NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- The United Nations issued its Synthesis Report on climate change Nov. 1 with the dire warning that the world must stop using fossil fuels by the year 2100 or face irreversible damage to the planet – based on climbing population and economic growth they say are two main culprits.
These two factors "continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion" according to the findings.
But declining population trends, even in the United Nations' data, bring into question whether their basis for calling to eliminate fossil fuels is valid at all. Birth rates in the developed world are extremely low, with most dipping below replacement rates (meaning fewer than 2 births per child-bearing age woman) and native populations are shrinking. The problem is bigger than just a few countries, though, and entangles wealthy nations and poor.
Pew Research Center reports that by 2050, Japan, Russia and Germany will drop in census numbers by more than 10 percent. "For Japan this means a loss of 19 million residents; for Russia 23 million; and for Germany, 10 million." Other projections show Russia dropping from 148 million to about 98 million by that time.
Europe as a whole has a fertility rate of just 1.5, and countries like Austria are facing depopulation.
Likewise, Asia is experiencing a seismic shift in population that will shape world economies at least through 2100.
China's birth rate has dipped below 1.75 live births per woman, some think it is as low as 1.6, and in 30 years faces famine from a lack of workers, not acts of nature -- even if they approve and promote more births per family. China's low birth rate is amplified by sex-selective abortions which point to a looming age and gender crisis within the next two decades. There are 120 males for every 100 females, compared to a typical ratio of 105 males to 100 females, and the Chinese government projects by the year 2020 there will be 24 million more men in their country than women. The result will be dim marriage prospects, contributing even more to the lack of child births.
The economic consequences are just as extreme.
The dearth of children means China eventually will lose its comparative labor advantage to competing countries such as India and Bangladesh.
According to UN projections, India's population will surpass China's 1.4 billion mark sometime around 2025 to 2028. But because of declining fertility rates and sex-selective abortions, India, too, will start to decline just decades later, peaking at 1.6 billion before dropping to 1.5 billion by 2100. China will be below 1.1 billion by then.
What makes China's and India's rise and fall so important is that combined they account for 37 percent of the world's population. Their decline -- and Europe's as well as other countries' elsewhere -- will dramatically impact the world economy in a number of ways.
First, in both China and India, a shrinking working-age labor force will have to shoulder an increasing workload for feeding their populations and otherwise caring for a massively elderly population.
Second, both China and India have huge labor pools that are employed by companies from around the globe. However, while population declines are decades away, China's pool of workers will peak in 2016 and India's tops out in 2024.
Consequently, not only are major populations about to dive, but the world economy so dependent on these labor pools is about to plunge, too.
Bernard Condon, a business writer for the Associated Press, explains this relationship by pointing out that "up to a third of economic growth comes from more people joining the workforce each year than leaving it," according to an AP article.
"We tend to think economic growth comes from working harder and smarter, he said. "The result is more producing, earning and spending.
"Now this secret fuel of the economy, rarely missing and little noticed, is running out," he concluded.
Even the U.S., which has a fertility rate at about replacement levels, -- due to immigration and higher birth rates among this part of the population -- faces a shrinking labor pool. And the Congressional Budget Office projects the economy at an anemic 1.5 percent growth this quarter, will climb to 3.4 percent through 2016, then an average of 2.2 percent for another eight years. After that, it returns to the recession levels we're experiencing now.
Economists fear it might settle to 1.5 percent in all developed countries through 2040 or so and possibly see a negative swing in living standards -- all because there won't be enough workers.
And it could get even worse.
A team from the Autonomous University of Madrid and the CEU-San Pablo University, both in Spain, developed a mathematical model to predict world population levels. Using rate equations (like those used in complex computations in condensed matter physics) they analyzed UN population data for 1900 through 2010.
When all the computational runs were complete, they discovered the global population not only will not grow through 2100, but will stagnate and even drop mid-century, possibly to 6.2 billion people, down from an estimated 7 billion today.
The IPCC boasts it consulted 830 experts from over 80 countries and the findings of 30,000 published research papers to conclude, "The world needs to take stringent action to move to a low-carbon economy before the end of the century to avoid severe impacts" – again, all based on predictions of climbing population and economic growth.
Félix F. Muñoz, researcher and co-author of the Spanish university population projections said that though overpopulation has been a specter since the 1960s, "historically the UN's low fertility variant forecasts have been fulfilled."
"As recently as 1992 it was predicted that there would be 7.17 billion people on Earth by 2010 instead of the actual 6.8 billion" he said, -- a substantial error -- adding, "the fertility rate has fallen by more than 40 [percent] since 1950."
He concluded that although his team did not flesh out the economic and political implications of an aging and shrinking population, "This work is another aspect to be taken into consideration in the debate."