Whether it’s aging societies or population growth, Fred Pearce wants, as Sen. Aiken famously suggested during the Vietnam War, to “declare victory, and go home.” He has an article in the Washington Post today suggesting that the “aging” of Japan and other economically advanced nations may not be as challenging or threatening as commonly feared. That may be true, but in the same article he suggests that the problem of global population growth is going away soon. He says, for example, that the population of India could soon be contracting. Not so fast. The 2009 World Population Data Sheet, released last year by the Population Reference Bureau, projects that India’s population will grow from 1.17 billion in 2009 to 1.74 billion by 2050. Some demographers, in fact, believe that India’s population could peak at close to two billion before declining later in this century.
The challenges posed by population, both aging and growth, are real. They need attention, not premature declarations of victory. With respect to aging societies, particularly in Europe, it’s critically important to increase the level of personal savings; simply working longer will probably not suffice to pay the bills. The problems of an aging society are manageable, but they must be addressed or aging may not end up being “the best thing that has happened in the modern world.”
With respect to global population growth, world population is still on target to add another 2.5 billion people by 2050, and unless we do more to promote voluntary family planning, the numbers could be higher. Pearce’s optimism notwithstanding, in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia fertility rates are not falling as fast as once projected.
Unless we do more to empower and educate women in the developing world and increase access to contraceptives, the health and economic welfare of these women and their families will continue to suffer. Unless we do more to prevent unwanted pregnancies in developed nations, including the U.S., the world challenges posed by climate change and resource depletion will grow even larger.
This is no time to declare to victory.
Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President