Population Momentum, a principle driver of future changes.
by Joseph Siry
Population impacts on future consumption patterns are driven by demographic momentum such that today's fertility generates tomorrow's population in the absence of high mortality. Because fertility drives population momentum this population pyramid of French changes in their population since 1990 shows why generations must pass before demographic momentum subsides.
We are living in momentous times. Quite literally the number of people on earth, as they reproduce create an inherent momentum by increasing population and demand for resources. Then there are long lived pollutants in the atmosphere called CFC's that are inert and will remain aloft for decades heating the air and catalyzing the loss of upper atmospheric ozone. This is a sort of chemical momentum and it is directly due to technological improvements in refrigeration. Indirectly refrigeration is a response to the need of more people for preserving food and a cause of increasing demand for electricity. There is also a momentum in the speed at which electricity delivers all sorts of things to us. So three types of momentum speed up our living conditions. Population growth, chemical pollution and rising demand for electricity. On a finite planet technology and reproduction have conspired to create unprecedented changes. Population momentum is a product of the total fertility rate and is best represented by a population pyramid where the cohorts of births over deaths every year are grouped in decades and portrayed visually as a graphic "pyramid." Recent history To understand this consider the situation three decades ago. Thirty two years ago last March, Congress under the leadership of Ernest Gruening, Senator from Alaska, began a series of hearings on the "population crisis." The irony of the past three decades is that we are living through that crisis while denying the real consequences of a growing population. While it my be common sense to behave in a critical situation calmly as if no serious consequences will occur, the fact that Congress, the nation and social movements around the world have not understood the seriousness of growing population has tragic consequences for us all. Greuning's committee was alarmed in 1966, about the potential of population growth to adversely impact the world's economic subsistence patterns. The Earth, then, had 3 billion people! They acted more responsibly than today's Congress. Then, U.S. had 192 million people in 1964, while China had 690 million and India and Pakistan together 570 million people. Dr. Kermit Krantz, an anatomy and gynecology professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, testified before the Senate committee. He warned that "the next thirty years may turn out to be the most critical in all of man's existence." (p. 623, US Senate Hearings, Committee on Government Operations, 89:2d. S. 1676, March 9 & 31, April 6, 1966.) There are three interpretations of Krantz's alarm. He was either correct, or he was wrong, or we don't know yet. In 2012 there were more than 317 million residents making the US the third largest nation in the world after India and China. First, either we are living through the critical time, or two we are not and he was mistaken. Or he was correct and we are about to learn the lesson that since population growth has a momentum we are going to feel the consequences of this critical period sometime in the next century. If we are living in a great crisis of population explosion -- and there are signs of the critical juncture Krantz spoke of -- then we either don't recognize the symptoms or we disagree about the causes. There are also those who have denied for three decades that population is a problem at all. More people means more money and more prosperity for all. Physicians and professors are not infallible. But surely Krantz was not so wrong that we can ignore the evidence he and others presented about the costs of population growth. The consequences of population growth can be seen in three broad categories of their impact upon us. First is the impact on families, the second is on social institutions and the third is on health and safety. Testimony given to the Senate thirty years ago has an eerie sound to the topics presented. For example, crowded public housing was in a deplorable condition, more women were having children out of marriage and at younger ages, and the impact of urban density on social pathology. Today we are still hearing an echo of the complaints heard by these Senators in 1966. While there are exceptions to these general rules, families of the affluent have shrunk to a smaller size more quickly than the rate of decrease in the size of poorer families. The critical inability of the nation's economy in prosperous times to house the working poor is a national scandal. Over thirty million have no health coverage. The amount of violence in urban areas is a serious national issue that remains difficult to alleviate. The world has more than doubled in population since 1966, Florida has increased even faster with two and one-half times more people. California and Texas have replaced New York and Pennsylvania as the most populated states. More high wage manufacturing jobs have been lost from the US to rapidly growing Asian and Latin nations than have been replaced by service employment. Florida, as an example of a place that has doubled in population every twenty years for the past 80 years, is an example of the cost of denying population momentum. Usually people think of population as a matter of controlling births. Clearly fertility control, the rights of women to economic security and confidential medical advice are key components in stabilizing population.