Other Literature. Precis and comments on publications relevant to population growth and migration


On this page we will, from time to time, draw the attention of readers to important publications. Prior to June 2004, the only publication mentioned on this page was by N. Myers (our presentation on that publication is retained at the end of this page). Publications are arranged in the order in which the accounts of them were placed on the page, the most recent at the top. Beginning in April 2007, the date of posting of items onto the web will be given.


Kelvin Thomson MP. The Witches' Hats Theory of Government. Posted 27th November 2011.
“Do Foreign Experts Increase the Productivity of Domestic Firms?”.(IZA DP No. 6001)(2011). Posted October 2011.
Engelman, R. (2011). “An end to population growth: Why family planning is key to a sustainable future”. Posted 9th May 2011.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers (2011). “Population: one planet, too many people?”. Posted 16th February 2011.
David Pimentel et al. “Will limited Land, Water, and Energy Control Human Population Numbers in the Future?”. Human Ecology, 10th August 2010. Posted 30th September 2010.
MigrationWatch. UK (2008). “Balanced Migration”.Posted 9th July 2010.
Westoff, C.F. (2010). “Desired number of children: 2000–2008”. Posted 1st June 2010.
Coleman, D. (2009). 'Divergent patterns in the ethnic transformation of societies'. Posted 26th February 2009.
United Nations Population Fund. (2009). 'State of world population 2009. Facing a changing world: women, population and climate'. Posted 4th December 2009.
Royal Society (UK). (2009). 'The Impact of Population Growth on Tomorrow's world'. Posted 8th October 2009, with an addition the following day and an addition in August 2010.
MacEoin, D. (2009). 'Music, Chess and other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain'. Posted 27th February 2009.
Garner, S. et al. (2009). 'Sources of resentment, and perceptions of ethnic minorities among poor white people in England'. Posted 21st January 2009.
Harte, J. (2007). 'Human population as a dynamic factor in environmental degradation'. Posted 14th August 2007.
Carr, D. L, Suter, L & Barbieri, A. (2005). 'Population dynamics and tropical deforestation: State of the debate and conceptual challenges'. Posted 15th May 2007.
'Return of the Population Growth Factor. Its impact upon the Millennium Development Goals' (Report of Hearings by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health). Posted beginning of April, 2007.
'Driving the human ecological footprint' (a 2007 paper by Dietz, Rosa and York).
'Immigration and Ethnic Change in Low-Fertility Countries: A Third Demographic Transition' (a 2006 paper by D. Coleman).
'Imagine earth without people'. Article in The New Scientist (2006).
'The Tragedy of the Commons - and Human Population Growth' (papers by Hardin, 1968, and Soroos, 2005).
'Climate science and famine early warning' (A paper by Verdin 2005).
Amy Chua (2003) 'World on fire', and N.C. Vaca (2004) 'The presumed alliance. The unspoken conflict between Latinos and Blacks and what it means for America'.
N.Myers (2001). 'Environmental refugees: a growing phenomenon of the 21st century'.

The following links provide direct access to items other than the item most recently added to this page.
Kelvin Thomson MP. The Witches' Hats Theory of Governmen
Do Foreign Experts Increase the Productivity of Domestic Firms?
An end to population growth: Why family planning is key to a sustainable future.
Population: one planet, too many people?
Will limited Land, Water, and Energy Control Human Population Numbers in the future?
Balanced Migration
Desired number of children.
Divergent patterns in the ethnic transformation of societies.
State of world population 2009.
The Impact of Population Growth on Tomorrow's World.
Music, Chess and other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain.
Sources of resentment, and perceptions of ethnic minorities among poor white people in England
Human population as a dynamic factor in environmental degradation
Population dynamics and tropical deforestation: State of the debate and conceptual challenges.
Return of the Population Growth Factor. Its impact upon the Millennium Development Goals.
Driving the human ecological footprint.
Immigration and Ethnic Change in Low-Fertility Countries.
Imagine earth without people.
The Tragedy of the Commons - and Human Population Growth.
Climate science and famine early warning.
World on fire, and the presumed alliance.
Environmental refugees: a growing phenomenon of the 21st century.

Kelvin Thomson. The Witches' Hats theory of Government.

Kelvin Thomson MP

Federal Labor Member for Wills

The Witches' Hats Theory of Government: How increasing population is making the task of government harder

Address to Sustainable Population Australia & the Australia Institute.

Thursday 25th August 2011.

There is a clear correlation between population growth and social upheaval and unrest. What is known as the Arab Spring started in Tunisia, when rising food prices,high unemployment, and a widening gap between rich and poor, triggered riots which led to the flight of Tunisia's autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali. Before he left he vowed to reduce the price of sugar, milk and bread – too little too late.

Protests began in Egypt, which led to a change of government there, and in Libya, which are now bringing about a change of government there too. The backdrop to this unrest was a rise in global wheat prices of the order of 70% between June and December 2010. People simply could not afford the bread they needed to live. Egypt's population had grown from 22 million in 1952 to 81 million in 2010 – nearly a fourfold increase in 60 years.

Rapid population growth means lots of high–testosterone young males, who are prepared to risk bullets and oust dictators. After decades of exporting oil to pay for grain, Egypt now needs to import both oil and grain to meet the needs of a population that doubled under Mubarak, and didn't thank him for it.

But the link between rapid population growth and social unrest is not confined to the Middle East. BBC Radio 4's More or Less program on 12 August 2011 quoted a US sociologist, Professor Jack Goldstone, saying that throughout history there was a clear link between rapid population growth and social unrest, seen in events like the French and Russian Revolutions, and now in pockets of society that have seen rapid population growth and immigration.

He looked at the recent riots in the London suburb of Tottenham and found that the population had grown by nearly 8% between 2000 and 2005, with a high percentage of new immigrants and young people – three times the UK average for this period.

The continent of Africa contains many examples of rapid population growth fuelling political instability. Africa's most populous country is Nigeria. From independence in 1960, over a period of 50 years to 2010, Nigeria's population rose from 45 million to 158 million – over a threefold increase. Accompanying this rapid increase have been economic booms and busts, military coups, widespread corruption, and ethnic and religious divisions.

The population of Ghana quadrupled over 50 years, from 6 million at the time of independence in 1960 to over 24 million by 2010. From 1960 to 1992 Ghana was marred by military coups, and although rich in natural resources, Ghana is a heavily indebted country, and in 1994–95 land disputes in the North erupted into ethnic violence.

Kenya had a population of less than 9 million when it gained independence in 1963. It now has a population of 40 million – a fourfold increase, and is currently growing at a brisk 2.8% per year. In 1982 it became a one–party state, and has been beset by mismanagement and corruption.

There is little doubt in my mind that rapid population growth and political instability go hand in hand. While often the instability is attributed to ethnic or religious differences, I believe these are merely symptoms of the underlying problem – too many people for the available resources of land, food, water, fuel, housing, jobs. A scarcity of resources leads to conflict.

When that conflict occurs people may well band together, or divide,on religious or ethnic lines – that is indeed human nature – but whether we have that conflict in the first place, or whether people of different ethnicities and religions live harmoniously together, often comes back to whether there are enough resources for all, or whether there are simply too many people for the available resources.

But I have been wondering about whether there is a bigger truth – that population growth is likely to undermine support for governments, irrespective of the prevailing political system and culture.

I have thought of this as the Witches' Hats theory of government. I ask you to think of those Advanced Driving Courses that require drivers to drive in slalom fashion through a set of plastic or rubber orange cones, which are commonly called witches' hats. The driver's mission is to avoid the hats. If they hit a certain number, they fail the test.

I think the re–election task of a government has some similarities. If you think of each hat as an area of public policy such as education, health, housing, transport, aged care, etc., if a government mucks up an area of public policy it is somewhat akin to hitting one of the witches' hats.

If a government hits a number of the hats, i.e. fails a number of public policy tasks, it is likely to be voted out, just as the driver who hits the hats won't get their Advanced Driving Qualification.

Now it seems pretty obvious that if you are a driver, then you are much more likely to avoid the hats if you are travelling at 50 kph, whereas if you're driving at 100 kph, you're pretty likely to hit some hats.

And if you're a government you're much more likely to successfully solve peoples' problems, that is, avoid those witches' hats, if you have a population that is pretty stable, rather than one that is growing rapidly.

The US environmentalist Frosty Wooldridge does a good job of setting the scene for being a politician in the modern world, compared with the post–war era, in his description of California as once “the most beautiful State in the Union.” As he says:

In 1950 it housed a reasonable 10 million people. Known as the land of milk and honey –– California's mountains, coastline and weather beckoned. Californian condors soared through limitless blue skies. Yosemite National Park, giant sequoia redwoods, whales and seals along its coastline, Hollywood and 77 Sunset Strip – created the Californian mystique.

60 years later, 38 million people cram, jam, gridlock and fume in their fumes on forever crowded freeways. Growing at 1700 people daily and over 600,000 annually –– California expects an added 21 million people within 35 years.

The result, says Frosty Wooldridge, is massive subdivision, housing sprawl. Roads, malls, schools, churches, and homes devour land like Kansas wheat combines. Developers demolish nature. They guzzle water. They vomit black smoke into the air. Cars whiz around like mad hornets. The more compacted the traffic,the more drivers suffer road rage. Few smiling faces can be seen on Californian freeways. Drivers busy themselves trying to stay alive.

The political result – California seems on its way to becoming ungovernable. A Democratic governor, Gray Davis, was recalled by the voters in a special election in part due to anger over his support for California granting drivers–licences to illegal entrants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to disappoint pretty much everyone, supporters included, during his tenure. Governor Jerry Brown has been unable to bridge the budget gap and a sharp partisan divide. That sharp partisan divide is an increasing feature of, and blot on, United States politics – dragging the whole country down and making it nigh on ungovernable. And we're seeing it in Australia too.

If California's population growth and its increasingly difficult and testy politics are connected, what happens where populations are relatively stable?

In the Nordic countries, populations have increased only slowly over the 60 years since 1950. Since the 1950s Denmark has been politically very stable, not withstanding that minority governments have been the norm. The Danish welfare state emerged as the Social Democratic Party dominated politics for many decades, and remains largely in the ascendant.

In Norway politics have been stable and co–operative, with coalition governments common, alternating between Right–Centrist and Left–Centrist, with Labor generally ascendant. Sweden has a strong multi–party polity, with the Social Democrats drawing consistent support and often in government.

Finland has a robust multi–party system where parties seem happy to collaborate. Most governments have been three–party coalitions. There have been relatively long stretches of government by either a coalition of the Left or the Right.

Iceland has been more volatile than the other Nordic countries, but it has nevertheless had four core parties, and the Independence Party was in government for an 18 year stretch from 1991–2009, which suggests considerable stability and continuity.

In search of further evidence let me move from a cold part of the world to a hot one. Recently I headed a parliamentary delegation to the Solomon Islands and Samoa. At the time of independence, the Solomon Islands had a population of 170,000 – now its population is three times that, over 500,000. It has seen frequent changes of Prime Minister, and the other countries in the region have troops stationed there to keep the peace. Its Parliament has not met this year, and our Delegation was told that this was because the Prime Minister was afraid of a Parliamentary vote of no– confidence.

Samoa by contrast has had a relatively stable population of around 170,000 to 180,000 for decades. It has had the same Prime Minister for nearly 20 years, and the same governing Party for nearly 30 years.

Sticking in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea is experiencing rapid population growth. Its population is close to 7 million, and it is estimated to be growing at between 2.3% and 2.7%. It is projected to reach 9 million by 2020. It has over 850 indigenous languages, 85% of the population live in rural areas, and 40% are under the age of 15. Life expectancy is just 62 years, 25% of children don't go to school, and it is not on track to meet any of the Millennium Development goals.

Neighbouring Indonesia, on the other hand, is growing at half PNG's rate: 1.2%. It has made a rather smooth transition to democracy.

Turning to Europe, in the last decade many European states have appeared to be undergoing a crisis of integration.

The Economist described the 2009 European Union election outcomes in the following terms:

It was a terrible night for European socialists, but also a worrying night for those who believe in a Europe of open borders . . . At the same time, the vote for mainstream conservative parties in several countries only held steady or even slightly fell, against a backdrop of the lowest ever turnout for a Euro–election, with just 43% bothering to vote.

In many countries large protest votes went to the populist, fringe, and hard–Right politicians vowing to close borders, repatriate immigrants or even dismantle the European Union in its current form. Britain elected two members of the avowedly racist British National Party, and in the Netherlands, a populist party, which vows to ban the Koran and close the European Parliament, picked up 4 seats with 17% of the vote. Far– Right and anti–immigrant parties picked up seats in Austria, Denmark, Slovakia and Hungary . . . and in Germany the Social Democratic Party suffered its worst ever result, with just 21% of the vote. . .

In France, the Socialist Party only just escaped being pushed into third place. . . . In Poland, the Left was simply crushed, with 75% of the vote going to conservative parties.

The growth of Rightwing anti–immigration parties is causing consternation among many European governments, and drawing the attention of political analysts, scholars and journalists. An editorial last year in the UK Telegraph said that “European governments must develop a more sophisticated approach to immigration if they are to hold back the far Right.”

It said, “Far right parties are currently in government in Italy and also sit in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia as well as in the European Parliament . . . What is most worrying is the inability or unwillingness of mainstream political parties across Europe to confront these issues.”

The editorial said:

As we have seen in this country, the refusal of the political establishment over many years to conduct a mature debate on immigration has played into the hands of the British National Party.

The editorial observed that:

Europe's leaders need to develop a more sophisticated approach to the many challenges posed by economic migration if the extremists are not to continue to prosper.

The UK magazine of the Newcastle Greens recently said:

The trick is to find some sustainable mix between 'hard heads' and 'kind hearts'. One without the other is a recipe for ruin. At present the need for immigration controls, for example, is rejected by those who glibly assert a policy of 'open frontiers', regardless of its social, economic or ecological costs. They dismiss any other option as racist. Thus genuine dilemmas are simply wished away, while real racists are given a field day. One result in Britain is that many working class people have been driven into the arms of fascist bodies like the British National Party.

One encouraging sign in Britain is the existence of a Cross Party Parliamentary Group on Migration. The Cross Party Group advocates a slowing down of migration rates into Britain on a number of grounds, including that it makes for better screening of prospective migrants, and enables more adequate provision of services such as English language training, to make sure new arrivals get a job and become positive contributors to the society, rather than falling through a social crack into a netherworld of drugs and crime.

Now to Australia. In 1945 our population was 7 million. Today it is over 22 million. There was nothing inevitable about this growth. Back in 1945 Sweden's population was also 7 million. Today their population is 9 million.

Are we outperforming Sweden as a result? No. Do we have a better relationship with our landscape and environment? No. Does the evidence suggest that we are better off as a society for this rapid population growth? No.

Let's go back to the Whitlam years, between 1974 and 1975. It's become folklore that the Whitlam Labor Government were terrible economic managers and that subsequent governments have done a much better job of running the economy.

Yet unemployment, even in Whitlam's worst year, post OPEC oil shock, averaged less than 5%, and has never been as low since.

The Whitlam government was supposed to be a high–taxing government, but taxation as a percentage of GDP never reached 20%, and since then has climbed above 20%, rising to over 24% under John Howard and Peter Costello. And back then your taxes went a lot further. All the roads were free (no tolls); all the universities were free (no fees), and few parents sent their kids to non–government schools – so they didn't have to fork out for school fees either.

Net overseas migration at the time was much less than 100,000 per annum, compared with the over 200,000 it has been in recent years.

Or we could consider the 1960s. We had a population of around 12 million. There was no such thing as GST. Homes and rental properties were in good supply, and inexpensive, compared with today, where Sydney and Melbourne have some of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world. There were jobs for everyone who wanted one. People didn't have to work long hours; in fact there was talk of a 35–hour week. Government employees didn't have to sign work contracts.

There were two mail deliveries each weekday and one on Saturday. There was no real waiting time for hospitals. Trains and buses were inexpensive and uncrowded. You could drive across our cities in no time at all. Beaches and other public facilities were uncrowded. Electricity and gas were cheap. We didn't have water shortages. Working people could afford beachside suburbs or a holiday house.

Crime rates were low. Many people didn't lock their windows or doors. We didn't have home invasions. Children wandered city streets freely and without fear. We grew our produce instead of concreting our market gardens and then importing it. Pre–war, according to the urban historian Patrick Troy, Melbourne grew a third of its own food in backyards – not because it needed to, and not because the country was not eager to supply produce, but because labour and space were available.

And the politics of population growth in Australia? In October 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was asked about Treasury predictions that Australia's population would grow from 22 million to 35.9 million by 2050. He responded by saying, “I actually believe in a big Australia. I make no apology for that. I actually think it's good news that our population is growing.”

The Australian newspaper reported in an editorial that these words sent Labor's focus groups “ballistic”.

People were coping with traffic jams and developers wrecking their streets and suburbs. Couples were facing house prices that forced both of them to work full time or overtime, and in fear of losing their house if one fell ill or lost their job.

