BreakPoint: The War in Ukraine and the Myth of Overpopulation
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was extremely expensive, and not just because of global sanctions and the loss of military equipment. In fact, the highest price Russia is paying in this war is for an increasingly scarce resource: lives. Estimates of Russian casualties in the first week of the war ranged from 2,000 to 6,000, with thousands more lost since then. Every life lost is tragic, but as British journalist Ed West points out, it’s a loss that modern Russia simply cannot afford.
Russians, like in so many other European countries, just don’t have enough babies. The country’s population is shrinking by more than 100,000 people a year, with no clear end in sight. Some parts of the country are simply being emptied of their population. According to West, around 20,000 Russian villages have been abandoned in recent years, followed closely by tens of thousands.
This is a factor that could ultimately affect the outcome of the war, West thinks: “If the Russians turn out not to want this fight, it will probably be for the simple fact that the country does not have enough of men to spare. The majority of these poor young men killed for Russia’s honor will be their mother’s only child, in many cases their only child.”
It turns out that Russia’s problem is not unique. This country, so rich in land but poor in youth, is just one of dozens of nations across an “infertile crescent” from Spain to Singapore, made up of populations aging so rapidly that their long-term existence is put in jeopardy. questioned.
West cites a few examples that put the statistics into perspective: “In 2000, Thailand had 7 workers for every retiree; by 2050, that number will be just 1.7. In Greece, 1,700 schools closed between 2009 and 2014. .” In Stoke-on-Trent, England, “40% of bars and clubs have closed in the past 20 years, with the ratio of infants to pensioners falling from 4:1 to 1:2 in a century”. And in Paris, “15 schools merged or closed between 2015-2018”.
According to the United Nations World Fertility Map, all continents except Africa are below or approaching the replacement birth rate. This widespread population collapse is so abrupt that West likens it to PD James’ novel “Children of Men,” a tale of a world devoid of babies.
One of the reasons it is hard to imagine a world threatened by aging and depopulation is that for decades now we have been fed a constant diet of alarm about overpopulation. Ever since Paul Ehrlich published his book “The Population Bomb” in 1968, the idea that the Earth is overpopulated has become the myth of the zombie that doesn’t die. “The battle to feed humanity is over,” Ehrich said. “In the 1970s, the world will experience famines – hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.”
He was wrong, of course, largely because human beings are not mere eating machines. We have the ability to innovate and improve methods of food production and living, and that is exactly what has happened. To the extent that famines still occur, they are usually the result of political corruption and war. In fact, we now produce enough food to feed 3 billion more people than actually exist!
So why does the idea of overpopulation and the solution of having fewer children persist? How can this belief still prevail over millions of people in the developed world despite mounting evidence to the contrary?
The partial answer is that influential people in government, academia, and the press have engaged in an antinatal mentality and find it difficult to admit that the real problem is too few new humans. The myth of an overpopulated planet persists despite all the evidence because it has long been accepted as dogma, and hardly anyone has bothered to question it since.
The demographic trends at work in Russia and around the world, including the United States, will not be easily reversed. One author has compared the increase in a nation’s fertility to the pushing of water upwards. And in many ways, the gray, shrunken world of our not-so-distant future is an experience never before attempted. The most important strategies to address this—beyond creating cultures where children and families are valued again—probably haven’t been thought of yet.
What we can say at this point is that the dwindling supply of young men in Russia is just another example of the gap between popular wisdom and facts. With regard to overpopulation, these facts are known. We see the results before our eyes. And the dreaded future of too many mouths to feed has not materialized. Instead, we have a banquet for billions. But some countries may not join us.
From BreakPoint, May 11, 2022; reproduced with permission from the Colson Center, breakpoint.org.