I must take issue with your editorial that seems to suggest that declining birthrates need to be reversed (The Guardian view on declining birthrates: there may be trouble ahead, 16 May).
With climate change and environmental destruction accelerating worldwide, and the obvious reluctance of politicians to spell out to their electorates the economic, lifestyle and societal changes required to tackle this, natural population decline is in fact a golden opportunity for humanity to have its cake and eat it. Can you imagine a planet with only, say, 3 billion people on it, and eventually even fewer? Where everyone could have enough resources to enjoy a clean, high-tech, fulfilling lifestyle, and where the planet’s natural systems had enough space to regenerate themselves once more?
Issues about supporting an older population are framed using today’s paradigms. But health technology, artificial intelligence, and the growth of automation in the workplace mean that the concepts of work and taxes will have to change radically soon enough, and may well sweep these problems away. In any case, a transition to a lower global population will only require a couple of generations or so, a blink of the eye in terms of human civilisation.
It may seem utopian, but to me only the greed of nationalist politicians, whose power rests on infantile chest-beating ideas that “bigger is better”, stand in our way.
Given that the Guardian often shows awareness of the ecological crisis we’re facing, your editorial bemoaning the fact that some countries’ populations are going down is surprising. Our species, collectively, is already living beyond the carrying capacity (in many senses) of one planet – and that’s while half of our number are still unable to consume enough of the Earth’s resources for a decent life.
Unless we accept unpleasantly constrained lifestyles, a lower population is essential if we’re to balance the ecological books; otherwise, though the planet itself will continue, it’s unlikely to do so in a way that provides an amenable home for us. Your argument that we should worry about having a different balance of old and young people is just silly: first, because that view prioritises a short-term problem (which only exists in terms of an old-fashioned growth economy mindset) over a long-term environmental necessity, and second, because the change is obviously temporary. Fewer young people today means fewer old people tomorrow.
In your editorial it is stated that Europe has a “baby deficit” that is “impossible to ignore” as a “demographic crisis looms” with an ageing and declining population. You correctly recognise that immigration will have to remain a “structural necessity in western democracies” as immigrants have a much younger age profile.
The solution is clear. It is not, as suggested, to advocate policies to increase birth rates among a predominantly white population that has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. It is to allow sufficient immigration to correct any age imbalance in the population. For example, Angela Merkel’s decision to allow around 2 million refugees into Germany has helped to reduce the age profile of its population and will help to steady future tax revenues.