So an exceptionally popular Prime Minister – in early October 2009 the Morgan Poll gave him an approval rating of 66% –– quickly lost support. By early December his approval rating was 53%, and Labor'.s primary polling fell below 50%, never to return. In 2010, following the postponing of Labor's commitment to a carbon trading scheme to cut carbon emissions – a task made much harder and less publicly plausible by population growth – both Kevin Rudd's and Labor's approval continued to fall. In June 2010 they were both in the 30s, and Kevin Rudd was replaced as Prime Minister. Significantly, incoming Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that she rejected “ Big Australia”.

Let me spend a little more time outlining the particular areas where I believe increasing population causes governments to grow out of touch with their communities and voters, and therefore to lose support.

Planning is a key area. In order to house a growing population, particularly in big cities, governments end up taking away citizens' rights to a say in what their street, their neighbourhood, their suburb looks like. That's one witches' hat bowled over! Governments appeal to us to accept high–rise – we should become more European, they say – but many people don't want it. They like their backyard and their open space. Planning issues played a significant role in the defeat of the Victorian Labor government last year, and the New South Wales Labor government this year. The Sydney Morning Herald said in June, “If there is a portfolio that has crystallised all that was wrong with the former Labor government in NSW, planning is unquestionably it.”

The incoming Liberal government scrapped Part 3A of the Planning Act.

The planning issue is alive and well in the city of Canberra too. I know there have been battles to maintain the integrity of the Parliamentary triangle. I am told developers are now demanding to be allowed to put up skyscrapers that will obliterate City Hill, which is one of the three hills that are the apexes of the Parliamentary Triangle. It would be a shame if the integrity and genius of the original design of the Parliamentary triangle were to be crowded out by high rise. If you want to see high rise, you can find that pretty much anywhere.

Beyond the planning issues there is a range of other impacts of increased population on our cities. The National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University School of the Environment, and CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems published detailed research into the long–term physical implications of net overseas migration in July 2010, and reached the following conclusions about Sydney:

Sydney will be importing the vast majority of its fresh fruit and vegetables from outside the Sydney Basin by 2050, because the remaining horticultural land has been developed for housing and industry.

  • Sydney will be subject to increasingly stringent, possibly permanent water restrictions.
  • Western Sydney will continue to experience poor quality water in its major and minor creeks and rivers.
  • Increasing population growth is likely to directly and deleteriously affect the remaining pockets of diverse ecosystems in the Western Sydney Basin.
  • Western Sydney will be disproportionately affected by the lack of transport infrastructure and by congestion, measured in average travel times. Liveability will likely be reduced with commensurate costs to people.

Sounds like another witches' hat to me.

Beyond the impacts on planning and on our cities of population growth, there is the question of cost–of–living pressures. There is no doubt in my mind that rising cost–of–living is fuelling much of the political discontent to which Federal and State governments in Australia have been subject. It has been claimed that Australia should have high levels of migration to keep inflation and prices in check. Nothing could be further from the truth. When an economy is experiencing housing and infrastructure capacity constraints, high levels of immigration cause inflation as prices tend to rise. This is to ration supply to meet the increased demand. It is also to fund investment in the roads, hospitals, utilities, schools, and housing required to meet the needs of the new people.

The infrastructure investments required to meet rising city populations increase the demand for construction workers and engineers, diverting these workers away from the mining industry which was the original reason for bringing them here. It is a dog chasing its tail. More migrants creates a need for infrastructure, housing, and people–serving industries like health and education, which then demand more migrants to meet the need.

In relation to utility prices, from 2007 electricity price inflation accelerated sharply. Rapid increase in electricity prices is definitely another witches'. hat down. Regulators allowed double–digit price increases to fund infrastructure investment, which was needed to meet population growth. A recent report by the New Zealand Savings Working Group supports the view that population growth puts upward pressure on inflation and interest rates:

A country with a rapidly growing population needs to devote resources to building more roads, schools, shops, houses, factories and so on than a country with a low rate of population growth. In a country with a relatively low national savings rate, rapid population growth will put sustained upward pressure on real interest rates, and in turn, on the real exchange rate, making it harder to achieve the per capita income gains that people (and the government) aspire to.

I might add that the CPI measure of inflation adopted by the Reserve Bank (and most central banks) explicitly excludes house price inflation, even though it is a genuine cost incurred by households – and a matter of more than passing interest to my children, and I suspect the children of many in this audience.

Had house prices been included in the CPI, the inflationary impact of population growth would have been even more pronounced.

Given that a high migration program pushes up the cost of living, and that this annoys voters, the obvious question is why do governments do it?

Well, it used assumptions provided by the modellers Access Economics. One of these assumptions was that net overseas migration (NOM) would grow from 220,000 in 2010 to 250,000 by 2025. As former editor Crispin Hull pointed out in The Canberra Times, this is a circular argument. We will need more skilled migrants because we are going to have high migration! There is no logic to this approach at all.

The Monash University Report examines in detail the claim that we need high skilled migration to feed the mining boom. It finds that mining will employ just 80,000 more people in 2025 than it does now – less than half a year's (current) migration intake. The rest of the migrants go to city jobs, or to unemployment, and are not involved in resources jobs at all.

Some of these workers and more than a few of the temporary workers brought to Australia on 457 visas or student visas are exploited by unscrupulous employers. There are numerous reports from the building industry of abuses – Unions WA recently exposed the exploitation of 20 Chinese migrant workers employed by Diploma Constructions to work without pay on an apartment building project for up to 8 weeks. As of 8 August, the workers were still awaiting payment.

So when you think about the adverse impacts on people that a rising population produces, it's not really surprising that governments in countries of times of high population growth tend to knock over plenty of witches' hats, and lose public support.

I'm not suggesting that population growth rates are the only factor in whether governments survive or retain their popularity. No doubt there are plenty of other factors at work. One obvious one is that if a country has such large unused resources that its population has not yet begun to press up against them, then population growth may not yet have political consequences.

But I think there's enough evidence around to suggest that when politicians – the vast majority of whom, it should be said, are not lazy, not corrupt, not in it only for themselves – look in the mirror and ask “Why don't they like me?”, the answer might well be that they are driving the car too fast and knocking over those witches' hats. They should slow the car down and focus on solving people's real–life problems.

When I was asked to address you tonight, I was asked: What is the way forward? After the government's Population Strategy, where do we go from here?

I think the answer might be that, as well as all the appeals to altruism that we make to government and politicians about the need for population reform, that we point out that a stable population may well be the key to extending their political life expectancy.

We who want to slow population growth should say – Do it for your children, Do it for the future, Do it to give the world's poor a chance, do it for the birds plants and animals, but beyond all that, Do it for yourself!

––– End –––

USEFUL REFERENCES, listed by major issues:

Going ballistic

“We need a real debate on how big we want to be”, Editorial in The Australian newspaper, 19 July 2010: at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/we-need-a-real-debate- on-how-big-we-want-to-be/story-e6frg71x-1225894269892

See also Jennie Curtin, SMH 4 August 2010. “Big Australia vision goes down like a lead balloon”, http://www.smh.com.au/national/big-australia-vision-goes-down-like-a-lead- balloon-20100803- 115g7.html. Also Katharine Betts, “A bigger Australia: opinions for and against”, People and Place, vol. 18, no. 2

More people, more emissions:

Robert Birrell and Ernest Healy, “Labor's greenhouse aspirations”, People and Place, 2008, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 1–15. http://elecpress.monash.edu.au/pnp/view/abstract/ ?article=0000010719

World facts (basic resource):

See Central Intelligence Agency, The World Fact Book, updated weekly, available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2177.html

No shortage of skilled labour:

B. Birrell, E. Healy, K. Betts and T. F. Smith, Immigration and the Resources Boom Mark 2, Centre for Population and Urban Research (CPUR), Monash University, July 2011.

On infrastructure costs see

O.Sullivan, J 2010, “Submission to Population Policy Inquiry Local Government Association of Queensland”, March 2010, p. 10, http://www.lgaq.asn.au/c/document_library/get_file?p_l_id=621228& fileShortcutId=672191

Also Jane O.Sullivan, “The downward spiral of hasty population growth”, On Line Opinion, 8 March 2010


Running resources short:

Jonathan Sobels et al., Research into the Long–Term Physical Implications of Net Overseas Migration, National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University report for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, January 2011.
http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/research/_pdf/physical- implications-migration-fullreport.pdf

More people, less quality of life:
Jane O.Sullivan, “Our relentless war on resilience”, On Line Opinion, 2 May 2011, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=11962. She remarks: “More people must have more housing, more infrastructure for transport, electricity, health, education, law and order, welfare, waste and pollution management, etc.” Also Clive Hamilton, “ Population growth and environmental quality: are they compatible?”, People and Place, 2002, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 1–5. Also Ross Gittins, “Punters well aware of economic case against more immigration”, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2010, http://www.rossgittins.com/ 2010/11/punters-well-aware-of-economic-case.html

Patterns of wealth and population:

The top rankings of countries by national wealth per capita (produced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) are dominated by countries with populations of 20 million or less. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

It seems to hold at regional level too. A detailed study in 2010 by the American community planning consultant, Eben Fodor, found that “ faster growth rates are associated with lower incomes, greater income declines, and higher poverty rates. Unemployment rates tend to be higher in faster growing areas. The 25 slowest–growing metro areas outperformed the 25 fastest–growing in every category and averaged $8,455 more in per capita personal income in 2009.”

See Eben Fodor, Relationship between Growth and Prosperity in 100 Largest U.S. Metropolitan Areas, December 2010, p.1. Available from http://www.fodorandassociates.com/rpts_and_pubs.htm 30 April 2011]

Population growth reduces quality of life in Australian cities:

For observations on our declining quality of life, and the connection to population growth, by Department of PM and Cabinet, see “City life in decline, PM warned”, by Shane Wright, Economics editor, The West Australian, December 20, 2010, http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/8536559/city-life-in-decline/


This speech was given on more than one occasion, with modifications. For example, on October the 4th 2001 when the speech was give to a group called “Progressives for Immigration Reform” in Washington, USA, the beginning of the speech was changed to: “In the last couple of weeks I have attended a number of events at the UN where there has been a lot of discussion about the Arab Spring, and a lot of commentary about the role of hunger and poverty in fuelling conflict. When I attended the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies the Tunisian representative readily agreed that his people had been hungry for democracy, but also observed that his people had been hungry full stop. At the General Assembly Mexican leader Phillipe Calderon, among others, noted of the Arab spring that it was hunger, off the back of rapidly rising food prices, which has driven many people into the streets.”

We thank Kelvin Thomson MP for permission to reproduce this Speech.

“Do Foreign Experts Increase the Productivity of Domestic Firms?” (IZA DP No. 6001).

Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit (Institute for the Study of Labor) (IZA) released to its email list the above document 18th October 2011.

Here is the abstract supplied:
“While most countries welcome (and some even subsidise) high–skilled immigrants, there is very limited evidence of their importance for domestic firms. To guide our empirical analysis, we first set up a simple theoretical model to show how foreign experts may impact on the productivity and wages of domestic firms. Using matched worker–firm data from Denmark and a difference–indifferences matching approach, we then find that firms that hire foreign experts – defined as employees eligible for reduced taxation under the Danish ‘Tax scheme for foreign researchers and key employees’ – both become more productive (pay higher wages) and increase their exports of goods and services.”

The Introduction to this paper begins:
“There is ample evidence documenting that global firms are more productive than purely local firms: foreign–owned companies are more productive than domestic companies (see, e.g., Lipsey, 2004); exporting firms are more productive than non–exporting firms (see, e.g., Bernard and Jensen, 1995, and Bernard et al., 2007); and firms that offshore internationally are more productive than non–offshoring firms (see, e.g., Hummels et al., 2011). In this paper, we consider yet another possible channel through which global firms may become more productive than non–global firms, namely by employing foreign experts.”

The authors use a theoretical model, described in the section of the paper headed ‘Empirical framework’ that begins:
“Our theory model illustrates that firms that use foreign experts are both more productive and profitable and therefore pay higher wages than other firms. This is both because the foreign experts ensure a better match between tasks and skills, and because it is the most productive firms that benefit most from employing foreign experts. Thus, as the previous section also showed, firms may start recruiting foreign experts for three different reasons (or a combination of these): (1) a reduction in the firm–specific search–and–hiring cost; (2) an increase in the firm–specific exogenous productivity parameter; and (3) changes in the general framework conditions. In the first case, the associated changes in firm performance can be given a causal interpretation, while in the second and third case, we need to isolate the effect of the foreign experts from the effects of the exogenous productivity increase and the changes in the framework conditions.”

The data used for the analysis:
“We have access to a very rich matched worker–firm longitudinal data set covering the total Danish population of workers and firms for the years 1995–2007. The data are drawn from several administrative registers in Statistics Denmark. The source of the firm data is the Firm Statistics Register (FirmStat), which provides annual information on industry affiliation (sixdigit NACE code), the number of full-time employees, sales and export volume. FirmStat associates each firm with a unique identifier, which allows us to track the same firm over time. Detailed information on individual socio-economic characteristics is available on an annual basis.
Our data on foreign experts are provided by the Danish tax authorities who record information about firms hiring foreign experts that are eligible for reduced income taxation under the ‘Tax scheme for foreign researchers and key employees’. This data set uses the same firm and worker identifiers as FIDA, allowing us to match the data with our workerfirm data on an annual basis.”

Here is the conclusion section of the paper:
“In this paper we have argued that there may exist strong complementarities between the knowledge (skills) of foreign experts and native workers in a company. In this case, a few foreign experts may give rise to a significant increase in firm productivity. By applying difference–in–differences matching techniques to a rich Danish data set, we find support for this prediction. The average wage level in the firm increases significantly by 2.4 % in the third year following the employment a foreign expert. We take this as evidence of a positive productivity effect.

“Using worker–level information, we find that wages increase significantly in both the first and the third year after the foreign expert has arrived, and when we distinguish between different types of worker, we find that the effect is strongest (0.5-0.65 %) and most significant for the high–skilled workers. The latter is fully consistent with rent sharing being most relevant for the high–killed natives workers, as these are the ones for which strong complementarities exist and hence are more difficult to replace than low–skilled native workers. The fact that average wages increase more than individual wages also indicate that an upgrade in the composition of firm employment takes place following the employment of a foreign expert.

“One reason why firms may benefit from foreign workers is that these possess special knowledge about foreign markets. This hypothesis is confirmed by our study as the hiring of foreign experts both raises the probability of exporting the following year by 2.7 percentage points and the intensity of exports by 1.3–1.6 % in the three following years.”


Engelman, R. (2011). “An end to population growth: Why family planning is key to a sustainable future”.

Engelman begins by saying there is a “widespread assumption” that the world population, currently nearly seven billion, will continue to increase to 9 billion by mid–century. We note that this 'assumption' is based on the latest United Nations projections. But he argues that bearing in mind the high percentage globally of pregnancies that are unintended, it might be possible to ensure that population growth would peak before mid-century and at a lower level than 9 billion by ensuring that all future births were intended. Engelman considers that if this change was brought about, it would ameliorate “ environmental risks associated with climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, and food and energy insecurity”. Furthermore, Engelman argues that what he calls an “equally widespread belief” that to achieve such a lowering of the population peak would require coercion, is incorrect. We for our part do not think this particular belief is wide spread.

During the course of his paper Engelman gives some key information on fertility reduction and family planning, which we now combine into a list:

  • It is often said that replacement fertility rate (RFR), that is the number of children that need to be born to maintain a constant population size when there is no net migration, is 2.1 children per woman (only women bear children, male and female, and slightly higher than two because a small percentage of women die young). However, this is the approximate level in developed countries. But this assumes a very low death rate amongst young people. And this condition is not found in poorer (low–income countries). High young person death rates in these countries means that global RFR is about 2.35 children per women.
  • Over 40 percent of pregnancies world–wide are actually unintended.The percentage is higher in developed than in undeveloped countries.
  • There is a strong correlation between "…female educational attainment and fertility". Engelman reports the following global data of number of children per woman (averages), based on information from W. Lutz:
    Women with no schooling, 4.5.
    Women who had at least one year of primary schooling, 3.
    Women completing at least one or two years of secondary school education, 1.9.
    Women having one or two years of advanced education, 1.7.
  • Family Planning. “Access to safe and reliable contraception has exploded since the mid-twentieth century”. It is estimated thst 55 percent of women who are heterosexually active are now using such contraceptive measures.
  • During the time of this spread of contraceptive methods, fertility fell sharply from a global mean of five chidren per woman to litle more than 2.5 in the recent decade.
  • In recent centuries women and their partners have responded to changes in the external environent (natural and economic). One example given is that in Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries “birthrates neatly tracked the price of grain crops with a roughly nine–month delay”.
  • An estimated 215 million women in 'developing' countries have “an unmet need for family planning”, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
  • In 2010, the Washingon based Futures Group made a study of 99 developing countries together with the USA, the most populous developed country in the world. The group concluded that if unmet need for contraception in these 100 countries was met (the 2005 population was 4.3 billion), this would produce a 2050 global population of 6.3 billion, instead of 6.7 billion as currently projected. Furher, this contraceptive intervention would lead to the global fertility at 2050 being reduced to 1.65 children per woman, which is well below replacement level, and that the fertility would continue to fall after 2050.
  • In some African and Asian countries, the desired number of children is six or seven but if women were able throughout their reproductive lives to choose when they did have a child “…they would end up wih fewer, possibly many fewer” children.
  • Malcolm Potts, a reproductive specialist, has found that in countries where women can choose their ' contraceptive options' and are supported by proper abortion services, total fertility rates are at or below replacement levels. We add that Potts has with Thomas Hyden written a very important book that should be widely read called “Sex and War. How biology explains warfare and terrorism and offers a path to a safer world”, Benbella books, 2008.
  • Again from the Guttmacher Institute. In over 73 countries for which there is data (countries that together provide 83 percent of global births), if women only became pregnant when they wanted to, global fertility rate would be reduced to 2.29 births per woman - i.e. slightly below the current global replacement fertility rate.

