Government, energy & environment

Political beliefs influencing population trends

Across many parts of the globe people are having fewer children - either by accident or design. In countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, throughout all of Europe, Russia and some parts of the Middle East, birth rates have fallen well below the replacement level and governments are trying anything they can to halt the trend. The obvious problem is funding retirement, with less young people and more old people. But there are some more subtle implications too. One of them is a lack of young soldiers to fight future wars (a serious problem for Europe and the US). Another is a lack of innovation, as new ideas tend to come from people aged under thirty. In Singapore the government is sponsoring speed dating in the hope of spawning more marriages, while in Sweden the government provides free daycare to put more young mothers back into the workforce. However, there is another fascinating by-product of the trend towards smaller families: if a generation has fewer offspring, its genetic legacy is reduced. This means that the beliefs which a generation adhered to will weaken over time. Moreover, the people that do decide to have children tend to be more conservative than those than don't - so conservative values will strengthen. For example, in 2004 States that voted for the conservative George W Bush had fertility rates that were 12% higher on average than States that voted for the more secular, individualistic and liberal-leaning John Kerry. In other words, individualist and libertarian elements of the population will tend to die out while more traditional, patriarchal, patriotic and even fundamentalist elements will inherit countries by default. Or, to put it another way, population size is only part of the story. It's not just how many people a country has or how old they are, but what they think.
Ref: Foreign Policy magazine (US), March/April 2006, 'The return of patriarchy', P. Longman. See also The Australian (Aus), 25-26 March 2006, 'Big daddy's great society', P. Longman.
Links: The empty cradle: how failing birthrates threaten world prosperity and what to do about it by Phillip Longtman (Basic Books).
Search words: population, families, children, conservatism, demographics

Population power

British military strategist Rear Admiral Chris Parry claims that the world's power structure is under threat from 'reverse colonisation'. In his vision of world security over the next 30 years, Parry predicted that Europe could be undermined by a growing immigrant community who have very little loyalty to their host nation and stay in close contact with their homeland, thanks to email and cheap airfares. Instability in the Third World, brought on by environmental destruction, could send a wave of migration into Europe, on par with the attacks that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries. The most likely areas to experience mass migration include Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, which are affected by factors such as water shortages, a decline in food production, rising sea levels and radical Islam. The impact would first be seen at the edges of these areas and would become more problematic as borders disappear and large urban populations become ungovernable. This would be compounded by an oversupply of manpower in some countries. With population levels expected to grow, more countries may opt for the 'one child' policy, which, with the preference for male children, will lead to an unbalanced gender ratio. In Asia there are estimated to be 100 million 'missing' women. Almost everywhere else women outnumber men: in Europe by 7%, in and the US by 3.4%, but in China, for example, there are 120 male babies for every 100 female babies. Theoretically, the practice of sex selection - for example, the use of prenatal diagnostic testing - is illegal in countries such as China and India, but in practice parents are able to get around such rules. So what are the consequences of a male/female population imbalance? Poor economic prospects plus a lack of female company could give rise to mass sexual frustration. Add to the mix urbanisation, drug abuse and economic degradation and results may include serious social and political instability, not to mention an increase in organised crime, gang and even pirate activity. Parry has predicted 2012 to 2018 as the time in which the current world power structure is likely to fall to this challenge from rising nations.
Ref: The Sunday Times (UK), 11 June 2006, 'Beware: the new Goths are coming',
P.Almond. , The Australian (Aus), 25-26 March 2006,'The severe oversupply of manpower', M. Walker.

Weather warning

A recent study published by the Lowy Institute (an Australian foreign policy think tank) concludes that climate change is now a far greater threat to Australian security than terrorism and is expected to result in conflict and mass unregulated population movements. And why is it considered such a major threat? Because of the high probability that it will occur. Scientists have now widely accepted that the planet has warmed, and expect more warming in the next century. The previously anticipated rise of 1.4C to 5.8C could be exceeded by 2100, with the possibility that the Kyoto Protocol benchmark of 2C could be reached by 2026. Initially this will lead to widespread flooding, affecting coastal populations and low-lying areas. But within decades water levels will fall, leading to drought and threatening food production in the Asia-Pacific region. The outcome of this is not likely to be conflict between nations, but rather internal unrest and state collapse in developing countries. The shortages of power and water, combined with destabilising population movements will have potentially adverse effects on more vulnerable nations in the area. The authors of the study have urged governments to look at new ways of dealing with future energy requirements, and to examine the direct policy connections between climate change and national security.
Ref: The Australian (Aus), 10 June 2006, 'Heat on our security' and 'Climate is biggest security challenge', both by P. Walters.
Search words: climate change, national security, Kyoto

A disunited Europe?

The future of Europe is under strain with national differences on the rise within the EU. The debate over an extended European Union has intensified, as France has pressed for a definition of limits and the need to discuss final borders. Paris argues that the imminent expansion to 28 countries and the long list of hopeful entrants is straining not only the framework of the EU, but the public's acceptance as well. The disagreement is not just a backlash over expansion, but about the fundamental differences in economic policy of EU countries. The key factor in these differences, according to a Brussels think tank, is that rather than a single social model, Europe has four models all producing different results. They have been outlined as Nordic (high on efficiency and equity), Anglo-Saxon (high on efficiency and low on equity), Continental (low on efficiency and high on equity) and Mediterranean (low on efficiency and equity). If the EU is to avoid continuing tension over these differences, policy changes will need to be addressed at both the EU level and the national level.
Ref: The Australian (Aus), 17-18 June 2006, 'Europe under strain', P. Kelly.
Search words: European Union, EU, localisation, tribalism

Protest trends

Recent protests in schools across the globe suggest that today's activists are highly conscious and politically savvy. 600,000 students walked out of class in Chile demanding free public transport and lower exam fees, while students in mainly Hispanic schools in the US staged protests against immigration legislation, and in France there have been two episodes of revolt in the past six months. In all of these cases the protests produced results, showing that the students know enough about politics to make an impact on their governments. But this is no May 1968; these young activists are not middle-class students siding with workers, but working-class students looking for an entry to the middle class. In general, activists today are much younger and poorer than those of 40 years ago, with a very negative view of the future. Rather than being considered 'crazed revolutionaries', they are also more likely to have the support of their families and community. Critically though, many of the current protesters are defensive - they are against a change in the status quo - while 30 or 40 years ago it was the opposite, with visionary students attempting to force change.
Ref: The Guardian Weekly (UK), 16-22 June 2006, 'Ignore youth at your peril', G. Younge.
Search words: students, education, protests, political activism