I had a letter published in the Taipei Times today on the subject of the birth rate and population growth. Another letter by Brian Schack also makes the same point that I do. There is much talk in Taiwan about the urgent need to lift the birth rate, however there is little balance in the debate. It is becoming more and more obvious that economic and population growth is now pushing the world up against physical limits. These limits were clearly predicted in the 1972 book Limits to Growth and have become more obvious and well understood in the decades since then.
Population is a sensitive topic and it is unfortunately used by some people to promote racist and anti-immigrant agendas. It is a topic that needs to be discussed in a sensitive and compassionate manner. Limiting population growth is a key to reducing the most adverse effects of overshoot. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in a recent article about the impending food crisis said, “On the demand side, we need to accelerate the shift to smaller families.” In coming decades, as the impacts of resource shortages and pollution become more severe, small families in Taiwan may be viewed more positively.
The full text of my letter in the Taipei Times is below.
A recent editorial about Taiwan’s low birth rate (“Rabbits and reproduction,” Feb. 14, page 8 ) claimed that the consequences of Taiwan’s declining birth rate are “entirely negative.”
There is no doubt that Taiwan’s low birth rate will have significant social and economic impacts in the next few decades. The burden of caring for an aged population will be significant.
However, the negative impacts of a declining birth rate need to be considered in comparison with the costs and impacts of population growth.
Increasing population leads to increasing demand for resources. At both the scale of Taiwan as a nation and the Earth as a whole it is clear that increasing demand for resources is causing serious harm to ecological systems.
The editorial is correct in identifying people’s anxiety about the future as a reason why they are reluctant to make the long-term commitment to children. However, these anxieties include the spectres of climate change, peak oil and loss of biodiversity. Having more children won’t make these problems go away, but would actually exacerbate them.
Neither Taiwan nor the world can go on increasing its population indefinitely. Stabilizing or reducing the population in the long term is necessary to ensure that all people have adequate food, water and other resources for a happy and healthy life.
It is time for a more sensible debate about population based on recognition of ecological limits. The endless pursuit of growth will only hasten climate change and resource depletion, significantly harming the welfare of all people on Earth. The only sensible and sustainable long-term policy is one that recognizes the need to -stabilize -population and achieve ecological balance.
I am not advocating that people should stop having children. I am just saying that it would be best for couples to only have one or two children. There should also be more respect and support given to those people who choose not to have children.