So the question arises, why have fertility rates in high fertility countries not dropped much further than they have done? Engelman gives four reasons, of which he says the most important is the second.

  1. Opposition to contraception from the Roman Catholic Church, together with the suspicion that some Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders have about contraception.
  2. “…a relative denigration in most cultures of concerns that lie principally in the sphere of women”. “Men are often anxious to produce a multitude of future heirs, soldiers, laborers, farmers and followers. Women tend to be stategically concerned with the survival and well–being of each of their children”.
  3. There is a conviction amongst neoclassical economists “that endless economic growth is possible and that it requires endless population growth”.

Engelman concludes that when these factors are taken into account, it is not surprising that governments are a long way from allocating the resources that were estimated to be necessary at the UN 1994 Cairo population conference to ensure women in developing countries had access to “decent family-planning services”. But it should not be as difficult as it seems to be to raise adequate finance, if you bear in mind that a few days of military activity world-wide costs as much as the amount of money that would need to be raised each year to achieve the required reduction of birth rates and thus to bring about the desired fall in global fertility rate. However, it is also important that more research is carried out and that policies must be based on human reproductive rights, avoiding coercion. And finally there is need of courage to stand up to “the religious, economic, and other cultural forces that promote population growth”.


The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) recognises that human population growth has created environmental problems that are threatening to overwhelm the planet. And in this report, it outlines the problems in four key areas and presents a comprehensive plan to help to deal with the problems, by making use of engineering solutions.
We are told the four key areas are:

  1. Food. The increase in the population (more mouths to feed) plus changes in diet will mean that food production must double by mid–century. In addition there is the uncertainty about the effects of climate change.
  2. Water. Increased demand for water will not only come from food production but also from growing demand for drinking water and industrial use. The situation is complicated by uncertainties over the effects of climate change on water systems.
  3. Urbanisation. It is estimated there will be three billion more urban area inhabitants by mid–century, with accompanying increase in severity of problems such as overcrowding, sanitation, waste disposal.
  4. Energy. By mid–century demand will more than double through economic growth and specific needs mentioned above. And there is already the need to alter energy production methods to secure a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And uncertainty about future climate change impacts makes securing adequate energy supplies more difficult.

The report sums up the situation and the role of engineers in dealing with problems as follows: “The provision of food, water and energy, together with comfortable, safe and secure shelter, critically underpin human development. However, their consumption at the scale implied by future population projections has the potential for massive degradation of our social fabric, natural resources and the environment. The challenge is how to apply engineering knowledge, expertise and skills around the world to help adapt for a future sustainable world” (our emphasis).

The first part of the main report outlines the chief features of population growth and the problems arising. Then the second part goes on to give details of the problems in each of the four key areas and outlines the engineering solutions that the IMechE proposes for dealing with these problems.

We now look in more detail at these two sections of the report.


Around the world “unprecedented” demographic changes are taking place, with massive population growth standing out in this regard. Global population growth, although slowing down, will continue for several more decades so that the population, 2.5 billion in 1950, is projected to increase to 9.5 billion later in the present century when population growth peaks. But the population changes are complex, so the IMechE commissioned population expert John Bongaarts to outline recent changes and provide projections for the rest of the century.

This section of the report is accompanied with some very clear graphs that illustrate key demographic features.
The graph of the total world population growth is S shaped, typical of the demographic transition – a transition from an agricultural society into an industrial one. Growth rate starts very slow, gradually accelerates then gradually decreases to zero. During this time, death rates rapidly decrease while birth rates do not usually decline until much later, allowing a massive growth in population (the transition is illustrated and explained in detail in the global section of our Population Trends page).

However, there are big differences between the different regions of the world. The transition is complete in present day industrial nations such as the United Kingdom (henceforth the UK). Most of these nations are in the northern hemisphere so collectively they are often dubbed 'the north'. Populations here are ageing.

In contrast, most countries in the southern hemisphere (dubbed 'the south') started the transition much later and have not yet completed the process (and we add that some observers doubt if some of the countries will ever complete the transition). Furthermore, in the middle of the transition when population growth is rapid, it has been much more rapid here than in 'the north'. This more rapid growth is attributed to the availability of antibiotics and immunisation causing a rapid decline in death rates, together with the lag in the decline in birth rates already mentioned. Populations here are very youthful, and most future population growth will be in these countries.

The report notes that accompanying the demographic transition, there has been a net movement of large numbers of people from the countryside to urban areas, a process termed 'urbanisation'. This has led to the development of some very large cities, so that already there are around 450 cities in the world with more than a million inhabitants. Indeed 20 cities (called 'mega cities') have populations of 10 million or over (eight with over 20 million!). We add, to visualize such large cities, note that Sheffield, a big city in terms of UK standards, only has a little over half a million residents.

This urbanisation proceeded relatively slowly in the 'north', whereas it has been very rapid in 'the south'. Clearly, the problems arising differ between these two groups of countries, and we all know about the massive shanty towns that are a typical feature of the outer areas of cities in the developing world: governments have found themselves overwhelmed by the massive influx of people (and we add, the corruption of officials has led to much money that could have been used for urban development being siphoned off into private bank accounts).

The demographic transition in 'the north', which started with the industrial revolution, has been accompanied by an enormous increase in wealth, often measured in terms of GDP. The standards of living of national populations have greatly increased, an increase that has of course been accompanied with a massive rise in consumption, not only total consumption, but consumption per capita. We add that these changes have been accompanied by the development of a significant gap between rich and poor. But this gap is nothing like as big as the gap that has developed in 'the south'.

Standards of living are expected to continue to rise in the future, with the most rapid growth in Asia and the slowest improvements in Europe and Japan. Asia was the poorest region in 1950 but has since seen exceptional growth, with GDP per capita expanding eight–fold in half a century. This rise out of poverty of the most populous region, now with rapidly expanding and increasingly affluent populations, implies an unprecedented increase in consumer demand for goods, energy, processed food, water, living space, leisure products and travel.

The problems in detail and proposed engineering solutions.

The report goes on to consider in detail four groups of problems arising from continued human population growth, food, water and energy supply, and the increasing concentration of populations in dense urban areas (urbanisation), together with engineering solutions to combat the problems.

We will here consider water supply first then deal with the other problems.


At the global level, agriculture is the largest user of water (70 per cent of all water use). But there is a large variation between regions of the globe, stemming from variation in the degree of industrialisation between countries, which is partly dependent upon the redistribution of manufacturing and other industrial activities from the North to the South. Industrial growth of countries has a significant impact on the abstraction of water for industry, from 10 per cent in undeveloped nations up to as much as 60 per cent in fully industrialised nations.

At the global level, water consumption is anticipated to rise by 30 per cent by 2030. And already numerous regions/countries, are suffering from water shortages. This does not mean however, that at present there is not enough fresh water available around the world to meet present day demands. The problem is more about the distribution of fresh water across the globe than the existence of a global water shortage. Thus fresh water availability varies widely from negligible in arid regions like the Sahel, to massive in tropical rainforest areas like the Amazon drainage area. Another example of variation concerns variation between different regions of a country. In China, while most rainfall occurs in the south of the country, urban centres are more developed in the north. So China initiated the South to North Water Transport Project. But most of the water transported is carried in canals and rivers, resulting in significant losses of water through evaporation, evaporation which will increase significantly according to global warming models. On top of all this, in northern China, aquifers – a major source of fresh water – are 90 per cent polluted already.

Engineering solutions are already playing a major part in supplying fresh water in high income countries; for example, desalination technology in oil–rich nations. But such technologies are often too expensive to be utilised in poor counties. Indeed there is a positive correlation between the percentage of population using improved drinking–water, and GDP.

Turning to poorer countries, Nigeria is typical of the newly developing world, in having its water usage dominated by agriculture. But the use of water has been inefficient and difficult to regulate, with the result that there has been significant depletion of the groundwater reserves. And the Nigerian government is not very active in dealing with water and other environmental issues.

Aquifers play a very important role in water supply in many areas of the globe. The report mentions a comprehensive plan for improving aquifer storage and efficient utilisation of aquifer water. This set of engineering solutions is illustrated by a diagram in the News Release for this report, which is self explanatory:

example of an engineering solution

However, the IMechE is careful to note the limitations on useful implementation of such a comprehensive solution: The actual implementation of the scheme is highly complex. And it is important to understand how the project affects ecosystems in the whole area before implementation. It is also necessary to deal with any geo–chemical reactions between the aquifer substrate and the highly oxygenated injection water. Finally, it is not clear if the project can combat the aquifer depletion that has been taking place in some regions, like North Africa. Further research is needed.


Mechanisation of food production, made possible by mechanical engineering is one of the great food success stories of the last 200 years, greatly improving the quantity and quality of food available, first in the 'north' and more recently in the 'south'. So claims the report. However, the report also notes that there are still about one billion people who are undernourished, mainly in the south, while obesity from over-consumption is becoming a health problem in some nations. And hunger is not necessarily because there is a technical limit to how much food can be produced globally; it can be caused by lack of access to food supplies caused by political and social problems.

But the global population will continue to grow rapidly, and in addition, in many developing countries, diets are changing, with a big increase in consumption of processed meats and vegetable oils and reduction in demand for grain crops (we add that production of meat takes much more land than the production of cereals and other food crops). Consequently global food demand is expected to almost double between 2000 and 2050. Yet in the industrialized north, we still waste a very large percentage of our food – around 25 per cent of food bought is thrown away!.

Engineering can continue to provide solutions to the problems of food production. Further, many engineering solutions needed already exist and are low–tech, and therefore very useful in developing countries where there is shortage of both money and technical expertise. This applies, for example, to dealing with the great loss of food after harvesting in developing countries. The report gives details of such losses for fruit, vegetables and root crops in percentages; for example 20 to 80 per cent loss for bananas, 10–25 per cent for cassava, 35–95 per cent for sweet potatoes. But the authors of the report also think that step changes in agricultural production will probably be made through the development of new methods, that will deal with food wastage and other problems to which engineers will make a considerable contribution.

For example, automation and robotics have the potential to lead to the production of machines that not only can operate through the whole 24 hours in all weathers, but can also be “communicating with each other, autonomous and never losing track of what they have done…powered with low–carbon emitting clean–energy sources” that would enable developing nations to bypass “the 'dirty' fossil fuel–based technologies of the 20th century”.


In the 21st century the vast majority of people will be living in urban areas. Indeed, it is thought that almost all of the global population increase to 2050 will occur in less–developed countries in their urban areas. The numbers of people involved are enormous: The global urban population is thought to increase from 3.3 billion in 2007 to 6.4 billion in 2050.

Now cities have a potential to be very efficient as far as the environmental impact of people is concerned. But there are factors that will seriously impede positive developments. First, the existing infrastructure in cities in the developing world is often inadequate for the present day population, let alone the much bigger population of the future. Second, many or most developing world cities are actually situated in areas susceptible to flooding; this susceptibility will be exacerbated by city enlargement. Then again, one anticipated effect of global warming is rising sea levels, and the report says that three–quarters of the world's large cities are by the coast, some of the largest ones in deltaic flood plains. On top of all this, many countries focus their attention on short term issues rather than considering the wider picture. And finally we have “deeply ingrained” cultures, that vary from place to place, and this must he taken into account when planning engineering solutions.

A basic principle for tackling the problems of urbanisation, or indeed any other group of problems, is to try to maximise the benefits from any investment. To this end, integrating different systems will create efficiencies. In other words, the emphasis should be on using a holistic approach.

An example concerns resource use and waste management. Engineering solutions can play an important part in responding to the pressures to make cities become more independent in the use of resources and waste reduction, pressures that will increase as cities expand. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has demonstrated that as far as utilising waste for energy production is concerned, the energy produced “by combustion, anaerobic digestion or other means can be a low–carbon energy source”.

However, in deciding on a method or methods for recovering energy from waste, possible solutions must be evaluated in the context of the totality of the country's waste energy systems, and also compared with the carbon intensity of the energy systems being replaced. Sometimes it will be more appropriate to recover energy from waste by collecting land–fill gas.

One major problem in large cities is transport connections. Here the report holds up China as an example of how technology can help to solve this problem. In China, city layout is often multipolar, where most inhabitants travel only locally. The nodes are increasingly being connected by high–speed rail systems that transcend municipal boundaries. For example Wuhan and Guangzhou are cities of around 10 million inhabitants. A high–speed rail link between these cities, opened in 2009, reducing the rail travel time between the cities from 10 to three hours.

One of the most common problems facing city authorities is how to deal with housing in vast slum areas. where a significant part of the total population of some countries live. The problem is much more severe in some countries than in others. It is severe, for example, in Nigeria, where slums house about 65 per cent of the total urban population. Developing a solution along the lines of a narrow technical solution does not work, as was shown with the city of Mumbai. Here subsidised housing was demolished and replaced with better housing. But lack of understanding of the important 'informal economy' in the city led to damage to that economy: The upheaval of the developments caused many people to be unable to continue in their jobs and social networks were destroyed by being dispersed, as happened with local small–scale family enterprises that characterized the slums.

A more holistic approach is needed. So before working out a design for slum improvement it is important to consider the local water supply, sanitation and energy situation, “with interventions targeted at each issue”. Interventions include the development of “innovative community infrastructure financing and ownership” systems.

Finally, considering engineering solutions to problems caused by increasing urbanisation, the report concludes that there are in fact usually very few technological barriers to finding solutions.


Energy underpins industrialised economies. Currently at about 12 billion tons of oil equivalent, demand is projected to rise to 17 billion tons by 2030. Most of this increase will occur in Asia, especially China and India. Beyond 2030, although demand will continue to increase, the extent of this increase becomes very uncertain. On the one hand, continued population growth and a global increase in standard of living could lead to continued massive increase in energy demand. On the other hand, global demand might level off in the second half of the present century through the implementation of different approaches to food production in Africa and, if economies in Asia reach a post–industrial phase similar to the situation in Europe, there will be a slow down in growth of energy needs in that region.

In both developed and developing countries, economic, environmental, political and social 'drivers' are likely to cause energy strategies to develop which encourage consumption to move downwards and reduce demand. Examples here of engineering solutions include 'energy management technologies' like 'intelligent' appliances and smart meters. Waste can also be reduced through better building insulation and more efficient use of heat. But in newly developing countries where many of the world's fast growing populations are found, these technologies need to be implemented from the start, so as to ensure these countries “leapfrog over the unsustainable failings of many of the wasteful energy solutions embedded in the infrastructure of mature industrialised nations such as the UK”.

Actually at present, the harmful environmental effects of energy consumption are largely attributable to by–products of fossil fuel combustion. The report states that such harmful effect will get much worse unless governments implement effective preventative measures.

The report is optimistic that engineers will be able to maintain adequate energy supplies by making use of already well understood technologies and technologies already in an advanced stage of development. And as for the use of fossil fuels, concerns over likely future climate change will lead to governments making a big effort to develop low-carbon alternatives such as non–fossil fuel–based technologies.

What needs to change

This is the final section of the report (before the acknowledgements and references).

The report asserts that engineers represented by professional engineering bodies like the IMechE have the skills to meet many of the challenges that will arise from continued human population growth. And, as mentioned earlier, problems can often be solved my making use of technologies already developed or that are very close to being shown to work.

So availability of technologies is not a major problem. And there is no need to delay action until some big technological advance occurs or a new idea on population control appears. Rather, governments world wide should give priority to using existing technologies.

The IMechE makes a series of proposals which we give here in list format.

  • Governments need to give high priority to the development and demonstration of currently available technologies.
  • There are several strands to the engineering industry and communication between these needs to be improved.
  • The engineering profession needs to make efforts to increase its understanding in areas that traditionally are not considered engineering activities. In particular, engineers need to know more about social aspects of interventions, increase communication with experts in these fields, and incorporate social issues in their designing of solutions.
  • At the same time, decision makers at government, regional and local level need to have access to the best engineering knowledge and engineering expertise.
  • Nations with engineering knowledge and expertise should share this with other nation that lack these things, just as is already happening in the field of medicine. The seconding of professional engineers for a set time period is one aspect of this.
  • On a larger scale, international cooperation should aim towards establishing appropriate international agreements and legislation.
  • In particular this international cooperation should focus on the needs of developing nations that can be met by developed nations, And as a corollary, 'economic market forces' should not be allowed to govern intervention.

And finally, to enable 'the south' to “leapfrog” the phase of development involving high emissions and other dirty practices “the Institution of Mechanical Engineers encourages the UK Government to take a lead on proposing and championing the Engineering Development Goals in the international community as the next step beyond the Millennium Development Goals”.

