Our Empty Planet

We have been taught by the deejays of doom in the media, the hard-left apocalyptic political class and their ‘scientists’ at the United Nations that the end is nigh. Water wars; energy shocks; rising of sea levels swamping first Venice then Miami and Los Angeles and Rio. ‘Climate change’ bringing drought first and then flooding causing agricultural collapse and heralding famine beginning with the poorest and then working its way up the “Great Chain of Being” to our new nobilities sitting enthroned in their ivory towers or in an old mansion atop a swamp. It has so permeated our thinking and planning that we have only to wait for the next announcement of our coming anarchy after the near miss of the last: the ozone layer’s evaporation will cook us all; the water wars are upon us; the asteroid just missed!!; the oil is running out; ebola will make us all bleed from our orifices – how about 2012 anybody…? Even the calendar is conspiring against humanity, helped along by the ancient Mayans who foretold of our catastrophe so many years ago.

Have you ever considered that everything you think you know might in fact be incorrect? That is, at least, the contention of “Empty Planet” by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson. According to their ground-breaking book, the world is becoming wealthier (see Angus Deaton and Stephen Pinker); more environmentally friendly (as a wealthier world looks at its destroyed picnic spots and polluted lakes and is willing to make increased sacrifices to fix them – as disposable income works its way into the natural places around especially those of us in wealthy countries); and older. Much older in fact. Median age in the United States is approaching 40 – in other places of Asia (Japan and Korea) it has already passed that number. Population growth in most of the world is collapsing; the dependency ratio is creeping steadily towards 1-1. The population, somewhere in the seven-billion range right now might grow to perhaps nine before it starts to fall; the first time since homo-sapiens began to roam the world, returning to the current seven-billion by the end of the century and continuing its downward spiral.

Well that doesn’t fit our “The sky is falling” punditry, does it? We may be forced at last to consider that perhaps the climate-doom prophets are mostly about serving their own interests (perish the thought): using the faux emergency to push a Gramscian ‘Green New Deal’ or a nouveau Marxist wealth redistribution to the poorest and most corrupt dictatorships via a ‘carbon tax’ administered by the tyrants’ minions installed in the expansive UN bureaucracies. It is for this reason they will find as many excuses as possible to discount Bricker and Ibbitson. It won’t help their cause that both are self-proclaimed Canadian “liberals”. At any rate, this is one of those things that time will certainly show – however if our Canadian friends are correct the world has some serious preparing to do (and not in the way we are being instructed).

Now I’ll own up to the fact that I have been for a while what I think I myself have self-dubbed a “Neo-Malthusian”. We are a product of our experiences, of the lives that we have lived – and my decade on the African continent watching those wars extend, the populations explode, the forests slashed and burned to feed the wood-fires in which are fried the last tiny minnows of the desiccated lakes emptied of water by over-irrigation in the desperate attempts to coax a harvest from land burned by fertilizer and over-farmed by the next in an endless line of desperate poor; ya that didn’t help. I often wrote about it, about the arriving ordeal and what is coming. And I am not entirely certain that Bricker and Ibbitson are not overly sanguine about the future of Africa specifically. Read “The Bottom Billion” if you wish to consider why Africa might just not make it (as an outlier in the world, like it always has been); and why this will be existential for a Europe that is getting older and more conservative (as all old people naturally become) while unable to use smart immigration as a pressure-release-valve. That being said I am certainly willing to consider the fact that I am wrong, at least to a certain degree. And so, in that spirit, what if Bricker and Ibbitson are in fact correct? This would mean all the assumptions of the revolutionaries attempting to plunge the world into Russia 1918 are in fact desperately mistaken. The current wave of conservatism sweeping the globe is not an outbreak of ‘fascism’ but is in fact a response to an aging citizenry becoming more thoughtful and calculated as their experience and knowledge meld into their consciousness in the form of wisdom and they are increasingly able to discern the foolishness in so much that is proposed by the know-nothings (a few notable exceptions aside). And what might this mean for future elections? No, Americans are not interested in a workers revolution; but instead are looking for a welfare state which can accommodate age and increased frailty and protect their golden years from the rumble-tumble of the markets. And capitalism? Dependent upon constant population growth (people from 30-50 consume the most, people who are retired begin the process of downsizing from their large houses and their expensive keep-up-with-the-Joneses SUV); as the world gets older and begins to shrink, our markets will also do the same. And as the world gets more urban, and agricultural production by mega-corporations (especially in Africa – the last continent to still practice stone-age-agriculture, but maybe not forever?), more of the hinterlands will be surrendered back to the jungles and the re-greening of the world which has already begun will extend. And our existential China threat? According to Bricker and Ibbitson the Chinese are in deep, deep, deep trouble. Their population might have already started declining (as has Russia’s, Japans, South Koreas, etc.) and in the next several decades they might face a halving of their citizenry, down to six hundred million – and those older. Their “one child” policy was extraordinarily stupid and short-sighted. And their emergence into urbanization and middle income, too quick. For this reason they will be too obsessed with attempting to deal with the massive expense of their elderly that they will abandon all thoughts of Tianxia in their desperate attempt to care for their aged (think Japan). And don’t forget no Asian country – China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, none of them are recipients of any immigrants to offset this challenge. For this reason adoption from the Middle Kingdom has already virtually dried up; and we might see a day in the not-too-distant future when China starts to pay bounties for the return of their citizens from abroad.

And in this, the United States? Along with Canada and Australia and other freedom-loving countries; smart immigration to our free prosperous societies will blunt the coming population collapse and keep us competitive (as it always has) long after China and Russia and Europe become geriatric wards. What are the recommendations, then? Sensible immigration reform – such as Canada has – policies which scope out and bring to us the best and the brightest from the world over. Public policy which facilitates integration and English language acquisition. Embracing of our free market system which will bring in the people who will keep inventing and innovating (and paying taxes) long after the Chinese retire to the shuffle board tables. And figuring out how we will pay for the massive social safety net we will need for the elderly in our midst – which I will be as well in the intermediate future (yes this is going to have to involve real health care reform – somebody please get rid of Obamacare!!).

All said, this is not a tale we often are told – which is why this book was so interesting. I recommend you read it as well.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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