In the Universe in a Nutshell, Hawking declares that,
But this is nonsense.
For a start, there is no exponential growth. In fact, population growth is slowing. For more than three decades now, the average number of babies being born to women in most of the world has been in decline.
Globally, women today have half as many babies
as their mothers did, mostly out of choice. They are doing it for their own
good, the good of their families, and, if it helps the planet too, then so
much the better.
As I show in my new book,
Peoplequake, half the world already has a
fertility rate below the long-term replacement level. That includes all of
Europe, much of the Caribbean and the far east from Japan to Vietnam and
Thailand, Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Algeria, Kazakhstan, and
This is brutal and repulsive. But the odd thing
is that it may not make much difference any more: Chinese communities around
the world have gone the same way without any compulsion - Taiwan, Singapore,
and even Hong Kong. When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, it
had the lowest fertility rate in the world: below one child per woman.
Demographers used to say that women only started having fewer children when they got educated and the economy got rich, as in Europe. But tell that to the women of Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest nations, where girls are among the least educated in the world, and mostly marry in their mid-teens.
They have just three children now, less than
half the number their mothers had. India is even lower, at 2.8. Tell that
also to the women of Brazil. In this hotbed of Catholicism, women have two
children on average - and this is falling. Nothing the priests say can
They still have six babies on average. But even
the middle east is changing. Take Iran. In the past 20 years, Iranian women
have gone from having eight children to less than two - 1.7 in fact -
whatever the mullahs say.
The world’s population is still rising by 70m a year. This is because there is a time lag: the huge numbers of young women born during the earlier baby boom may only have had two children each. That is still a lot of children. But within a generation, the world’s population will almost certainly be stable, and is very likely to be falling by mid-century.
In the US they are calling my new book “The
Coming Population Crash.”
Clearly, other things being equal, fewer people
will do less damage to the planet. But it won’t on its own do a lot to solve
the world’s environmental problems, because the second myth about population
growth is that it is the driving force behind our wrecking of the planet.
Virtually all of the extra 2bn or so people
expected on this planet in the coming 30 or 40 years will be in this poor
half of the world. Stopping that, even if it were possible, would have only
a minimal effect on global emissions, or other global threats.
A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and, in the unlikely event that those ten children all live to adulthood and have ten children of their own, the entire clan of more than a hundred will still be emitting less carbon dioxide than you or me.
It is over-consumption, not
over-population that matters.
But it is the height of arrogance for us in the rich world to downplay the importance of our own environmental footprint because future generations of poor people might one day have the temerity to get as rich and destructive as us.
How dare we?
He opposed Victorian charities because he said they were only making matters worse for the poor, encouraging them to breed. He said the workhouses were too lenient. Progressives of the day hated him.
Charles Dickens attacked him in several books:
In Hard Times, the headmaster obsessed with
facts, Thomas Gradgrind, had a son called Malthus. In A Christmas Carol,
Ebenezer Scrooge was also widely seen at the time as a caricature of
It was Malthusian thinking that led to the huge
and unnecessary death toll in the Irish potato famine.
But the consumption bomb is still primed and
ever more dangerous.