Press Release

Comment. We believe this report is important, not least because engineering solutions have not really been in the limelight when considering responding to continued human population growth. The engineering solutions of the IMechE will surely play an important part in solving the problems inherent in the continued growth of the human population, and we are pleased to see that the IMechE realises the significance of continued population growth. However, we think that engineering solutions alone will not be adequate to solve the problems. In this respect, an increasing number of organisations and individual professionals advocate the further spread of effective family planning services aimed at reducing future human population growth. We share in this advocacy.


We thank the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for allowing us to reproduce the aquifer diagram, and for supplying us with a high quality image of that diagram.


David Pimentel et al. “Will limited Land, Water, and Energy Control Human Population Numbers in the Future?”. Human Ecology, 10th August 2010.

This paper is by David Pimentel and colleagues at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA. Pimentel is a long established and much respected worker in the field of ecology.

“Because population growth cannot continue indefinitely, society can either voluntarily control its numbers or let forces such as disease, malnutrition, and other disasters limit human numbers”. This stark alternative is given in the first paragraph of the Introduction to this paper. Surprisingly, the authorities mentioned for this claim do not include Malthus.

We are told that the global human population is projected to double in about 58 years; almost 60% of the human population of the world is malnourished, and growth in the human population and pollution (by both disease organisms and chemicals) are causing a rapid increase in disease prevalence and mortality. So there is an urgent need to review the environmental situation. And the authors state that in this article they will suggest policies to deal with the situation, stemming from analyses of 'carrying capacity' (The maximum population of a given species that can be supported indefinitely in a given area, that is without permanently damaging the ecosystem on which it is dependent.).

I start by dealing with what the authors write about the factors mentioned in the title – water, land and energy.

“Population growth and consumption of resources” is the title of the first major section of the paper.

All basic resources, including the three mentioned in the title of the paper, are under pressure from continued population growth and high levels of consumption. With population, the situation in the U.S. and China are briefly covered. The population of the U.S. will double in the next 64 years, a rate almost double that of China, yet, China's population is still growing at an annual rate of 0.6%, despite the one child policy.

As for consumption, while Americans consume far more goods and services than Chinese, industrialised China emits more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than the U.S., mainly through its reliance on coal. And coming back to the title of the article, American affluence has been possible “because of fertile crop land, abundant water, and cheap fossil energy” and a table gives data on usage and availability per capita for the U.S, China and the world.

The next major section is entitled “Status of World Environmental Resources”.

As a background for this section the authors note that there are already shortages of fertile land, water and fossil energy in many regions of the world, so they think it is appropriate to ask: “Are we consuming too much?”

We are told that grain production provides more than 80 per cent of the world food, but that this production has not kept pace with population growth. And the serious need for more agricultural land is responsible for 60 to 70 per cent of current deforestation. Erosion rates of agricultural land are now “greater than ever”, humans having increased these rates at least ten times more than what is geologically normal, in some areas as high as a thousand times greater. And at the same time, renewal of top soil is very slow - about 500 years to produce 2.5 cm of top soil.

I now examine in turn each of the factors mentioned in the title of the paper – land, water and energy, then add a fourth factor that the authors also address, namely biological resources.

Land resources.

We are given some disturbing estimates, key ones of which I now link together as bullet points:

  • The annual loss of land across the globe to urbanization and highways (hence reducing the area of land available for food production and biological services) varies from 10 to 35 million hectares.
  • Available crop land per capita decreased from 0.5 ha in 1960 to O.22 ha now.
  • Grain production has not kept pace with population growth. If the area of grain land does not change from 2000 to 2050, the per capita value will shrink from 0.10 to 0.07 ha due to population growth. This is particularly important because 80 per cent of world food is grain.
  • 60 to 70 per cent of deforestation may be attributed, the authors claim, to the urgent need for more agricultural land.
  • Soil erosion seriously reduces productivity. Worldwide, soil erosion is 30-40 times faster than the replacement rate (it takes roughly 500 years for 2.5 cm of topsoil to form under agricultural conditions. By 2020, it is estimated that degradation of agricultural land by soil erosion and other factors will depress global food production by 15 to 30 per cent).

One thing that stands out for me is the causal interrelation of factors (although this is only partially explored by the authors). Need to increase food production for the growing world population leads to a) intensification of production and b), increase of land area for production.

Intensification of production leads to loss of soil and soil structure. This in turn leads to loss of organic matter and soil water holding capacity. And this leads to reduced food production on such lands, unless, as the authors observe, there is a great use of artificial fertilizer, requiring fossil fuel for production, which in turn leads to increasing dependency on limited fossil fuels (the global yield of grain yields 1961 to 2000 was partly caused by a 700% increase in fertilizer use and artificial fertilisers do not properly restore soil structure and the soil micro-organisms).

Increase of land area for production leads to deforestation, and with tropical forests, where the rain falls heavily, this flow is transformed into a slow fall at ground level by the vegetation. But when trees are cut down rain falls heavily on the soil, washing much soil and organic matter away; then if artificial fertilisers are used, the consequences are the same as already mentioned. With tropical forests, deforestation leads to reduction of global carbon dioxide sequestration. Increase of land for food production also leads to reduction in area of various semi-natural ecosystems that provide services for mankind. One fact mentioned in this section will come as a surprise to many people who will know that in a few regions of the world many people are heavily dependant on marine food (fish etc.). In fact “more than 99% of human food (calories) in the world is derived from the terrestrial environment”.

Water Resources.

Rapid population growth and increased total water consumption have lead to water supplies in many regions being depleted to critical levels, and pollution by sewage and chemicals has often serious damaged water quality. “All vegetation requires and transpires massive amounts of water during the growing season”” and “Agriculture uses more water than any other activity on the planet”.

Following the same practice I adopted with land resources, here are some disturbing facts:

  • From 1950 to 1995, per capita fresh water availability worldwide declined by roughly 70%.
  • 70% of all water removed by man is used only for irrigation, and about two–thirds of this is not recoverable as it is used by plant life.
  • While for the current world population, the total global water made available would be sufficient if it was spread around according to need, in fact both water resources and population densities are very unevenly spread across the globe, so that currently in nearly 80 nations, demand for water greatly exceeds supplies. For example, in China, over 300 cities experience inadequate water supplies.
  • The prospects for future agriculture in arid regions where both yearly rainfall is low (and I add often erratic) and irrigation is expensive are grim, and already there have been political conflicts between “water starved nations”.
  • Groundwater supplies in many areas are being depleted faster than they are being replenished. We are given a few examples. First, the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Irrigation led here to groundwater levels falling 25–30 metres in the 1970s. Second, in China , groundwater falls at a rate of about 1 metre per year in Beijing , in Tianjin 4.4 metres per year. Third. In the USA, aquifer overdraft, on average, exceeds replacement rate by 25%.
  • Desalinisation of ocean water, as a major measure to ensure adequate water supplies is economically impractical – the costs are far too high.
  • Pollution is a serious problem in many places. While even in the United States which has comparatively good water regulation, there has been considerable water pollution. For example, in the early nineties it was found that 40% of lakes were unfit for swimming. But in many developing countries where water regulations either do not even exist or are not enforced, up to 95% of untreated sewage is poured directly into surface waters. And downstream, it is this water that is routinely used for all purposes, including washing clothes and drinking. I add that polluted water often causes eutrophication, damaging ecosystems (eutrophication occurs when excessive nutrient supplies stimulate rapid plant growth such as algal blooms, although it is a process that occurs naturally in ageing lakes and ponds).
  • Pesticides, and fertilizers and some 100,000 different chemicals on reaching bodies of water add to the problem, as does the washing away of soil particles.
  • Some new technologies and some management practices can improve the situation, “there are economic and biophysical limits to their use and implementation”.

Energy Resources

A basic fact. Roughly 473 quads from all energy sources are used yearly world wide (1 quad = 10 to the fifteenth BTU or 1,055 times 10 to the eighteenth Joules).

  • “Increasing energy expenditure is caused by rapid population growth, urbanisation, and high resource consumption rates”. Per capita figures for the U.S. China and the World illustrate this in terms of fossil fuel oil equivalents in litres. U.S. – 9,500; China 700; World 2,100.
  • Increased energy use contributes to the degradation of the environment.
  • Energy use has been growing even faster than world population (I add this is through growing per capita consumption, now including growing consumption by the massively expanding middle classes of India and China). Looking just at the short period 1970 to 1995, energy use increased at a rate of 2.5% (but doubling every 28 years at that rate), world population by only 1.7 per cent (doubling every 42 years). It is projected that energy use will increase at a rate of 2.2%, population growth at 1.2% (but the time period involved is not stated).
  • Solar energy is an important energy source. But its contribution to energy supplies must no be exaggerated. In the U.S. the population uses “70% more fossil energy than all the solar energy captured by harvested U.S. crops, forest products, and other vegetation each year”.
  • 'Developing nations' use only 30% of fossil energy, yet they have about 75% of the total world population.
  • Some developing nations with high population growth rates use fossil fuel to increase their agricultural production. In China, use of fossil fuel for fertilizer and pesticide manufacture and for irrigation has increased 100–fold since 1955, yet fertilizer production globally has decreased 22% since 1991, especially in developing countries because of shortages and high prices. We are told that globally, proven reserves of oil and natural gas have been declining as has production rate.
  • Global oil production globally has already peaked and projections suggest reserves will only last a further 40 years.
  • Only about one third of the potential energy in fuel (chemical or nuclear) is used for useful work, the other two thirds are converted into heat.
  • In terms of energy requirements, various studies suggest(presumably for the situation where per capita food use is moderate) that the optimum global human population would be around 2 billion people, and the current population is nearly seven billion.

Biological Resources

Mankind requires the proper functioning of ecosystems, and depends upon 15 million other species. In addition to providing food, these species carry out a variety of vital functions:

  • Pollinating crops and wild plants.
  • Recycling manure and other organic wastes.
  • Degrading chemical pollutants.
  • Purifying water and soil
  • Providing some medicines.

Unfortunately “humans…have no synthetic substitutes for such ecosystem services”.

Although this section of the paper is headed 'biological resources', it goes on to deal with the adverse effects of many organisms.

Some insects, pathogens (fungi, etc.) and weeds destroy crops – worldwide roughly 37% of all potential crop production is destroyed yearly, this despite the use of 3 million tons of pesticides (and herbicides).

In this main section, there are also two other sub-sections – on food production and on resources and human diseases. As the food production section focuses on ways to improve the environmental situation, I will leave this to when I consider that topic later.

Resources and Human Diseases.

Human populations living in polluted areas are liable to infection by diseases such as tuberculosis and parasitic worms. Diseases, together with malnutrition, are estimated to cause 18 million of the world's annual 59 million deaths.
Of the diseases occurring in developing world, about 90% are the result of lack of clean water. Intestinal parasites make people weaker and more susceptible to other diseases such as AIDS.

The final major section of the paper apart from the conclusions is headed:
““Transition to an Optimum Population with Appropriate Technologies”.
Here the authors consider ways to ameliorate the bad environmental situation including attempts to reduce the human population to the carrying capacity population, which the authors term the 'optimum population'. Since some such measures were already mentioned in earlier sections of the paper, I combine these in the present account.

The authors think the optimum population of the world is about 2 million. This, they say is based on two things, “…a European standard of living for everyone and sustainable use of natural resources”.

To achieve the optimum population would require various things to be done. First, it would be necessary to adopt world wide a population policy (to achieve a reduction of global population size). Then the authors suggest one aim would be to ensure the same per capita amount of crop land as existed in the 1960s (0.5 ha), and other aims would be to develop ““an intense agricultural production system” (about 8 million kcal/ha) and “a diverse plant and animal diet”. We are told this diet should be a diet that is “a primarily plant – based Mediterranean diet of minimally processed foods and seasonal and locally produced foods”, and it is noted that reducing calorie intake would improve health.
Also, “…approximately 1.5 ha of land would be required per capita for a renewable energy system”, and “1 ha each for forest and pasture production per capita”.

Various other specific measures to improve the present situation are mentioned. Here are a few of the ones mentioned.

(i) To combat soil erosion, the adoption of conservation techniques such as “biomass mulches, no–till, ridge–till, terracing, cover crops, grass strips, crop rotations, or combinations of all of these”. Of course, all of these have been adopted in various parts of the world already.
(ii) Most livestock manure is not produced on farms. Transporting livestock manure even quite small distances causes chemical changes resulting in a large loss of nitrogen energy. So grass-fed livestock must be managed on farms.
(iii) Pesticides cause a great deal of damage to the environment. But “the implementation of sound ecological pest controls, such as crop rotations and biocontrols” could cut pesticides needed by at least 50%.
(iv) “Research on ways to convert solar energy into usable energy… and to develop other new power sources will have to be given a much higher priority”.

All this is very well, but the problems are enormous.

First, and I think foremost, would be to persuade people and governments the world over to adopt an adequate population policy. Remembering that the global population is still increasing massively, we are told that a policy of two children per couple would only achieve the global population stabilizing at 13 million in after more than a hundred years. It would be necessary to adopt a one-child policy if the aim was to reduce world population from the present 6.8 billion to about 2 billion in a little over 100 years.

We could improve production in the vast areas of nutrient – poor soils by large input of fossil fuel based fertilizers. But global oil production has peaked, and obtaining fossil fuels is becoming more expensive as already mentioned. While such fertilisers increase soil nitrogen, they contribute to soil damage as well.

Then there is the problem of global warming. The authors claim that “Efforts underway to reduce the CO2 emissions have been to date unsuccessful. A 1% increase in the population results in a 1% increase in carbon dioxide emissions”.

And so on.

How then do the authors assess the situation in their “Conclusions” ?

They say that “With a concerted effort, fundamental obligations to ensure the well – being of future generations can be attained within the twenty – first century”.


“The World's Human population cannot continue to increase indefinitely”. “Natural resources are critically limited…” “…natural forces are already starting to control human population numbers…”.

Already in 1994, “Fifty-eight academies of science in the world (I add including our own Royal Society) warned that “Humanity is approaching a crisis point with respect to the interlocking issues” of population, natural resources, and sustainability”.

Pimentel et al. conclude that “most individuals and government leaders appear unaware, unwilling, or unable to deal with the growing imbalances between human population numbers and the energy and environmental resources that support all life”.

Taking a historical perspective, the authors also write that in the past, “…decisions to protect the environment have been based on isolated crises and catastrophes. Instead they should be made after “examining the problem in a holistic, proactive manner…”.

Based on past experience the authors conclude that the approach they advocate, relating essentially to carrying capacity, may not be addressed until “ the situation becomes intolerable or, possibly, irreversible”.

I am reminded of the repeated warnings of James Lovelock that the whole planet may fairly suddenly move from its present equilibrium state to another, much hotter state, making life impossible for the majority of the human population. See our review of his book “The revenge of Gaia” on the Book Reviews page of our web site, and his most recent book “A final warning. The vanishing face of Gaia”, a book that has the Foreword written by Sir Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Professor of Cosmology at Oxford University. See also our 2007 essay: “Population growth and environmental deterioration. Are things finally coming together for mankind's doom?” accessed from the Analysis section of our Comment and Analysis page.

Copyright © John Barker


“Balanced Migration”. MigrationWatch. UK

The Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration of the House of Commons, UK parliament, asked MigrationWatch UK “to prepare some constructive proposals” on the subject of balanced migration that could form “a basis for a sensible debate”. Migration Watch did so and the proposals were published by both MigrationWatch and the Cross-Party Group in September 2008. We strongly recommend this report and urge our readers to study it carefully. And we would much appreciate any comments that people might care to make to us about the report. We give here the Executive Summary of the Report. The full report may be accessed using the link we provide at the end.

Executive Summary

• According to Government statistics, one immigrant arrives every minute, and a new British passport is issued every three minutes. In England, a new home for immigrants needs to be built every six minutes; this will continue for the next 20 years.

• Over the last ten years, almost three quarters of a million British people have left the UK and nearly 2.5 million immigrants have arrived. This rate of inflow is 25 times higher than any previous period of immigration since the Norman Conquest in 1066.

• Contrary to public perceptions, most immigrants come from outside the European Union and asylum seekers are relatively few in number. In 2006, for example, only one third of foreign migrants were from the EU; and only 3% were successful asylum seekers.

• Thanks largely to the scale of immigration, England will soon become the most crowded country in Europe.

• The Government’s own figures show that the annual benefit of immigration to individuals in Britain is about 62 pence per head per week.

• Looking ahead, Government projections show that immigration will add about seven million to the population of England by 2031 – equivalent to seven cities the size of Birmingham.

• The centrepiece of the Government’s major reform of immigration is their Points Based System for work permits. However, this does not limit numbers.

• We propose that there should be a limit – not on the number of people who come to work here, but on those permitted to live here permanently.

• This would be a major step towards bringing down the number of immigrants who are given permission to settle here to approximately the number of British citizens who are emigrating. That is what we mean by Balanced Migration.

Balanced Migration would:

• Stabilise the population of the UK at about 65 million by mid-century (compared to 78.6 million now projected).

• Greatly reduce the pressures on our public services, infrastructure, environment and our society.

• Enable our economy to remain competitive.

• Encourage British firms to train British workers to address long term skills shortages.

• Greatly improve the prospects for integrating newcomers to our society.

• Reduce the drain of talented people from developing countries which need them more than we do.

End of Summary

Intellectual copyright remains the property of MigrationWatch UK ©2001 MigrationWatch UK. All rights reserved.


