Following the post on migration and immigration, we turn to Colin Hines’ views on population – a subject which, he notes, green groups have ‘fastidiously’ ignored, in the face of developing countries’ activists and leaders saying it was a form of colonialism and others claiming that the root of environmental problems was the consumption patterns of the rich, not the growing numbers in poor countries.
Two noted environmentalists, Jonathon Porritt and David Attenborough, disagree with their Green companions about population growth
Porritt has pinpointed a weakness: “they have a very deep fear that addressing population issues will distract people from the real issue: over-consumption in the rich world rather than overpopulation in the poor world” but stresses that “It really is possible to pursue two big issues at the same time”.
One of Attenborough’s key insights was in answer to a question about overcoming the problems of an ageing population. It is often argued that we’ll need more young people to look after the old, hence we should encourage larger families or more immigration. Attenborough’s riposte was: “The notion of ever more old people needing ever more young people, who will in turn grow old and need even more young people, and so on ad infinitum, is an obvious ecological Ponzi scheme”.
A United Nations Population Division study by David Coleman demonstrated that for the UK to retain its 1995 support ratio of working-age people to older dependants (4.09), it would need to import 59.8 million immigrants between 1995 and 2050. This would involve inward net migration of more than a million people every year and nearly double UK population by 2050.
Over the years Colin Hines relates that his focus has moved from population to food to nuclear power and proliferation, to automation and jobs then finally to an anti globalisation and pro localisation approach.
He says ruefully, “Along the way I frankly fell asleep at the wheel on the population topic. This has changed however when I woke up to the fact that if net migration continues at around recent levels, the UK population is expected to rise by nearly 8 million people in 15 years, almost the equivalent of the population of Greater London (8.7 million). 75% of this increase would be from future migration and the children of those migrants.
The population growth would not stop there. Unless something is done about this growth it is projected to increase towards 80 million in 25 years and keep going upwards”. See the Office for National Statistics here.
Chapter Two of his book (above, left) looks at the reasons why global population numbers are projected to rise by over a billion more than was forecast a mere six years ago and debunks the idea that ageing populations in rich countries need more immigration. It explores the right to fertility control as well as the responsibility for choice of family size. The policies of Progressive Protectionism which will help to reduce and eventually stabilise population growth – a crucial goal for a densely populated country like the UK – are detailed. Surprising facts are published by Migration Watch:
Over 90% of international migrants to the UK go to England, which now has a population density of 410 people per square km, just lower than India and nearly twice that of Germany and 3.5 times that of France.
As Hines says, the enormous rise in world population annually takes place at a time of increasing food, water, energy and raw material constraints, of ever worsening environmental degradation and mounting difficulty of providing adequate social needs such as education, health and housing in an increasingly unequal world. Acknowledging that population growth is not the only cause of such problems, he maintains that rising numbers also makes them much harder to deal with.
As life expectancy increases and birth rates fall, populations are ageing and it is currently thought that the only way to cope with the reduced ratio of those working to those who have retired is to increase the number of children or young immigrants
But Hines points out that longer, healthier lives mean more people can work longer, unless they are in very physically demanding labouring work. With more flexible working arrangements, more jobs can be done by older workers, enabling them to top up their pensions by working as much or little as they choose.
In the absence of immigration, it is estimated that the potential support ratios could be maintained at current levels by increasing the upper limit of the working-age population to roughly 75 years of age.
There is a fascinating ‘chapter within a chapter’ on the Japanese culture concluding “All these factors result in another advantage, people don’t just live longer, they stay healthier longer. A World Health Organisation study in 2000 found that Japanese people enjoyed an average of 74.5 years of healthy life, compared with 71.7 in the UK and just 70 in the US”. A linked FT study is also of great interest.
Reduce the rate of population growth
Hines sees the cornerstone for this as being for people, from now on, to consider having no more children once they have had two. The current Conservative government appears to agree; it has today brought into force new rules on Child Tax Credit – worth up to £2,780 per child per year – so that it will only be paid for the first two children in any family. Like all this government’s cuts and ‘austerity’ this will only be a problem for low-income families.
Train workers in the UK to care for the elderly frail
A valid contribution to strengthening local economies is developing a better resourced and more caring approach to looking after the growing number of elderly who need some assistance will generate huge business and job opportunities in the care sector. A massive education and skills programme will be needed to train workers in the UK for an adequately paid career in this sector.
During this transition Hines realises that it might be necessary – and also in the nursing and agricultural sectors – for some shortfalls to be filled by immigrants for as short a period as possible. He stresses that we should in general avoid taking skilled and much-needed people from their country of origin, but short term transitional arrangements might also improve the skills of those coming and increase the benefit to their host country on their return.
Colin Hines will be speaking on Progressive Protectionism in Birmingham on April 22nd.