Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, October 14, 2023

Learning to live without endless growth

Sunday May 21, 2023

I never thought I would write this column. For years, I have ranted about overpopulation. During my lifetime, the world’s population has grown from about two billion to eight billion. Canada has gone from 11 million to 38 million. And while Canada seems to have lots of space to accommodate its growing population, the rest of the world doesn’t.
UBC professor William Rees has calculated that every human currently needs about two hectares (five acres) of arable land for food and warmth.
There isn’t enough arable land on the whole planet for eight billion people. So we draw on capital assets deposited some 300 million years ago. We call them “fossil fuels.”
But now, I discover, we have to deal with the economic implications of declining populations.

The population crash
Before I start, I acknowledge that I rely on other writers whose work I trust: syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer; authors John Ibbotson and Darrel Bricker, writing in the Globe and Mail; backed up by Google.
Those three writers cite some shocking statistics.
Japan, for example, declared a national emergency over its declining birth rate.
To maintain a country’s population, the average woman has to have an average of 2.1 children. It takes two people to have a child. And two surviving children to replace the two parents. The hypothetical extra one-tenth of a child accounts for deaths from disease or accident.
But Japan’s birth rate has dropped to 1.34.
South Korea has the world’s lowest birthrate, at 0.78.
Canada’s is currently 1.4. Quebec once had the country’s highest birthrate. English Canada blamed it on Catholic doctrines, and feared that francophones would take over the country. Quebec now has a birth rate around 1.5.
B.C. has Canada’s lowest birthrate at 1.18.
Just so that you can’t miss the significance of these figures, Ibbotson and Bricker forecast that at present birth rates, countries such as Spain and Italy will have only half their present population by the end of this century.
I had to read that statistic twice to get it – HALF their present population!
By mid-century, Gwynne Dyer says, 151 countries will have a falling population.
When China’s population soared past one billion, it instituted its infamous one-child policy. It cancelled that policy in 2016. But the birth rate continued to plunge, from 1.8 five years ago, to 1.1 now.
China’s population is expected to drop from 1.4 billion to 732 million by the end of this century.
India’s population surpassed China’s this year. But the Indian birthrate is also slowing. At 2.0, it has already fallen below sustainability.

African genesis
The only part of the world where populations will continue to grow is Africa. By 2060, Africans will comprise roughly one-third of world population.
Ironic, isn’t it? Africa exported the first homo sapiens 300,000 years ago; once again, Africa will export its humans to the rest of the world .
As Dyer writes, “The only way to keep a population stable, or even growing, in a developed country is mass immigration…Canada is the world leader in proportional terms, bringing half a million immigrants a year.”
But even African birthrates are starting to decline. Kenya’s birthrate fell from 8 per woman, 50 years ago, to 3.3 last year.
There are dozens of speculations about causes for this near-universal decline. Male sperm counts are down. Miscarriages are up. Maybe it’s all connected to global warming and climate change. Or to wireless radiation from cell-phones. New “man-made” chemicals. Plastics. A conspiracy by the Illuminati…
Regardless of the cause, some implications are obvious. For as long as we humans have been around, we have counted on younger generations to support their aging elders. Once that support came from within the family. Now we have pension plans.
But a steadily declining proportion of younger people cannot carry a steadily growing proportion of older people.

Growth? Or de-growth?
To date, all economic theory has been based on growth. We need more customers to buy our products. More resources for building our products. More savings and/or more credit to finance our ventures.
More. More. More.
Professor Rees calls growth “the supreme overriding objective of policy” around the world.
Declining populations levels, particularly in the northern nations, will shift the mantra to less, less, less.
Economists label the new reality “degrowth.” Whatever you call it, the implications are startling.
I would be surprised if any corporate entity, anywhere in the world, bases its business model on fewer and fewer customers. Or on lower and lower profits. But they will.
Now that’s a revolution.
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Your turn

Here’s the response to last week’s column from Sandy Wightman, Ross Wightman’s father: “We appreciate you bringing Ross’s story to the attention of your readers.
“Twenty five months ago Ross was fit enough to do 60 pushups in one minute. Twenty four months ago he began a 70-day hospitalization just trying to stay alive. He had to learn to walk again. Twelve months ago he did one push-up. One month ago he did 25 pushups -- although not on a minute. He is determined to get better.
“I believe the AstraZeneca vaccine has about 0.0011% percent chance of negative responses -- which does not sound like much until you multiply it by the number of vaccines injected. Most victims do not get a second shot, for obvious reasons, although Health Authorities continued to recommend second shots [even] to victims. If 20 million Canadians had a first shot there would be 22,000 victims although most would be minor. Ross knows one person who died following a Health Authority recommendation to have a second shot.
“Pharmaceutical firms and Governments knew there would be victims and they should have had plans at the ready for them. It took 18 months for any help to arrive and that help is inadequate.”

Fran Ota clarified some of the symptoms I described: “Guillan-Barre can cause total paralysis of the body, partial paralysis usually legs, and other musculature. Bell’s Palsy causes the drooping face….it’s an inflammation of the tenth cranial nerve and can be caused by a virus such as a cold (one of the coronaviruses) or even a chilly draft on the back of the neck. In my case it was an inflamed nerve due to lupus.
“As for AstraZeneca, it was withdrawn when I was in Norway, citing concerns over the side effects. The EU developed several of its own. Pfizer redacted something like 500 pages of information regarding adverse effects in their report, and had to be forced by the investigating committee to release the full picture. Pfizer also used two groups for testing, not the usual three. Those test groups were also quite small and barely allowed for comparison with different ethnic groups. Thus Japan, for example, began to realise that doses recommended for westerners were too large for Asian populations. And the side effects were considerable. To date at least 2000 people have dropped dead after receiving the shot. The Japanese government posts these figures on its website.
“And just for fun, look up Corbevax, which was developed in Texas by researchers at Baylor. Here’s a link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corbevax. Corbevax in testing proved to be equally as efficacious as the other shots, and cost far less to produce. The researchers offered the technology free of charge to all the Big Pharma and were refused. It is now being used in India, and can be produced by other smaller countries. If financial support were given.
“Big Pharma stood to make much more money from the experimental mRNA technology than from a simple true vaccine made more in the old-fashioned way, and one that was easier to produce quickly.”

Isabel Gibson noted that “There are moral decisions at many stages:
The company has to decide whether to release the vaccine.
Public health agencies have to decide whether to communicate the whole story as they know it, and whether to highlight the things they know they don't know.
The government has to decide whether to institute mandates that make it difficult to turn down a vaccination that has some downsides.
“I'd feel better if I thought the moral aspects of those decisions had actually been given the most weight as opposed, say, to profit, the arrogance of expertise, and the drive to control, respectively.
“And I've had 5 shots, so far.”

Jim Hoffman: “Your questions about the right decision [frame] an impossible situation. Somewhat a ‘Sophie's Choice’. Add the complicating factor that the one person is your daughter -- your wife, your mother -- then how do you choose? The easy way out is to find a way to do both -- to save both parties. But that is by definition ‘not possible.’ As Chester A. Riley used to say, ‘What a revolting development this is.’”

David Gilchrist picked up my biblical reference:: “From this perspective, I would not agree with Caiaphas; but if I were standing in his shoes at the time, I might see it differently.
“I don’t think AstraZemeca had much choice; the many saved would be my decision.
“The Princess? I would divert the train, as the driver would have more chance to stop or slow the train, while blowing his whistle to warn the people on the track and at the station. But any decision on the spot, might be quite different to one made after some contemplation.”
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