-renewable resource.

For all living organisms, phosphorus is an important building block. Phosphorus cycles in the food chain, and human and animal feces have high phosphorus content. Phosphorus emissions to water with wastewater and fertilizers cause eutrophication to a high degree.

According to Grönfors, the facts are in favor of phosphorus recycling. "It's fantastic that the phosphorus in wastewater sludge can be recycled and reused virtually indefinitely.""
http://www.kemira...ing.aspx
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
No.
Heres something else that should make you happy.

"BEIJING — Police shot dead 14 people in China's far west region of Xinjiang — an area where many Muslims are resentful of the Chinese government... While ethnic and religious tensions in Tibetan areas are better known worldwide, Xinjiang arguably worries China's Communist Party leaders more than Tibet... Xinjiang, China's huge slice of Central Asia, experiences regular bouts of unrest. Many of its mostly Muslim Uighur people resent the political and economic domination of their homeland... Most violent incidents in Xinjiang in recent years were based on local issues and grievances rather than connections to wider, radical Islamist movements..."

-As religion-forced reproductive aggression causes localized overpopulation, OF COURSE there will be issues and grievances. As minorities seek to become majorities, conflict is INEVITABLE. That is what your religions are designed TO DO.

That is why they are so extremely FOUL.
Sigh
not rated yet Dec 16, 2013
Phosphorus can be regarded as a strategically important raw material, as it is absolutely necessary in food production. [...] Phosphorus is extracted from phosphate rock, a non-renewable resource.

Exactly my point, glad that we agree. I wanted to start with that.
When phosphorus becomes even more scarce, interest in recycling will increase.

And there you still refuse to come back to the original subject. You claimed that human ingenuity can always find a substitute. Now you say something quite different, that human ingenuity can find a way to recycle. Is your failure to acknowledge the difference due to a failure to understand?
You don't have faith science can solve the problem?

It's science which prevents me from having faith in your original claim that a substitute can be found for everything. I also see a contradiction between your aim to avoid burdening future generations with our debt and your blithe disregard for the cost imposed by fundamental physics.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
that a substitute can be found for everything.

I agree there is no substitute for O2 that we need to breath but the sources of that O2 or P don't have to be the same as currently used. Which is the essence of the hype since P is NOT being destroyed.
burdening future generations with our debt

I didn't see your answer regarding burdening future generations with massive govt spending, which seems to be the only AGWite solution to your claim that future generations need to be 'unburdened' of CO2.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2013
"Given
the
diversity
of
issues
surrounding
phosphorus,
only
an
integrated
set
of
policy
options
and
technical
measures
can
ensure
its
efficient
and
sustainable
use.'
http://www.unep.o...ioin.pdf
Why only govt solutions?
Of course nearly all ag in the world is subsidized. Maybe if the all ag subsidies were removed and people were free to grow what would sell, and all the costs that went into production were clear, there would be less need for more govt inspired panics like this article.
Sigh
not rated yet Dec 17, 2013
I agree there is no substitute for O2 that we need to breath but the sources of that O2 or P don't have to be the same as currently used. Which is the essence of the hype since P is NOT being destroyed.

Read again about the difference between destroying an element and destroying a resource. But perhaps you are just determined to evade the issue. Fine.
Do you think socialist spending is a burden?

The question is meaningless in both interpretations that I can find. If you mean spending by socialists, I say it doesn't matter who spends money, but how much and on what. If you mean a socialist pattern of spending, we would have to discuss what you mean by that. Until you explain, it is impossible to answer meaningfully with yes or no or any degree of agreement in between.

Was this meant to be a trick question?
Sigh
not rated yet Dec 17, 2013
First define property rights from the center of the earth into space.
Like riparian rights, if someone is polluting your property, you have the right to have it stopped and be compensated to for the damage. [...]
The part of the law that needs to change is proof of damage. If someone violates your property, damage or not, you have a right to have the violation ended or be compensated.

I remember you presented that idea before. You conceded that, with your definition of property rights, anyone could stop any economic activity, and your scheme would be a greater hindrance to economic activity than heavy regulation. That makes it politically impossible, and its effectiveness is purely theoretical.

You abandoned the discussion when I pointed out that you'd need a world government, or else you'll have property rights havens in which polluting industries can shelter, the same way that they now use countries without environmental regulation or enforcement, or tax havens.

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