C.F. Westoff (2010). “Desired number of children: 2000–2008”

DHS Comparative Reports no. 25. USAID.

The world is facing a massive future growth in its human population, projected to be from 6.7 billion in 2007 to 9.2 billion in 2050. World food and fresh water supplies are already under strain from the existing population.

Most future population growth will be in the so–called 'developing' countries. It is therefore important to find ways to reduce future population growth in these countries. In the absence of effective coercion, what is important is the attitude of the general population to birth control. So any study of the desired number of children is to be welcomed.

The summary which opens this report explains that the purpose of the report is a review of reproductive preferences in 60 countries based on surveys carried out between 1998 and 2008. These countries are divided into five regional groups: Western and middle sub–Saharan Africa, southern and east Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, and North Africa.

In fact some of the surveys used were carried out well before 1998. Collectively, we comment, the surveys used reveal an unfortunate feature that bedevils so much work on demographic trends, namely paucity of data. Many of the surveys only consider the first six years of the present century. Then at one extreme you have surveys like that for Turkey (three surveys covering the period 1993 to 2003), and at the other extreme, surveys that cover a much longer period, for example Egypt (five surveys from 1988 to 2005). Bearing in mind that preferences have changed over the years as we will see later, this limits the possibility of drawing conclusions comparing countries.

The summary mentions the measures of reproductive preferences used: “the number of children considered ideal, the proportion of women who want no more children, the planning status of recent births, and the Wanted Total Fertility Rate”.

In our account of this report we will briefly consider each chapter in turn.

Chapter 1. Introduction

This states “the main objective is to record the most recent estimates of reproductive preferences for a large number of developing countries and to describe trends in different measures of preferences for the growing number of countries that have conducted more than one survey”.

Chapter 2. Ideal Number of Children and Reproductive Intentions

Here the data is tabulated in table 2.1. We note that there are minor discrepancies in ideal number between the figures given in the text and the figures in the table. Text-table figures for India are 2 – 2.1, Pakistan 4 – 4.1 and most noticeably Ghana, 4.8 – 4.6.

The chapter notes that the number of children desired is declining in most of the developing world with the exception of some countries in western and middle sub-Saharan Africa. In that region, desired numbers vary from 2.8 in Cape Verdi and 4.6 in Ghana to 9.2 in Chad and 9.1 in Niger. In Nigeria (the most populous country in Africa), the value is 6.7.

Here are the mean desired numbers for the different regions as defined in this study, in order of descending desired number:

Western and middle sub–Saharan Africa : 6.0
Southern and east Africa : 4.5
Latin America and the Caribbean : 3.0
Asia : 2.9
North Africa : 2.9

The western and middle sub-Saharan region easily stands out as the region where there is the desire for the largest number of children. We will again and again in later chapters see how this one region stands out from other regions. But we also note that the rest of sub–Saharan Africa also has large family preferences.

Chapter 3. Trends in Reproductive Preferences

Trends in the average ideal number of children were considered, the data summarised in figure 3.1. The focus was women under 25 years of age who have not yet married, very few of whom have had children, because number of children desired is influenced by the existing number of children.

As with the basic data on ideal numbers given in the previous chapter, there is the difficulty of comparability, because the time period involved (close or further from the present time) and both the number of years in the time period and the number of years in which surveys were made, varied between countries. For example, with Indonesia, there was a long time period, 1987 to 2007, with surveys for these years and four intervening years. With Nicaragua, the period was 1998 to 2001, with surveys just for these two years. Very few countries had time periods reaching up to 2008. Nevertheless for most countries the time period involved was ten or more years, mainly 14 or more years. Notwithstanding this difficulty of comparability, the figures for most countries show a decline in ideal number over the years.

The picture is mixed in western and middle Africa with declines predominating but a modest increase in Chad and Niger. In most of the countries of eastern and southern Africa, there is a continuing downward trend in the ideal number, but a slight increase in Eritrea. There were declines in most of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, but a slight increase in Nicaragua. There was also decline in Morocco and Egypt (the only two North African countries in the sample). And finally, in Asia, there were declines in most countries, although Pakistan and Turkey both showed a modest increase.

This chapter goes on to consider possible trends in the proportion of women who, having already had children, then want no more children. The data is summarised in figure 3.2.

In most of the countries in Asia and North Africa, there was a clear trend toward wanting no more children. Most of the Latin American countries had already reached high levels of intention to avoid further childbearing prior to the surveys. In southern and eastern Africa, an increase in the proportion of women who want no more children was evident in most of the countries, especially in Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Once again, trends in west and middle sub–Saharan countries were mixed. A trend towards wanting no more children was clear for Ghana, Cameroon and Togo, less clear for Benin, Guinea and Nigeria. There seemed to be no trend in Mali and Chad. The report says there was no trend towards wanting no more children in Niger, which seems contradicted by the data in the table.

Chapter 4. Planning of Recent Births and Wanted Fertility Rates

Another measure of reproductive preferences is the prevalence of births reported as unwanted, and this is the first subject dealt with in chapter 4, with the data summarised in table 4.1.

Generally, the prevalence of unwanted births in Latin America and the Caribbean was appreciably higher (mean 24 per cent) than in Asia and North Africa and higher than in most of the sub–Saharan African countries also. The lowest levels of unwanted births were in west and middle African countries, (a mean of 6 per cent). There was much more variability in the levels of unwanted births in eastern and southern African countries, with the highest levels in Swaziland (37 per cent) and Lesotho (38 per cent), and Westoff comments these two countries have very high levels of HIV/AIDS.

Once again, the west and middle sub-Saharan region stands out.

Wanted Total Fertility Rates (WTFR) and the actual Total Fertility Rates (TFR) were also studied.

The WTFRs were lowest in the Asia and North Africa regions (the highest level was Pakistan at 3.1) with more than half of the surveyed countries showing rates below that needed for population replacement. The WTFRs in Latin America and the Caribbean were mainly grouped around replacement level, but usually much lower than actual fertility rates. The two regions with the highest wanted rates are the two sub–Saharan regions, with several having rates over 5.

Finally, the proportion of unwanted births in the TFR (the difference between the TFR and the WTFR divided by the TFR) was studied. Here the different regions may be arranged in order from the highest to the lowest percentage of unwanted births:

Asia, North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean (nearly a third of countries are 30 per cent or over);
Eastern and southern Africa (only two out of fifteen countries were over 30 per cent, most countries were between 13 and 29 per cent);
Western and Middle Africa (most countries between eight and fifteen percent, highest 17 per cent).

Chapter 5. Trends in Wanted, Unwanted and Total Fertility Rates

Generally in Asia, North Africa and the Latin American – Caribbean regions there was a downward trend, sometimes quite considerable. In Egypt WTFR declined from 3.6 in 1988 to 2.9 in 2000 then to 2.4 in 2008. Pakistan showed the highest values for WTFR: 4.3 in 1990/91 and 3.1 in 2006/07. In southern and eastern Africa, about half of the countries show clear declines in wanted fertility. In western and middle Africa, there is a more mixed pattern of change. While there are a few countries that show declines in wanted fertility (for example, Ghana, 5.3 to 3.5) there was little or no change with most countries.

The wanted and unwanted fertilities are the components of the total fertilities. In most of the countries in the different regions, the TFR declined primarily because of the decrease in wanted fertility. For example, take Egypt over a twenty year span. There the TFR declined by 1.7 births per woman. Most of this decline – 1.2 – was in wanted fertility while the remaining 0.5 decline was in unwanted fertility. Pakistan stands out as different. There the small 0.8 decline in the TFR included an increase of 0.4 in unwanted fertility.

Chapter 6. Men's Reproductive Preferences

So far the analyses have concerned women's preferences. But data is available for men's preferences in many countries, mainly in sub–Saharan regions which we now consider.

Men have a higher desired number of children than women, the only exception being Rwanda.

In these sub–Saharan regions, the average number of children considered ideal by married men was 7.8 for countries in west and middle Africa, which contrast sharply with the average of 4.9 in southern and eastern Africa. With married men who want no more children a similar difference was found between these two regions.

Is the desired number declining in these sub–Saharan regions? The answer given is:
“Although the number of children desired by men is declining in some of the sub–Saharan African countries… there are numerous exceptions”. Ghana and Kenya are specifically mentioned as exceptions (Ghana showed an increase 1998 to 2008 from 4.3 to 5.1 and Kenya showed an increase 1998 to 2003 from 4.3 to 4.8).

The picture with the proportion of married men who want no more children is similar.

Chapter 7. The Influence of Education and Development

It has usually been found by various workers that the level of education is correlated with the proportion of women who want no more children – the higher the degree of education, the higher the percentage of women who want no more children. So as women become more educated, the proportion who want no more children increases.

But what happens in those countries with a high percentage of women who have had no formal education?

The Sub–Saharan regions are particularly relevant to trying to answer this question, since in these regions there is a wide range in the proportion of women with no formal schooling – from almost zero to 85 per cent!

Upward trends in the proportion of women with no education who want to cease childbearing were found in about a third of the 25 countries. This trend was particularly marked in eastern and southern Africa. If however women with some primary or with secondary or higher education were considered in these 25 countries, the trend increased to about half. Clearly, education is not the only factor influencing desire to limit childbearing.

Far fewer countries elsewhere in the other regions had such high percentages of women with no or only very limited education; in fact there were only 12 countries with a sufficient number of women with no education for proper tests to be carried out. But even here, there was clear evidence that the proportion of women with no education who want no more children had risen appreciably in virtually all of these countries.

But in contrast to sub–Saharan countries, for women with primary or secondary and higher education levels, the proportion of women who want no more children showed little change.

Speculating on the causes of increasing trends to use contraception by women with no or poor education, it was concluded there are several possible factors. Women who live in communities where most women have some education, may be influenced by the media. Family planning programmes may also play a role. Other factors may include “urban residence, religion, declining child mortality, changes in the status of women and improvements in income and wealth”. That is quite an array of possible causes!

Chapter 8. Reproductive Preferences and Unmet Need

Levels of unmet need to reduce number of children produced varied greatly between populations. As one might expect, low levels of unmet need are typically associated with populations where women are both mainly already using contraception and also have already mainly achieved low fertility. However, what stands out are the exceptions to this association between unmet need and use of contraception. The report here mentions five countries – Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, and Mozambique where the WTFR ranges from 5.1 to 6.8.

The obvious hypothesis is that women in these countries not only have high fertility, but also want it. Clearly however, this situation requires further investigation into the forces supporting high fertility preferences. And to do this a multivariate analysis was carried out of those factors that were thought to be relevant.

The conclusion of this analysis was that “…the main determinants of a large desired number of children that are generally consistent across all five countries are experience with child mortality, low education, Muslim affiliation, lack of exposure to mass media, and low women's empowerment” (actually with Muslim affiliation comparison was only possible in four of the five countries). Age at marriage, which might have been expected to have a negative effect on number of children desired, was only significant in three of the five countries.

Since many of the women in these five countries had never used contraception, the analysis was extended to consider particularly such women. Here the findings were:

  • Younger women and women who married when they were in the older age groups had the strongest likelihood of intention to use contraception.
  • The number of living children was positively associated with intention to use some method of contraception.
  • The number of child deaths was also positively associated with intention to use some method of contraception.
  • There was a negative correlation between number of children desired and intended use of contraception.
  • Women with some, compared with women with no education, are more likely to intend to use contraception.
  • Muslim women are less than half as likely to intend to use contraception than non–Muslim women.
  • Exposure to the media (radio, television, including family planning items) was positively associated with intention to use contraception.

Chapter 9. Summary and Conclusions

The thing that stands out most for us from this summary chapter, is the contrast between countries in western and middle Africa and countries in the rest of the world:

  • It is in these western and middle African countries that the number of children desired or considered ideal remains highest.
  • While in most countries elsewhere there is a clear trend toward wanting no more children, the trends are “mixed” in the western and middle African region.
  • The Latin America and the Caribbean regions have the highest prevalence of unwanted births, the western and middle Africa region the lowest.
  • Asia and North Africa have the lowest wanted TFRs, with over half the countries having a wanted rate below replacement level. In contrast, seven out of the seventeen countries in the western and middle African region had WTFRs above 5.0.
  • Considering male as distinct from female preferences for number of children desired, the pattern of variation across countries is similar in the two sexes, but the highest values were found in western and middle African countries.

There are two other major conclusions mentioned in this chapter. The first concerns those countries that have both low unmet need and very low contraceptive prevalence. The analysis of possible causal factors showed “The strongest predictors are the Muslim – non–Muslim distinction, low education and experience with child mortality. Mass media exposure is also relevant”.

The second remaining conclusion conveys a ray of hope: “There is evidence that in about one–third of the sub–Saharan African countries studied the proportion of uneducated women who do not want any more children is increasing. In some of the Asian countries, this trend among the uneducated sector of the population is very evident”.

Postscript. We heard about this paper from William N. Ryerson, President, Population Media Center and Population Institute, USA.

David Coleman. (2009). “Divergent Patterns in the Ethnic Transformation of Societies”.

Population and Development Review 35(3): 449–478.

David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, begins his paper by noting that “developed–country populations that began their fertility transitions relatively early are becoming increasingly diverse with respect to the ancestry, ethnic origins, and religions of their inhabitants. This is primarily a result of high levels of immigration, particularly migration from the less developed countries”.

When Coleman here refers to developed–country populations becoming increasingly diverse, he is referring to the large increase in populations of ethnic and religious minorities in Western industrialized nations (Europe and North America) since the Second World War, an increase that is continuing. He goes on to raise the two questions that are the subjects of this paper: What might the social economic and political consequences of this increasing diversity be, and is this increasing diversity so inevitable that it will also take place across the rest of the world?

As we will see, the answer to the first question is very complicated, but one key determining factor is the extent that immigrant populations retain their existing sense of identity and loyalty to countries of origin. As for the second question, Coleman's eventual conclusion is that the transformation is not inevitable elsewhere in the world; most countries will probably experience much less ethnic and religious transformation and so "may retain their traditional ethnic and religious population composition".

We will begin our exploration of Coleman's paper by examining the quotation given above.

When Coleman refers to 'fertility transitions', he is referring to essential components of what are termed demographic transitions. For a general description of these transitions see the global section of our Population Trends page.

The first demographic transition is the transformation that occurred in currently developed countries between the mid–eighteenth and the late twentieth centuries, when largely rural agrarian societies were transformed into predominantly urban industrial societies. In these countries, both fertility and mortality rates fell; but in general mortality rates fell in advance of a decline in fertility rates, allowing massive population growth, growth that only finally eased off after fertility rates declined.

Subsequently, in what is termed the second demographic transition, fertility rates fell further to below replacement level, this change accompanied by, and partly caused by various social changes such as increased secularization, increasing numbers of young people enrolled in secondary and tertiary education, and the growing emancipation and labour participation of women. During the second demographic transition population growth slowed further, and with the ending of population momentum, natural increase approached zero (and has even become negative in some countries). Populations aged, with the potential support ratio gradually falling to around 4, Note that the two transitions just described are in fact two parts of one continuous process. For the meaning of some of the above technical terms see the following box.

Population growth is caused by natural increase (excess of births over deaths) and, where it occurs, net immigration (gross immigration exceeding gross emigration). Now in the absence of net immigration, one might think that when fertility rates fall to replacement level, natural increase would therefore immediately cease. It does not, and did not in presently developed countries. To understand why, it is first necessary to be clear what we mean by fertility rate, and here we are referring to the Total Fertility Rate (TFR ). This is the number of children that would be born to a woman if current patterns of childbearing persisted throughout her childbearing years.

Obviously the number of babies produced in a population does not just depend on fertility rate, but on the number of women in the childbearing age groups!

Consider two imaginary populations, A and B with the same fertility rate but A has a larger proportion of its population in the child–bearing ages. Obviously more babies will be produced in A than in B, despite the two populations having the same fertility rate.

'Population Pyramids', illustrated below, help one to understand demographic transitions. In the early years of the transitions populations are very youthful, so the pyramids are dominated by the young age groups (left hand graph).
Then as populations begin to pass through the transitions, what had been the young age groups become the working age groups (middle graph), producing a bulge in the population pyramid. These working age groups are also the reproductive age groups so there is then a relatively large number of females with the potential to reproduce. So even with fertility rates falling to below replacement level, natural increase still continues (at a reduced rate). This phenomenon is given the name of population momentum. In the last stages of the transitions, the older, post-retirement age groups together become increasingly large compared with working age groups (right hand graph), creating concern for economists and others about the ability of the working age groups to support the elderly population. In studying this changing population balance, use is made by analysts of the potential support ratio , that is the number of persons aged 15–64 divided by the number of persons aged 65 and older).

Finally, what is replacement fertility level/rate? In developed countries this is roughly 2.1, the fertility rate that will ensure that each woman will be replaced by one daughter in the next generation (it is only women that add the males as well as the females to the population!). It is a little over two rather than two because, first, slightly fewer girls are born than boys, and second, some baby girls do not survive to reproduce.

