Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson
The Shock of Global Population Decline
“Warnings of catastrophic world overpopulation have filled the media since the 1960s, so this expert, well-researched explanation that it’s not happening will surprise many readers. . . . Delightfully stimulating.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Arresting . . . lucid, trenchant and very readable, the authors’ arguments upend consensus ideas about everything from the environment to immigration; the result is a stimulating challenge to conventional wisdom.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Thanks to the authors’ painstaking fact-finding and cogent analysis, [Empty Planet] offers ample and persuasive arguments for a re-evaluation of conventional wisdom.” —Booklist
According to the United Nations, the world’s population reached 7 billion in late 2011. For many, this landmark was seen as a clear sign of crisis, an indication that humans are reproducing unchecked, leading us into a future of increasing poverty, food shortages, conflict, and environmental degradation. But as leading international social researcher Darrell Bricker and award-winning journalist John Ibbitson counterintuitively argue in EMPTY PLANET (on sale February 5, 2019) the opposite scenario should in fact be our main concern. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” say Bricker and Ibbitson. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”
For most of history, population decline has been the result of catastrophe—environmental events, famine, or disease. Now, however, fertility rates are falling for a different reason: we’re choosing to have fewer kids. To find out why, Bricker and Ibbitson talked not only to academics and public officials but also to scores of students and office workers, aid workers and slum dwellers, in cities ranging from Brussels to Seoul, Nairobi to São Paulo, Delhi to Beijing to Palm Springs. “Populations are already declining in about two dozen states around the world, and some of the richest places on earth—Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy, and much of Eastern Europe—are shedding people every year,” say Bricker and Ibbitson. “We wanted to hear firsthand exactly what young people are thinking about the most important decision they will ever make: whether and when to have a baby.” EMPTY PLANET shares their findings and explores what the plunge in population will look like both locally and globally.
Amid warnings of overpopulation, such a trend might seem like a good thing, especially for the environment—a lower population means more land that can be reforested, less stress on overfished and polluted oceans, and less human impact on the climate. But, as EMPTY PLANET illustrates, a declining population will also lead to massive economic upheaval, with fewer people available each year to buy houses and cars and baby strollers, and fewer taxpayers available to support the health care needs of an aging population. And when some of the big superpowers, like Russia and China, start losing population (China suspended its one child policy in 2015 for that very reason), the tensions could strain hopes for world peace. “History tells us that there are few things more dangerous than an empire in turmoil,” Bricker and Ibbitson write. “But if those countries, and the other hotspots, manage their demographic challenges with restraint rather than by provoking war, then the world could enter a new era of geriatric peace. Simply put, fewer young people in the world means fewer hot heads looking for trouble.”
Bricker and Ibbitson believe that one solution to the challenge of a declining population for any given country is to import replacements. “For decades now, our native country, Canada, has brought in more people, on a per capita basis, than any other major developed nation, with little of the associated tensions that other countries face,” they write. “That’s not because Canadians are particularly nice, but because they have learned it is in Canada’s own interest to welcome them.” In a nutshell, the country views immigration as an economic policy and embraces multiculturalism. EMPTY PLANET makes the point that to combat depopulation, nations must uphold both values, though the first is difficult and the second, for some, may prove impossible.
“Population decline need not be a time of social decline,” Bricker and Ibbitson write. “But we do need to understand what is happening to us and what is about to happen. All the years we’ve been together on earth, we have never faced such a thing.”