The last revision of the official population estimates and projections made by the UN was made in the year 2008. At that time the UN made eight different projections based upon different assumptions. Those were the low, the medium, the high, the constant-fertility, the instant-replacement-fertility, the constant-mortality, the no change (constant-fertility and constant-mortality), and the zero-migration projections. However, the three most important projections were the low, the medium and the high and of those three the most important single projection was the medium one. The medium projection is the one most quoted in the media and by anyone referring to the UN's numbers.
The medium projection made by the UN was based upon the following assumption—"Total fertility in all countries is ASSUMED (emphasis added) to converge eventually toward a level of 1.85 children per woman". According to Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, the word "assumed" is defined "as pretended, put on, fictitious" and "taken for granted". According to Webster's Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary the word "assumption" is defined "as assuming that something is true" and "a statement or fact taken for granted". In essence, the UN cannot support the proposition that the TFR for all of humanity will eventually be reduced to 1.85 children per woman. At present the TFR is about 2.55 children per woman. If the UN cannot support the very basic assumption upon which its medium population projection is made, then, for all practical purposes, the projection cannot be defended and is totally useless. In simple terms, the UN's medium population projection is nothing more than a number pulled out of thin air without anything to back it up. One may properly ask why did the UN base its medium projection on an assumption which cannot be supported on a factual basis and why did it choose a TFR of 1.85 when the replacement TFR is approximately 2.06-2.10. If the UN were to assume, as well it could, that the TFR would remain above replacement level, the UN and the entire world would be forced to face the situation of an ever-growing human population which could not be supported on the finite Earth. An ever-growing human population which could not be supported on the finite Earth would call into question the viability of society and every facet of it.
There are three and only three ways in which population growth can be reduced to zero or made negative, if that is required for the survival of humanity:
- by war, starvation, and other horrors beyond the imagination when the human population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth
- by the voluntary action of all of humanity for as long as humanity exists on the planet
- by coercive population control.
I would challenge anyone reading this essay to set forth an additional method by which the growth of humanity can be reduced to zero or made negative. By definition, if humanity exceeds the carrying capacity of the Earth, no matter how carrying capacity is defined, one or more catastrophic events will occur which will reduce the human population to the then existing carrying capacity.
Since no one would want human population growth to be reduced to zero or made negative by alternative number 1 above, that alternative, in reality, is not an option. If the UN were to assume that the TFR would never decrease below the replacement level, that would mean that humanity will never reduce population growth to zero or make it negative by its VOLUNTARY action. As will be discussed below, a TFR equaling replacement does not mean that population growth will instantly cease. As will be discussed below, when the TFR reaches replacement level, there will be a time lag until population growth is reduced to zero. If the UN assumed that the TFR would not go below replacement level, then the only method by which population growth could be reduced to zero, or made negative, would be by coercive population control. Coercive population control would require a re-evaluation of every aspect of society and most probably an overhaul of every feature of society.
If the UN were to predict the future changes in the TFR, based on all the evidence which it could develop, and that prediction indicated that the TFR would not decrease from the current level of 2.55 to the replacement level or lower, it would require all of the major religions of the world to change their positions regarding birth control and abortion. And to be very blunt, the UN was afraid to base its prediction regarding the future changes in the TFR on all the evidence it could develop because such evidence, more than likely, would show that the TFR would never be reduced by the voluntary action of humanity to replacement level or lower.
Regarding the low projection the UN based its projection on the following assumption:
"Under the low variant, fertility is projected to remain 0.5 children below the fertility in the medium variant over most of the projection period. By 2045-2050, fertility in the low variant is therefore half a child lower than that of the medium variant. That is, countries reaching a total fertility of 1.85 children per woman in the medium variant have a total fertility of 1.35 children per woman in the low variant at the end of the projection period."
Here too, the UN could not produce and did not produce any evidence that supported that assumption. Simply put, the low variant or low projection is another number pulled out of thin air by the UN which the UN cannot defend. The low projection or low variant is a useless number based on two useless assumptions—the first assumption is that the TFR will converge at 1.85 children per woman and the second assumption is that the low projection or low variant will be one half a child less than that number. Therefore, anyone who uses the UN's projections for either the low or medium variants is using nonsensical numbers of no value.
The UN's medium projection for the year 2050 is that population will reach approximately 9.2 billion human beings. Moreover, the medium projection indicates that the TFR will be reduced to replacement level, from the current level of 2.55 children, in the same year. However, it will take approximately 70 years before population stabilizes after the replacement level of TFR is reached. That means that population will not be stabilized until approximately the year 2120. And in the year 2120 population will be stabilized at approximately 50% greater than the level of population in the year 2050, or about 13.8 billion people. The UN refuses to discuss the possibility that in order for humanity to continue to survive on this planet even a short period of time a reduction in the human population will be required as opposed to merely reducing population growth to zero. Population stabilization at an unsustainable level is not an adequate goal. Human numbers must be reduced, and as quickly as is humanly possible.
Once more, in making its projections the UN has refused and failed to consider the future per capita usage of resources by humanity. There isn't any question that the economies of China, India, and almost every of nation on the planet are growing and growing economies are associated with an increase in per capita usage of resources. While no one can predict the future per capita usage of resources, a simple question must be answered which the UN has refused to answer: Will be growing population and the growing per capita usage of resources cause a population collapse before the year 2120? Or to put the question differently: Will the planet be able to support the population of 13.8 billion people which will exist in the year 2120, based upon the UN's medium projection, at the per capita usage of resources which will then exist? And remember that the UN's medium projection is nothing more than a number pulled out of thin air with nothing to support it and is probably too low because the UN was afraid to face the probability that the only way to prevent the destruction of humanity was by coercive population control.
About 25 or 30 years ago the Chinese leadership realized that in order to prevent the collapse of society into anarchy that population growth would have to be reduced to zero or made negative. At that time China was a police state and the government controlled all of the media, the schools, and every other aspect of society such that it could propagandize population to limit the number of children a woman had, or a man produced. At that time and since that time no one or no group could use the media, schools or other means of communication to oppose the position of the Chinese leadership. And yet, China was forced to use coercive population control to reduce or attempt to reduce its population growth to zero. In evaluating the choice between voluntary population control and coercive population control humanity should look to the Chinese example. China could not reduce its population growth to zero, or attempt to reduce it to zero, without coercion and there isn't any reason to believe that all of humanity could reduce its population growth to zero by the voluntary action of all of humanity. To put it in simple terms, it would be the height of arrogance for the leadership of humanity to bet the survival of billions of human beings on the ability of voluntary population control to reduce population growth to zero when the Chinese government, which despite its toll control of all levers of power and persuasion, still felt compelled to resort to coercive measures. It must be assumed that the Chinese leadership is not made of fools. If voluntary family planning would have sufficed to constrain population growth, they would have avoided the more draconian options. This fact alone should require that all leaders carefully consider the Chinese experience of the past three decades before they dogmatically dismissed the measures that allowed the Chinese to save the world from the 400 million more carbon emitters that would have been born had their policies not been in place.
Jason G. Brent is a retired judge of the East Kern Municipal Court in Mojave, California now living in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2007 he celebrated his fiftieth anniversary. He has two children.