Age Pyramids
Early Intermediate Late
young intermediate old
Graphs taken from “the demographic Dividend” article, Analysis section, Comment and Analysis page


How does the migration mentioned in the above quotation come in? Well the demographic transitions were accompanied by economic growth, countries becoming richer (per capita Gross Domestic Product is often used as a measure of this). This economic growth was accompanied by an increasing demand for workers. This in turn was a magnet for migration of people from so–called 'developing' countries where the general standard of living was very low. Later population ageing promoted concerns that the existing working age population may not in future be adequate to support the post–retirement population, and this added to the potential for immigration. Immigration was also taking place as a result of conflict in sending countries and the simple fact that the high standard of living in developed countries was a magnet attracting people from poorer countries. The consequence was that since the Second World War there has been massive immigration into Western developed countries. In most of these countries, however, despite all this immigration – and immigration in recent times has been the main cause of population growth – population growth rates continue to decline.

Now the ethnic and religious compositions of immigration streams differ from the compositions in host countries. The majority of host countries were dominated by White ethnic groups with a Christian tradition. Contrast for example, the major post Second World War immigration streams to the UK, that is West Indians, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, all of which largely differed from the host population in either ethnicity or both ethnicity and religion. Massive immigration into developed countries continues for the most part (Japan being an exception), and hence host populations “are becoming increasingly diverse with respect to the ancestry, ethnic origins, and religions of their inhabitants”.

This massive ethnic diversification in the second half of the 2Oth century and the present century may be contrasted with what happened in the first half of the 20th century, where ethnic diversity actually decreased in many developed countries. This was partly due to the dismemberment of multi–ethnic empires after the First World War, but here “overall the effect was of ethnic simplification, albeit within more constricted national boundaries”.
Later (during the Second World War), most of the European Jewish population was eliminated, and gypsy and other minorities were severely reduced. After the war the forced removal of many millions of ethnic Germans from Mitteleuropa and later the creation of opportunities for Germans in Eastern Europe to move to Germany, also decreased national ethnic diversity.

A note here on the stability of ethnic classification.

So far we have referred to ethnic groups as if the existing ethnic classification was immutable, but it is not. In Western countries there are increasing numbers of people who are of mixed origin. These include persons with one parent already of mixed origin. So new ethnic categories are being created. And it has been projected that in the UK the mixed populations will increase from 1.1 per cent in 2001 to 5 per cent mid–century to become collectively the largest ethnic minority group. Eventually the situation could arise where it is difficult to categorize people in simple ethnic terms and ethnic roots become less important to people as a category of identification.

Differences between developed and developing nations

What is the situation at present in terms of differences between developed and developing nations? And what do projections tell us about the future? Unfortunately, concrete data on ethnic composition of migration streams is very limited. Coleman therefore makes use of indirect measures of ethnic and religious change, namely the percentages of immigrant and foreign origin persons in populations.

Coleman gives the following estimates for the changes between 1960 and 2005 in the percentage of migrants within populations:

Whole world: 2.5 to 3.0.
More Developed Regions: 3.4 to 9.5.
Less Developed Regions: 2.1 to 1.4.
There has clearly been a marked difference between developed and less developed regions of the world: a massive increase in the percentage of immigrants in the developed world compared with a fall in less developed regions overall.

As far as the future is concerned, Coleman gives graphs of projections made for the growth between 2000 and 2050 of immigrant or foreign origin populations in seven developed countries in the West (United States, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Austria, Denmark and The Netherlands). In all these countries there has been an almost linear growth in these populations, and by mid–century between 15 to 30 per cent of the total population of these countries is expected to be of first– or second–generation immigrant origin. Within the foreign–origin populations the proportion of persons with non–European backgrounds increases from about half to roughly two thirds or up to 20 per cent of the total population by mid–century.

Coleman does not give any projections for change in developing countries, presumably because data is even scantier than with developed nations.

Causes of future change

Changes in ethnic and religious population composition will depend on the fertility rates and migration trends of the different ethnic and religious groups. For Coleman, fertility is likely to be the minor player here. He notes that for Europe, if we lump all ethnic minorities together, ethnic minority or foreign origin fertility rates are not now particularly high. He gives France as an example: For 1991–98 he reports a foreign origin value of 2.16 compared with 1.7 for women born in France. He also notes that most projections assume that fertility rates of ethnic groups will eventually converge to or near the national averages.

If we accept that the main force driving ethnic change in future will be migration, we need to examine the various possible causes of change in migration trends.

Factors influencing future migration trends

We will classify these under the headings demographic and economic, political, and environmental.

Demographic and economic factors.

Here the benchmark (although Coleman does not use this term) is the demographic transitions in industrialized countries of the West with concomitant economic growth and immigration, and increasing ethnic and religious diversification of national populations as explained earlier.

Now developing countries are generally considered to be going through the demographic transitions, so the question arises – considering just demographic and economic factors, are developing countries likely to experience a similar degree of diversification to that experienced in developed countries?

Key questions here are: (1). To what extent do these countries complete their demographic transitions and experience concomitant economic growth making them rich countries. For this will be a key determinant of the extent that immigration streams to meet labour requirements develop.

(2). When do these countries complete their transitions? For while the global availability of potential migrants is presently huge, this supply could diminish to the extent that it becomes a limiting factor to diversification. And subsidiary questions are, to what extent do developing countries have reservoirs of potential workers to meet their growing demand for same, and to what extent are global supplies of workers located in proximity to countries requiring them?

Now developing countries are indeed staggered over time along the path of the demographic transitions, and therefore differ in the point in time when they might be expected to provide a stimulus for immigration; some countries may never complete the transitions.

Coleman points out that the combined populations of the first set of countries to become economically developed post–transitional societies, is under a billion, only about 15 per cent of the global population. Considering just the European Economic Area, the potential migrant–supplying regions of the world have a total population roughly ten times greater. So while sending countries remain poor, there is potentially no limit to the possible number of migrants to this first set of post–transitional countries.

The later, second set of countries that have become economically developed and post–transitional, Japan and some other East Asian countries, together have a population of about 300 million. This is still small in relation to the global population of less developed nations, even of less developed nations in the same region.

But consider now eight large countries (including China) with a total population of 2.3 billion, which are only slightly behind the second group in completing their transitions – they have or will in a few years reach replacement fertility level, and are passing from having a surplus of labour to having a labour shortage. Apart from China their populations will continue to grow slightly to 2050, but all the countries were projected to become richer, at least until the recent economic downturn. Further, their aged 'potential support ratio' is projected to fall within thirty years (China much sooner) to about four, which is the level presently found in most European countries.
All this suggests a demand for immigrant labour.

On the other hand, for countries like China and India with massive populations, it is difficult to see how potential migration streams of sufficient size could develop in less developed potentially sending countries, especially if and when those countries become rich. So demographically speaking, it seems to be unlikely for European-type minority proportions to arise in countries like China and India.

More generally, large scale migration would have to be supplied primarily from sub–Saharan countries and from a few large Asian countries with delayed transitions, notably Pakistan. And the prosperity gap between poorer countries and the developed world “implies a continuing potential for migration”.

But, concludes Coleman, “in the very long term the world will start to run out of potential migrants. Demand for labor arising from population aging will have to be met more often from domestic sources. When they become economically developed, therefore, the future population compositions of some large currently developing countries may not have changed much from present compositions, except where their national territories already include regional populations or indigenous minority groups at different stages in fertility transition” (our red colour).

Now in China (with the largest population of any country in the world), such internal diversity is presently very small (only about 5 per cent of the population). India is in a very different situation, being a “complex mosaic”. So here there may be large changes in ethnic and religious composition, “without substantial immigration”.

Coleman's overall conclusion therefore seems to be, that just in terms of demographic and economic terms, a global increase in diversity, on the scale that has been and is taking place in the West, is unlikely to take place.

Political factors.

Coleman draws attention to several factors he has already drawn attention to in previous publications. First, although the electorate in developed countries are opposed to the recent high immigration flows, these countries are in the main 'liberal' democracies, countries that subscribe to international conventions on human rights and asylum and facilitate the migration of spouses, other relatives and dependents, thus limiting their freedom of action; and these governments are supported by the “pro–immigration sympathies of liberal elites”. Further, the “demand for overseas labor continues to be underwritten by the European social model of welfare”. So that, (here following a paper by G.S. Freeman), “migration is much easier to encourage than to control”.

In this connection, the position of Japan, now a developed nation, rich and ageing, is somewhat anomalous. While it is technically an immigrant–receiving country, it has low immigration: While there is strong employers' demand for labor, there is also “a popular and political desire to protect Japanese society from the diversity that characterizes other old rich countries”. Japan tried to resolve this dilemma by attracting back to Japan, Brazilians of Japanese origin.

Contrast developing countries. Coleman points to what has happened in the past with European populations in such countries. These populations “have almost completely disappeared from many regions outside Europe, leaving behind a more homogeneous population”. This has not happened just through the desires of European residents to leave, but often through deliberate government policy to remove foreigners – Coleman cites Armenians and Greeks removed form Turkey, non–Greeks (mostly Turks) removed from Greece, Jews leaving North Africa and most Middle Eastern countries, partly being forced out (likewise Arabs from Israel).

Coleman notes that “Middle Eastern and African States and some Asian ones can and do control migration effectively, prevent the settlement of dependents, and remove en masse migrants whose presence is not required”. For example, oil–rich Gulf states have a massive number of immigrants from the developing and developed countries. But the governments do not intend to allow these immigrants to remain permanently: “expatriates neither wish to nor are able to integrate, naturalize, or enjoy permanent residence or family reunion”.

And following Amy Chua (2002, “The world on fire: How exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability”, New York: Doubleday) he notes that “…some argue that the instant acquisition of forms of universal democracy in poor countries with a weak middle class, without qualifications for the franchise, and without established liberal institutional structures accentuates hostility to minorities and immigrants by focusing attention on relative numbers and ethnically based interests”. We draw attention to our précis of Chua's book posted a few years ago on the “Other Literature” page of our web site.

Coleman also quotes S. Castles (2000), “Migration as a factor in social transformation in East Asia” (Conference on Migration and Development, Princeton University): “The prospects of ethnic community formation, growing cultural diversity and emergence of multicultural societies are anathema in Asian labor–importing countries, while the notion of turning immigrants into citizens is unthinkable”.

Environmental factors.

Environmental changes will be important determinants of migration flows, and are likely to affect developing countries more severely than developed countries. Such changes may prevent the economic progress forecasted by some economists.

There seems to be a growing realisation of the importance of resource limits. And while “we are accustomed to unrealized forecasts of environmental and resource crises …the logic of recent trends affecting energy, water, and food is difficult to avoid”. Yes indeed, the trends are all bad. Coleman mentions decreasing fishing yields, the degradation of agricultural land, diminishing usable reserves, “and perhaps most crucially the over–use of fresh water”. And he recognises the adverse significance here of human population growth, noting the there is an ever growing number of malnourished persons in the world.

Coleman notes that forecasted climate change will severely aggravate the situation. And such change might already be one cause of population movement – the 'flight' of roughly a million Africans across the Mediterranean to Southern Europe. He also notes that recent forecasts point to a faster pace of climate change than previously thought. In this connection he mentions the idea of non–linear change. This is often termed the existence of 'tipping points' in the planetary self–regulating system; more specifically global self–regulation might require the whole global climatic system to shift to a much hotter state. Coleman gives T.M. Lenton and colleagues as his authority for this idea. He could have also mentioned James Lovelock, who brought the dangers of possible tipping points to a much wider audience in his 2006 book “the Revenge of Gaia” (published by Allen Lane) two years prior to the Lenton paper in an academic journal. Readers might like to read our 2006 review of Lovelock's book on the book reviews page of our web site.

The most significant consequence of climate change reinforced environmental crises will be the massive movement of large populations to other areas, effectively Völkerwanderungs. While Coleman does not use this term, he points to such events in the past: possibly the Pliocene spread of our ancestors across the African savannas, later, population movements following the invention and spread of agriculture, later still the Goth and Hun invasions of Europe in antiquity, and finally the “Arab expansion”. The future forced movements of populations by such changes as rising sea levels will upset sanguine economic forecasts.

Where will the people go? People in poor countries have in the past mainly fled to other areas within their own countries or to neighbouring countries. But there is a limit to the number of immigrants that can be sustained in such countries if there is severe and continuing environmental damage there. The “most attractive option” will be the developed world where there are liberal asylum policies. And although immigration flows to developed countries may falter during the present recession, they are likely to return fairly quickly.

“Long-term consequences of ethnic transformation”

This is the heading of Coleman's last section, and contains his conclusions.

As far as developed countries are concerned, Coleman notes that if current levels of immigration continue, the foreign–origin proportion of national populations may rise to between 20 and 30 percent by the middle of the present century, implying a massive increase in the proportion of the total ethnic minority population. And if present trends continue to the end of the century and beyond, original populations could become the minority populations (Coleman notes that in an earlier paper he labelled such “progressive ethnic transformation” as a third demographic transition).

This would have serious social consequences. In Europe, “unless integration became more successful than it has been to date, national identity and the perceptions of national interests could become more complex and contentious, and older national histories and formerly shared myths, values, and symbols would become increasingly irrelevant or even offensive to newer populations”. Instead of immigrants being required to adapt to host country culture and values, “the former majority may have to do the adapting”. This would be reinforced by changing parliamentary representation in host countries.

As far as religion is concerned, a lot will depend, for social outcomes, on whether present minority religious groups, especially Islamic groups, retain high levels of orthodoxy, ethnic association and customs or, alternatively, evolve so that religion loses its importance for identity (Coleman actually frames his comment on page 473 in terms of minority religions evolving, but we prefer to re-phrase this in terms of the people who identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion).

All this would have foreign policy implications. Immigrant populations already have strong links with their countries of origin, and countries of origin may seek increased political influence in host countries. And Coleman reports that the Turkish Prime Minister on his visit to Germany in 2008 “claimed some rights of representation over Germany's 2.7 million Turks, calling upon them to reject assimilation as a 'crime against humanity' while integrating into the German economy”. Some European countries that have been drawn into overseas conflicts already have large populations of Asian and Middle Eastern voters with “specific ancestral loyalties or grievances” and “the special interests of these populations have a claim to be incorporated into national policy, which thereby takes into account concerns that might be thought more proper to foreign governments”.

With regard to non-Western countries (predominantly the currently developing countries), Coleman concludes both that “the ethnic diversity becoming typical of Western countries may not become a globalized phenomenon” and these countries “may retain their traditional ethnic and religious population composition”.

He cites as reasons the large populations of “sending countries” with their stricter admission policies, and a possible eventual “global shortage of suitable labor migrants”. And he thinks that “lacking foreign policy pressures from immigrant minorities, sending countries might find it easier than receiving countries to retain a reasonably coherent national identity and foreign policy”.

Comment from Gaia Watch

(1). As we wrote earlier, Coleman notes that most projections assume fertility rates of ethnic groups in developed countries will eventually converge to or near the national averages.
However, we note that Coleman in other publications points out that there are various factors that may well slow this convergence.

Thus in the 1992 book by Coleman and Salt (“The British population. Patterns, trends and processes”. OUP) we read (pages 512–513):
“The limited role outside the home prescribed for women by Islam may sustain higher than average fertility under most economic circumstances”. Also “Asian extended family arrangements and the prevalence of family enterprises may make high fertility seem less disadvantageous than among West Indians”. And Coleman in a 2006 paper notes “But fertility differences may persist if immigrant groups do not achieve socioeconomic equality, if they retain strong attachment to religious or other elements of foreign culture, and if they continue to be numerically and culturally reinforced by large–scale migration, especially through importing unacculturated spouses from high–fertility countries” (“Immigration and ethnic change in low–fertility countries: a third demographic transition”. Population and Development Review 32 (3) page 410).

(2). Concerning the contrast in Europe between the pre– and post–World War Two periods in terms of ethnic diversification. We wish to point out that the ethnic changes prior to that war were largely of a different type to the changes that did (and still are) taking place since that war. For the latter changes, unlike the former, involve, to a large extent, an increase in diversity caused by non–European ethnic groups.

(3). As we mentioned in the above account, Coleman writes about the significance of retention of religious orthodoxy (especially Islam) for social outcomes. This links with one concern we have at Gaia Watch, namely the rise of militant Islam in Europe.
We think there are many more and better organised Muslims in Europe who are driven by a desire to convert Europe into an Islamic caliphate than European governments think or admit and we have written about the nature and extent of the growing Islamic influence in Europe in two articles “By stealth and deceit. Camouflaged spread of Muslim influence?” and “The Muhammad cartoons controversy – the context” (in the comment and analysis sections respectively of our Comment and Analysis page).

(4). Concerning demographic and other changes in sub–Saharan Africa. Coleman identifies this region as a major future source of migrants for developed and developing countries. One would certainly think most countries there may supply large number of migrants, because they not only have very youthful and still rapidly growing populations, but they also have high rates of unemployment, high percentages of the populations below the poverty line, and generally poorly developed economies. They consequently have a large surplus of potential workers. And of course there are strong 'pull factors' for emigration to the economically rich and stable developed world or any developing countries that succeed in completing the demographic transitions. Despite supplying migrants to other developing countries, we think the working age populations may still remain so large that they will be able to supply local needs, and then there would be a resistance to immigration from other countries, so these countries would then largely retain their overall present ethnic composition as Coleman suggests.

