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Falling German Birthrate Dispels Baby Miracle Myth

Nicholas Kulish, New York Times
…A United Nations report this year called this global aging “a process without parallel in the history of humanity” and predicted that people older than 60 would outnumber those under 15 for the first time in 2047.

The twin forces of rising life expectancy and falling birthrates have accelerated the process. This is apparent from the United States, where policy makers fret over the baby boom generation beginning to retire, to Japan, which has the highest share of people older than 60 in the world. As in Japan, more than a quarter of the population in Italy and Germany is over 60, and the phenomenon extends to Poland and Russia.

Although the German government has begun to address the issue, it was particularly slow out of the blocks in dealing with its low birthrate, and, since 2003, the contraction of its population, in that first year by just 5,000 people, but in 2006 by a 130,000. The German population stands at 82.4 million people.

That was, in part, because almost no debate can proceed unencumbered by the country’s Nazi past. Hitler’s government gave medals to mothers of large families, gold for those with eight or more children. Uneasiness over the parallels kept the subject of encouraging reproduction on the back burner in Germany for years, unlike in France where promoting childbearing has long been government policy.

This month Eva Herman, a prominent television personality and author, was fired by the network NDR for praising the Third Reich’s emphasis on family and in particular on childbearing. Though she simultaneously criticized the Nazi government over all as she made the provocative remarks, her employer’s response was as swift as the public outcry was loud. Yet the World War II era is of little significance to the policy decisions regarding Germany’s current shrinking population, which is an economic issue today rather than a military or nationalistic one.

“It has to do with our past, of course. All the political parties really didn’t want to touch this issue,” said Mr. Klingholz, the population scholar. “In any other country where the birthrate was that low, there would have been a political outcry.”

According to European Union statistics, the crude birthrate — defined as births per thousand inhabitants — has declined in Germany in each of the last nine years, from 9.9 in 1997 to 8.2 in 2006. Even after factoring in immigration, the German population is experiencing “exponential negative growth,” Mr. Klingholz says. The problem is not new — deaths have outnumbered live births in Germany since 1972 — but a muscular response by the government is.
(22 September 2007)

Overpopulation could be people, planet problem

Ann Hoevel, CNN
By the year 2050, China will no longer be the most populous country in the world.

That distinction will pass to India, where more than 1.8 billion people could be competing for their country’s resources, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base.

…not everyone views the newest population estimates with pessimism.

“Nothing ever continues at its present rate, neither the stock market nor population growth,” said Doug Allen, the dean of the school of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and an expert in the history of cities and urban design, which he’s taught for more than 31 years.

“There is a substantial body of evidence that the world population will flatten out in about 30 years,” he said. “Built into that model would be an assumption that more of the world’s population will become urban, and as such the population will begin to decline.”

…Overpopulation occurs when a population’s density exceeds the capacity of the environment to supply the health requirements of an individual, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmentalists have long been concerned about the resources threatened by rapidly growing human populations, focusing on phenomenon such as deforestation, desertification, air pollution and global warming. But the worst-case scenario for people experiencing overpopulation, according to Lawrence Smith, president of the Population Institute, is a lack of fresh, clean water.

“If the water goes, the species goes,” he said.

“That sounds kind of alarmist,” Smith conceded, “considering there’s water all around us, but 97 percent plus is saltwater, and the freshwater that we use to sustain ourselves is just native to 3 percent. … So the accessibility of water, the competition for water, the availability of water is going to be a major, major threat,” he said, noting world population growth estimates at more than 9 billion people by 2050.

Nine billion is an exceptional amount of people, considering the world’s population only reached 1 billion in 1830, according to the Population Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to fund population and family planning programs around the world.

By 1999, world population reached 6 billion, and in the relatively short time between 2007 and 2050, there could be roughly 2.4 billion more people on Earth needing clean water, space and other natural resources from their environment in order to survive.

Governments facing overpopulation will also struggle to manage waste, said Allen. “Handling your waste and the public health consequences of not handling it well is the biggest problem that will be faced in rapidly growing urban areas in the developing world.”
(26 September 2007)