In terms of the demographic transition, most of these sub–Saharan African countries have not been able to avail themselves of the so called 'window of opportunity' (otherwise called 'demographic gift' or 'demographic dividend') that is provided by the middle stages of the demographic transitions where the working age groups collectively reach the maximum size relative to the young age and post working age populations that the working age groups must support; indeed the first demographic transition has stalled in some countries. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in East Asia where several countries were able to avail themselves of this window (see our article “the Demographic Dividend”, accessed from the Analysis section of the Comment and Analysis page of our web site).

We are pessimistic about the future of the majority of sub–Saharan African countries, pessimistic about the likelihood of them completing the demographic transition, and pessimistic about their future economic growth. This pessimism is strengthened for us by the corruption, which seems widespread in sub–Saharan Africa, and conflict which keeps bubbling up all over the place in that region.

There will be few people in the future who would like to migrate from other regions to most of these countries, with the exception of well–meaning aid and development workers. We think such workers, together with international organisations and governments, may be unable to signficantly improve, or prevent a general further downward spiralling of, the standard of living and security in many countries. Starvation of millions may be prevented, but that will increase the overall breeding population and hence promote overall population growth, so that a population crash which may eventually come, would be much worse than if no effort were made to save these people.
At any event, The pressure to emigrate will increase, so we are likely to see a massive growth of attempts to reach Europe, whether by making use as many people do now, of the short distance gaps between Africa and Europe found in the Western Mediterranean, or else by other routes aided by organised people traffickers.

Lack of much migration to sub–Saharan Africa will mean that this region as a whole is likely to retain its existing ethnic composition. But within this region we think the enlargement and spread of existing Islamic populations may possibly be considerable in future, aided by the fact that most Africans are poorly educated and have a natural tendency to be religious. This then may transform some countries in terms of religious composition. If this spread of Islam occurs, migration from sub–Saharan Africa to Europe will accelerate any Islamic transformation of Europe.

UNFPA “State of the world population 2009. Facing a changing world: women, population and climate”.

The emphasis of this report from the United Nations Population Fund is how to respond to the challenge of climate change.

The “overview” of the report asserts that current climate change has been cased by human activities. While it is the industrialized countries that bear the primary responsibility for climate change so far, through their massive per capita emissions of greenhouse gases, it is developing countries that have been hardest hit by this change (page 1).

And “climate change has the potential to reverse the hard earned development gains of the past decades and the progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals…” (page 3). Poor people in developing countries are especially vulnerable to future climate change, being too poor to access health services or to relocate to other areas when disaster strikes. Women will be harder hit than men: women make up the greater part of the agricultural work force, and deteriorating environmental conditions will make it harder for them to secure food, water and fuel for their homes. In addition, women “tend to have access to fewer income–earning opportunities” (page 4).

Turning to specifically health related effects of climate change, and referring to an article in The Lancet, the overview states that future climate change will have serious adverse health effects by causing increased incidence of vector-borne diseases, mortality from heatstroke and increased difficulty to provide adequate supplies of clean water.

The overview notes that population growth is an important cause of current climate change and will be so in the future. “Greenhouse gases would not be accumulating so hazardously had the number of earth's inhabitants not increased so rapidly, but remained at 300 million people, the world population of 1,000 years ago, compared with 6.8 billion today” (page 5).

Now most of the world's current population growth is occurring in developing countries. And while these countries in the past have contributed little to total greenhouse gas emissions, “emissions from some large developing countries are now growing rapidly as a result of their carbon–intensive industrialization and changing patterns of consumption, as well as their current demographic growth” (page 2).

Later the overview looks at migration, noting that climate change is likely to lead to an intensification of large scale population movement. Millions of people in low lying coastal districts are likely to be driven from their homes and their areas through rising sea levels. Persistent droughts may force rural people to migrate to urban areas to seek a living. On the other hand, dwellers in urban slums in flood prone areas may move in the opposite direction to escape danger. Environmentally caused population movements might lead to cross border migrations. As the overview puts it: “gradual environmental degradation may erase income–earning opportunities, driving some across national boundaries”. Chapter 3 (“On the move”) expands at length on the subject of the relationship of climate change and population movements.

What then needs to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change?

To start with, we are told that policies to deal with climate change are much more likely to be successful if they are developed within a broader context of attempting to achieve “sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights and cultural diversity, the empowerment of women and access to reproductive health for all” (the importance of giving women a voice in combating the effects of climate change is dealt with at length in chapter 5 “mobilizing for change”).

Within that context, there are three areas where action is needed.

First, we have to adapt to climate changes that have already taken place. The focus here seems to be the developing world, for the overview argues that while financial help and the transfer of technologies and knowledge are important, successful adaptation “must arise from the lives, experience and wisdom of those who are themselves adapting”.

Second, we need “immediate mitigation”. We must reduce emissions now. And third, we need “long–term mitigation”, and it is at this point we learn how the authors of the report consider the challenge of continued population growth should be met:

We are reminded of the 1994 Cairo Conference (page 9). We are told that this conference “was a milestone in the history of population and development”. And:
“At the conference, the world agreed that population is not about numbers, but about people. The conference's 20–year Programme of Action, adopted by 179 countries, argues that if needs for family planning and reproductive health care are met, along with other basic health and education services, then population stabilization will occur naturally, not as a matter of coercion or control”.

The overview goes on to support and expand on this conclusion, giving emphasis to the importance of voluntary family planning and the human right of all peoples to “make their own decisions regarding reproductive health”.

Chapter 2 of the report (“At the Brink”), analyses the relationships of demographic factors to climate in more detail.

It has been agreed for a long time now that both high per capita greenhouse gas emissions, primarily in the industrialized world, (the report uses the surrogate factors gross domestic product per capita and rising per capita incomes, for per capita emissions) and population growth have been very significant drivers of the global increase in emissions, but the relative importance of these two factors has been disputed. So population growth has been variously considered to have contributed between 40 and 60 per cent of past emissions growth globally.

The increased contribution of the industrialized countries to global emissions has been fuelled by population growth. Thus considering fossil fuel–generated carbon dioxide emissions in the USA, it was found that per capita emissions remained roughly the same even during the economically healthy 1990 to 2004 period. But the USA's total emissions “rose in parallel with its population, at 18 per cent a year”.

However, population growth itself is not the only relevant demographic factor for greenhouse gas emissions. And the relationships between demographic factors and climate change are complex. For example, in densely populated urban areas 'heat islands' may be created leading to an increase in the use of air conditioning. Then household size is also a relevant demographic factor: homes are a basic unit of energy consumption, tending to be heated whether occupied by one or several persons. So the reduction of household size (a common trend in industrialized nations, we add) can lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The effects of some other factors, notably ageing and urbanization, are more controversial.

Chapter 6 “Five steps back from the brink”, focuses on policies to reduce population growth.

This chapter is highly repetitive, again and again coming back to the mantra that the main need is to reduce gender inequality, extend availability of reproductive health care, and give women the right to determine how many children they have and when.

And another point that is emphasised again and again is that we should not try to control human population. We read that trying to control human population risks depriving women of their right to decide how many children to have (page 66). And that the international community seems to have abandoned misguided discussions about the 'scope and legitimacy' of population control. (page 66-67). Government targets on fertility levels, we are told “have no place in contemporary rights–based policy making” (page 67). “Outmoded attitudes about 'population control' have been replaced by more holistic…” (page 67). And “The key point is that women and men themselves, not Governments or any other institutions, make the decisions on childbearing…” (page 69).

In contrast, the report claims, policies advocated that do not include population control have in the past brought about massive reduction in fertility levels in many developing countries, and would do so elsewhere in the world if they were also implemented there. Indeed, research has, the report claims, shown that just “satisfying unmet demand for family planning services would enable developing countries to meet their targets for lower fertility rates”.

After the customary list of references the report ends with extensive documentation for all countries first of key indicators of mortality, education, and reproductive health, and second, demographic, social and economic indicators, with accompanying technical notes.

Note. The Position of Gaia Watch on population policy issues.

We have always maintained that we need to adopt the type of population policies advocated in this report. For example, on the “Our approach” page we say:

“As far as the global human community is concerned, we accept that any strategy to achieve sustainable development must include the elimination of poverty, the universal provision of primary health care and basic education, and the empowerment of women”.

And in our document “Companion to Key Points” accessed from the Home page we say:

“…the idea that the way to curb fertility rates in poor countries is improving people's health, making available family planning services, providing good education, and advancing the rights of women. We agree with these measures”.

But we disagree with this report's view that we should not have policies of population control. Our argument is set out in the above mentioned Companion to Key Points article. It is also set out in our article “Royal Society (2009). The impact of population growth on tomorrow's world” (Other Literature page).

See also our article “The Tragedy of the commons – and human population growth” (also on the Other Literature page).

Royal Society. The Impact of Population Growth on Tomorrow's World.

The Royal Society of Great Britain has returned to the topic of the dangers of continued human population growth, by publishing a series of papers under the general title of “The Impact of Population Growth on Tomorrow's World”.

The papers are as follows:

Introduction. Roger V. Short. Population growth in retrospect and prospect.
Editorial. Malcolm Potts, Anne M. Pebley, J. Joseph Speidel.
Adair Turner. Population priorities: the challenge of continued rapid population growth.
John Bongaarts. Human population growth and the demographic transition.
Alex C. Ezeh, Blessing U. Mberu, Jacques O. Emina. Stall in fertility decline in Eastern African countries: regional analysis of patterns, determinants and implications.
Adair Turner. Population ageing: what should we worry about?
Stephen W. Sinding. Population, poverty and economic development.
Wolfgang Lutz. Sola schola et sanitate. Human capital as the root cause and priority for international development?
J. Joseph Speidel, Deborah C. Weiss, Sally A. Ethelston, Sarah M. Gilbert. Population policies, programmes and the environment.
Richard Nehring. Traversing the mountaintop: world fossil fuel production to 2050.
Bradley A. Thayer. Considering population and war: a critical and neglected aspect of conflict studies.
Ndola Prata. Making family planning accessible in resource–poor settings.
Martha Campbell and Kathleen Bedford. The theoretical and political framing of the population factor in development.
Malcolm Potts. Where next?

In the opening part of his introductory article Short says:
“World experts, in a wide range of disciplines, explore the ways in which the inexorable increase in human numbers is exhausting conventional energy supplies, accelerating environmental pollution and Global Warming, and providing an increasing number of Failed States where civil unrest prevails. Few can be left in any doubt that calling a halt to future population growth in both developed and developing countries is the greatest challenge now facing our world”.

We say Amen to all that, and have been arguing along these lines for a long time. And we also agree with Short when he goes on to say that International Organizations, Governments and Religious Leaders will be “the last to implement effective measures to halt further population growth”.

Short describes the range of attitudes over time to human population growth and to methods of controlling this growth. He starts with the book of Genesis, with its command to be fruitful and multiply, a sensible idea then, Short comments, when there were so few people on earth. But the situation is different now, with 6.8 billion people. He mentions Adam Smith who saw that the economy was driven by greed which ignores the ecological constraints that exist on the planet. And Malthus, who concluded “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. There is consequently “a strongly and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence”. Marx and Engels strongly disagreed, but Darwin and Wallace praised Malthus. And later, the economist John Maynard Keynes said the essay by Malthus was a 'work of youthful genius'.

Short refers to the 1993 Population Summit of 60 of the world's Scientific Academies, including the Royal Society, which concluded that “if current projections of human population growth prove accurate and patterns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent irreversible degradation of the natural environment and continued poverty for much of the world”. But Short notes that the meeting did not explore the constraints on women which deny them access to new contraceptives. And that leads on to the main part of his paper which concerns the contraceptive revolution, where he tells us about key workers and developments in this field, noting the great contribution of Chinese scientists in the development of contraceptive methods, and the attitude of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches to population control. He notes that the Chinese One Child Family Policy halved the Chinese birth rate and resulted in great reductions in maternal and infant mortality. China was able to prevent a population explosion. Short notes how the attitude of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches over time and of the western pharmaceutical companies have hindered the development of effective world–wide contraception.

Short ends his article:
“In conclusion, there is no doubt that the current rate of human population growth is unsustainable. If we enabled all the women of the world to have control of their own fertility, there would be a dramatic decline in population growth. So it should be possible to achieve that goal set by the world's Scientific Academies in 1993: zero population growth in the lifetime of our children. That is not much to ask, when the future of all life on earth is at stake”.

We would like to comment as follows. We note that Short approves of the adoption of the One Child policy, essentially a coercive measure. And we draw especial attention to what he says about reproductive rights:
“The first step was when Chairman Mao launched China's ‘Later, Longer, Fewer’ campaign in the 1970s, which encouraged couples to postpone childbearing, increase the spacing between births, and accept smaller families. But that was not sufficiently effective, so in the early 1980s it morphed into the One Child Family Policy”.

It is our view that while the adoption of family planning strategies are vital, like the later, longer, fewer campaign, this needs to be underpinned by a coercive policy, if we stand any chance of slowing population growth then diminishing total population size in time to avoid global catastrophe. As we say in our “Companion to Key Points” article, accessed from the second box on our Home page:

“We argue that we also need specific policies to actively encourage people to have smaller families such as strong tax incentives and disincentives, even coercive policies such as China's One Child Family policy. Such policies should be integrated into an overall policy…(of population management)… And each country should set a goal, namely the desired eventual population size, as part of a UN adopted global population size goal”.

And we indicated that coercive policy is in our view needed over reproductive rights:
“The United Nations and aid organisations affirm that individuals have the fundamental human right to determine the number and spacing of their children. We, on the contrary conclude that in the present crowded world where global environmental degradation has become so severe, group reproductive rights must take preference since ultimately it is the survival of groups and hence of the species that matters”.

This is not the place to attempt a review of all the papers in this series, or even one of them. But we would like to draw attention to some matters raised in three of the main papers, namely Turner's population priorities paper, the paper by Speidel and others, and the paper by Campbell and Bedford.

Turner notes that in the 1950s and 1960s the rapid population growth in underdeveloped countries was seen as a definite problem. But in the 1970s and 1980s a view emerged (Turner's “revisionism”) “that was more sanguine about rapid population growth”. Then more recently there developed a “revisionism revised” which held a view more towards the earlier, partly Malthus based view of the 1950s and 1960s.

Turner thinks this later change of opinion was well founded, but “if anything…it seems to be understating the power of its case”. And in his paper Turner develops a picture of the adverse effects of rapid human population growth in many, but not all circumstances.

As we had attempted to provide an insight into the economic miracle that took place in East Asian countries in the last half century, in which we tried to summarise the ‘revisionism revised’ opinion on the significance of population growth (our ‘Demographic Dividend’ article, accessed from the Analysis section of our Comment and Analysis web page), we were very interested to read Turner's analysis of developments in China.

Turner writes that the One Child policy in China probably led to the present population being 300–400 million smaller than it would have been in the absence of such a policy. The policy reduced the youthful proportion of the population which led to “a far more rapid accumulation of both physical and human capital than would otherwise have been possible”.

Household savings rose “dramatically”, with demographic factors accounting for much of this rise. Together with “high levels of enterprise savings” this led to a sequence – high rate of national savings and large increase in gross investment rate – rapid accumulation of capital, and this “played a crucial role in Chinese economic take–off”.

In China there developed a low youth–dependency ratio (the ratio of persons aged 0–14 to the number of persons aged 15–64 (the working population age groups) expressed as a percentage) and this enhanced China's ability to invest in human capital. And China's present low fertility rate has probably made it easier for China to cope with problems arising from rapid urbanization and industrialization (degree of unemployment and political and social tensions). If China now had 400 million more young people than it actually has, “it would undoubtedly have more of the shanty towns, and urban crime and unemployed young men…”

The paper by Speidel and others “Population policies, programmes and the environment” focuses on the degradation of ecosystems, in which human population growth has played such a major part, and policies to reduce this growth. The authors note that the UN–sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that “humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively over the past 50 years than during any other period, primarily to meet increasing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel”.

For the effect of human population growth, they refer to the famous IPAT equation: environmental impact (I) equals P (population) × A (affluence/consumption) × T (technology), pointing out how J. Harte showed that environmental degradation does not increase in direct proportion to population size. For “feedbacks, thresholds and synergies, generally amplify risk, causing environmental degradation to grow disproportionately faster than growth in population size”.

The authors also note ongoing examples of environmental degradation:

  • “More land was converted to cropland in the 30 years after 1950 than in the 150 years between 1700 and 1850”.
  • Forests are dwindling through increased use of forest products: global forest cover halved since pre–agricultural times. And “since the beginning of the twentieth century, 22 per cent of forest cover has been lost... in the Amazonian rainforest the decline is much worse, 20 per cent lost since just 1970.
  • Most global fisheries “have been over–fished or fished to their biological limit”.
  • “Cropland is shrinking....between 1950 and 2007, the growth of world population has halved grainland per person...”.
  • Water tables are falling in the 15 countries which together contain half of the world's population through aquifer over pumping.
  • Global warming is having various serious adverse effects such as doubling “the percentage of the Earth's land area affected by drought” 1970 to 2002.

We turn now briefly to the paper by Campbell and Bedford. These authors note that “the silence about population growth in recent decades has hindered the ability of those concerned with ecological change, resource scarcity, health and educational systems, national security, and other global challenges to look with maximum objectivity at the problems they confront”.
Exactly! We have drawn attention to 'the silence' and its consequences on our Home page with its Companion to Key Points article.

The papers are published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B, volume 364.
Abstracts of all the articles may be downloaded from
Royal Society

MacEoin, D. (2009). Music, Chess and other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain. A study on Muslim schools from Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society London.

This study by Dr Denis MacEoin, a specialist in Arabic and Islamic Studies, with the assistance of Dominic Whiteman, was based primarily on the examination of the web sites of Muslim schools and associated mosques, but also involved the study of the writings of Muslim leaders and Muslim scholars, Ofsted reports and other literature.

Civitas promoted the study through a concern that some Muslim schools, run by religious fundamentalists, are preparing children to live separate lives in Muslim enclaves and not to play their full part in the wider society to which they belong. They are promoting a culture that is antipathetic to western values and British culture, in this way militating against social cohesion: “...the option for separate schools seems to be related to a growing desire for separateness in general. This has a frightening logic: as more Muslim children attend Muslim schools (especially schools of an anti–integrationist character), each new generation will demand greater and greater exclusion from mainstream society” (Pages xii and xiii).

The study notes there are about 166 Muslim schools in the United Kingdom, “including 24 Saudi schools about which little is known and about 26 Darul Ulooms, religious seminaries which straddle secondary and further education” (page xii), but the number is rapidly growing (page 5). And a 2004 poll showed that nearly half of British Muslims wished to have their children educated at Muslim–only schools (page xii).

In addition, it is thought there are over 700 madrasas in the UK:
“The madrasas are evening and weekend classes intended to provide Muslim children with additional teaching in the Qur'an (mainly memorization of the text without understanding) and related Islamic topics, including some instruction in Arabic. These madrasas are almost invisible. Some appear in our list, where they are connected to schools. The vast majority are informal, unregistered and unpoliced by Ofsted” (page 8).

How does Civitas define the values that should be protected? Well the foreword to this study, written by David Green, Director of Civitas, gives some insight into these values. “We live in a liberal democracy committed to personal liberty, toleration, and equality under the law”. And later he writes “The characteristic values can’t easily be itemised but would include respect for other people; good humoured argument with rivals; a sense of duty to ideals beyond exclusively private pleasures; a willingness to take personal responsibility; combining loyalty with a spirit of free inquiry; pursuing ideals without becoming a puritan; being aware of human imperfections and yet optimistic about the chances of working successfully together with friend and stranger alike; and a willingness to give people a second chance despite the danger of being taken for a ride by the unscrupulous”. Of course, that leaves open the question of loyalty to what or who?

Some of the things the authors uncovered during their investigations are certainly quite startling. Here are a few of these:

Madrassah Al Zahra, Walthamstow.
“Q. My immediate aims are to be accepted in Oxford University and Inshallah in the next few years be good enough to play cricket for my country, Pakistan. To the best of my knowledge, my Neeat is true, yet i seek a Prayer that will allow me to express these ambitions clearly as i know nothing is possible without Allah's will. I also seek to realise justifiable my aims are Islamically.
A. Any past time games whether on video, computer, etc. falls in the category of Lahw and Laab (useless and pasttime) hence, not permissible. Allah Taala 'the creator of our universe' declares in the Noble Qur'an, 'I have not created Man and Jinn except for (the purpose) of worship'. (Qur'an 51: 57............)” (link page 31).

“Q. What is your view regarding the reading of books such as Harry Potter.
A. It is Haraam (strictly prohibited) to read books such as Harry Potter. and Allah Ta'ala Knows best.
Mufti Ebrahim Desai (link page 31)”.

On a web site associated with the Azhar Academy, London: “What do they mean by integration? I personally think they mean that they want us to strip ourselves of every connection and association we have with the Qur'an and Sunnah [Prophetic traditions], and be just like them. So they want us to get drunk and not wash our backsides when we go to the toilet” (link on page 26).

l-Mu'min School, Bradford: “Q. Is it permissible to play for fun such games as ludo, monopoly, chess, draughts etc? A. It is not permissible to play such games. The Holy Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam stated that the person who plays chess, is like the one who dips his hands in the blood of a swine (pig). Such games are Haraam (anything that is forbidden under shari'a law)” (link on page 31).

'Ask Iman' web site: “Q. I have met many women at university who wear full hijab and say that the people who say women are not allowed out of the house but should remain at home and do the cooking, cleaning, washing and sewing is wrong,.....
A..... Likewise Rasulullah (Sallallaahu layhi Wasallam) has restricted the emergence of women from the home to the situation of genuine necessity. Ibn Umar (RA.) reports that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam said: 'A woman should not emerge from her home except if she is forced to do so' (Tabrani). Also when emerging out of necessity, the woman is commanded to adopt full Hijaab, which includes the covering of her face. ......” (link on page 82).

Website of the Madani Secondary Girls School: “Our children are exposed to a culture that is in opposition with almost everything Islam stands for” (link page 52, in the second main paragraph).

The study identifies numerous ways in which the teaching in some Muslim schools opposes integration, favours ghettoisation, and even facilitates infiltration by extremists. so that hardline and extremist individuals and organizations have moved in to maximize the advantages that a fundamentalist curriculum in a strictly Islamic environment offers them.
For example, on page seven we read that fundamentalist curricula have facilitated the infiltration of extremist individuals and organizations; and Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University, concludes “home–grown terrorism is certainly being accelerated by the growing ‘ghettoification’” (page 26).

Then, on Muslim schooling we read on page 24 “In the case of many Muslim schools, extreme commitment to an identity imposed by faith (and associated cultural values) casts a heavy cloud over relations with the community of the kuffar—the unbelievers—and seems in some cases to prevent any meaningful relationship from developing at all”.

Some schools and Muslim leaders think that British schools are incapable of giving Muslim students a proper education. Iftikhar Ahmad, founder of the first Muslim school in the UK, claimed in 2002 that “the needs of Muslim children can be met only through Muslim schools”. The Civitas study comments “This was an extraordinary statement” (page 46).

“Many, if not all, Muslim schools devote a full morning to Islamic subjects and only an afternoon to secular ones. To Muslim educationalists, this is because the Islamic topics are the core subjects and the secular ones mere icing on the cake” (p.57). This means that a very inadequate coverage of the National Curriculum is achieved, a curriculum through which pupils would learn about western liberal values. Dr Musharraf Hussain at a conference asserted an underlying cause of this type of curriculum: “The raison d’être of Muslim schools is vigorously stated by its founders as follows: to prevent the assimilation of the new generation” (page 50).

While the writers of this study are therefore very critical of some Muslim schools, they do place their findings in a wider perspective. First of all, as Green writes in his foreword “the claims in this book are not about all Muslim schools but about some Muslim schools”. Second, while the number of Muslim schools has been rising rapidly, the vast majority of Muslim children are still educated in state schools. Also, the authors of the study think that moderate Muslims will share the view of the non–Muslim public that extremist views expressed by some individuals and organizations associated with Muslim schools, are repugnant. Further:
“There is nothing in this report that a genuinely moderate Muslim will not find disturbing, an offence to his or her faith. There is nothing that a well–integrated British Muslim will not find antipathetic or intimidating” (page 100).
Actually this is badly written. The two 'not's should not be there, for we think the authors clearly meant “There is nothing in this report that a genuinely moderate Muslim will find disturbing, an offence to his or her faith. There is nothing that a well–integrated British Muslim will find antipathetic or intimidating”.

We also wish to add our own comment about the state of our British society. We share with many Muslims, disgust at the large amount of debauchery in our society (over–eating, binge drinking, drug use) and sadness over the large number of teen-age pregnancies, currently in the media spotlight again. As for the Harry Potter books, some Christians also do not want their children to read them.

We will not attempt here to cover the various other topics dealt with by this study (including sex education, the influence of Saudi Arabia, incitement to hate westerners, evidence of anti–Semitism, and recommendations for reform), but there is a link to the full study at the end of the following lengthy press release dated 20th February (©copyright Civitas 2009), which we are reproducing by kind permission of Civitas.

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Music, chess, Shakespeare, cricket and Harry Potter banned on fundamentalist Muslim schools' websites

Men are more intelligent than women, children told

Think-tank calls for vetting of Muslim schools to eliminate fundamentalists

Some Muslim schools are threatening the social cohesion of Britain by promoting a fundamentalist version of Islam that encourages children to despise the British society in which they live and to confine themselves to enclaves. In Music, Chess and Other Sins, Denis MacEoin presents the findings of his study of websites belonging to Muslim schools in Britain and their links.

'When a fatwa bank linked from a school tells a boy that dreaming of playing cricket for Pakistan is forbidden because it is a sacrilegious waste of time, or stipulates that reading Harry Potter books is prohibited; or another argues that pupils must not read 'shameless novels and fiction books', that Ludo, Monopoly, draughts and chess are forbidden because 'the Holy Prophet stated the person who plays chess, is like the one who dips his hands in the blood of a swine (pig)', and condemns 'the evil system of the Western culture'; or when a site run by an educational institution writes an article stating: 'One should abstain from evil audacities such as listening to music'; and when a graduate of the last institution speaks of the 'evils of music', calls the Royal College of Music 'satanic', and claims that music is the way in which Jews spread 'the Satanic web' to corrupt young Muslims-how are we to respond?

'It means that no child attending an all-Muslim school of this nature will ever visit an art gallery, attend a concert of classical or non-classical music, experience the transcendence of listening to a great operatic tenor perform, pass an evening mesmerized by a production of Romeo and Juliet performed by the National Ballet They represent some of the greatest achievements of Western civilization. To deny young Muslims access to the finest things in our culture, for what are the most puritanical of reasons, is to undermine the very foundation on which our education system is built If literature, art, dance, drama, and music are closed off, where do the most talented young Muslims go in order to achieve the things that so many young Jews and Christians take for granted?' (pp.31-34)

Nor is it only the artistic culture of the country that some schools are criticising. On the website of the Madani Secondary Girls' School, East London, we read: 'Our children are exposed to a culture [i.e. British culture] that is in opposition with almost everything Islam stands for.'

'This is a bruising comment that indicates what a negative picture of Western life and civilization will be imparted to pupils. To see everything Western as the clear opposite of all one is taught to believe to be right has the potential to damage young minds for life. This should be taken seriously in the light of the 7/7 bombings, where hatred of what non-Muslims stand for was adduced as an excuse for massacre. We do not say that schools teach terror, but we do ask if they do not make some of their pupils likely to fall prey to even greater extremism. If all that is Islamic is right and lovely, and all that is non-Muslim is corrupt and evil, how might an impressionable mind understand his or her role in British life?' (p.52)

'Be the lovers of death'

In a small number of cases, Denis MacEoin has found evidence of links between Muslim schools and those advocating jihad, for example in the case of Feversham College, Bradford of which the website links to islamworld.net, that contains a section of papers on jihad. In one of these papers, Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes: 'Jihad is an obligation from Allah on every Muslim... [Jihad] involves all possible efforts that are necessary to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their places of worship and smashing their idols... Today, my brother, the Muslims as you know are forced to be subservient before others and are ruled by disbelievers... Hence in this situation it becomes the duty of each and every Muslim to make jihad... Therefore prepare for jihad and be the lovers of death.' (p.99). Themina Ahmed, the creator of the history curriculum for the two Islamic Shaksiyah Foundation schools, in Slough and Haringey, North London, has written: 'The world will witness the death of the criminal capitalist nation of America and all other [infidel] states when the army of jihad is unleashed upon them.'

However, the principal objection raised by the report is not that Muslim schools are linked in any significant way with terrorist activities, but that some of them create in children a ghetto mentality that will make it difficult for them to function in British society:

'Many Muslim schools in this country try to recreate the milieu of South Asia, creating a closed environment which means children will live in a surrogate Pakistan or Bangladesh at home and school, even though they actually live in Bradford or Birmingham (p.53)... No child raised in close contact to this kind of thinking has much hope of developing into a balanced British Muslim, someone with non-Muslim friends, perhaps a non-Muslim partner, a job in a mainstream place of work, love for English literature and international sport, and a freedom from neuroses that can only be addressed by backing away into the safe realm of the ghetto.' (p.103)

One obvious aspect of the process of ghettoization is the wearing of hijab by often very young girls. For example, the website of the parent body of the al-Mu'min primary school in Bradford contains the following statement:

There are three grades of Purdah (veiling):

  • The first is that the woman covers every part of her body except her face, her hands and her feet.

  • The second is that the woman covers her face, her hands and her feet also.

  • The third is that woman keeps herself indoor or keeps herself hidden in such a veil that no-one can ever see her clothes. This stage is the greatest of all the three.

'This will strike most readers as excessive, yet it is part of a site run by a primary school. Hard questions must be asked by government as to how healthy it is to allow hardline Puritanism like this to inform the lives of young and vulnerable children. There is little question that a girl brought up under such restrictions may never be psychologically robust enough to enter ordinary British life; may never be able to take up employment in the mainstream world; may never be capable of interacting with men at any but the most circumscribed levels. If a young girl is made to wear hijab and taught that adopting it is the only way a woman may comport herself in the world, by the time she grows up and leaves school, a broad psychological barrier will have been planted between her and 99 per cent of British society.' (pp.79-80)

The status of women

The issue of veiling is only one aspect of a worrying concern about the relatively low status that is ascribed to women by a number of those associated with fundamentalist Muslim schools, which may not prepare girls and young women for life in mainstream British society in which women are regarded as the equals of men. Ask-Imam is an online site providing authoritative rulings on all matters pertaining to Islam which can be accessed through the website of al-Jamiah al-Islamiyyah Darul Uloom, Bolton (which has now closed down its website following queries relating to this report). It carries extensive rulings on women, such as:

Similarly, the Jameah Girls Academy in Leicester has a direct link to a fatwa site, Darul Iftaa, run by the school's own patron, Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari. He places severe restrictions on male doctors treating female patients; he rules that women may not swim (even for medical reasons) where a male lifeguard is present, or where there are non-Muslim women; using tampons is 'disliked' (makruh-a classification in shari'a law); a woman may not travel beyond 48 miles without her husband or a close relative accompanying her; a female is encouraged to remain within the confines of her house as much as possible; polygamy is permissible. If anyone were to ridicule polygamy, he would become an unbeliever; it is a grave sin for a woman to refuse sex to her husband; it is forbidden to have close, intimate relations with or have love for non-Muslims; Muslims are not to sit, eat, live or mingle with them; the legal punishment for adultery is stoning.

'Rulings such as these would, if applied, reduce the lives of women to something not known in Western society since the Dark Ages. That they may have an impact on British-born Muslim girls and young women runs directly contrary to the whole purpose of providing equal educational opportunities to both sexes, and makes a mockery of the basic principle of Western education, which is to prepare children for a future life in mainstream society.' (p.85)

Where are the inspectors when you need them?

The questions that are raised by this report are of the sort that would normally be part of the remit of an Ofsted team of inspection. It is therefore of great concern that some of the schools about which questions have been asked have received glowing reports from Ofsted, sometimes from Muslim inspectors. According to Denis MacEoin:

'Some inspectors are missing the most crucial facts about the schools and writing glowing reports that might mislead the DCSF and the public. It's not their fault in the least, since a close knowledge of Islamic doctrine and practice won't have figured in their training. One may ask harder questions about Muslim inspectors who may have been expected to catch on a lot more quickly but who also present largely favourable reports.' (p.93-4)

The failure to spot problems is all the more surprising in view of the fact that Music, Chess and Other Sins is based on material found on schools' websites, and the website is part of a standard Ofsted inspection. Some of the material cited is from the school websites themselves, and some is from sites linked to them. It could be objected that this is to imply guilt by association, and that schools are not responsible for material on other sites. However, as Denis MacEoin argues:

'The problem is that we are dealing with schools. Mainstream schools do not invite representatives of the BNP or the IRA to speak, they do not make links to their websites on the school site, and they do not ask them to attend their prize days. Schools have to be much more careful than other institutions in society not to expose those in their care to extremism, to hate speech, or to religious fanaticism Let us be frank: if similar views were held by schoolteachers, headteachers, governors, or trustees of non-Muslim schools, we would expect an enquiry and a great many reforms. Yet Ofsted, not knowing where to look, provides most Muslim schools with a clean bill of health.' (pp.102-3)

The need to distinguish between moderates and fundamentalists

The aim of Music, Chess and Other Sins is not to attack Muslims, but to draw attention to certain problems in schools run by fundamentalists. Its aim is to 'stand up for all the young Muslims who are cajoled or bullied into adopting a way of life that reduces them to lookers-on in their own country' and to 'help roll back the tide of fundamentalist and radical Islam from places where it deserves to exert no influence: the British educational system and British schools' (p.101).

The report makes a number of recommendations, including the following:

  • A sufficient number of Ofsted inspectors, non-Muslims and identifiably moderate Muslims, must be trained properly in all relevant aspects of Islam, so they can identify suspect lessons or connections.

  • Ofsted must consider how to tackle the problem of how to inspect Urdu-speaking, Arabic-speaking, or Bengali-speaking schools without depending exclusively on Muslim inspectors. Transparency is vital.

  • Imams and preachers currently associated with schools as principals, sponsors, trustees etc. must be vetted for fundamentalist tendencies. If the views they hold are opposed to the basic values of British society, their role in schools must be restricted or terminated. If someone is incapable in conscience of teaching loyalty to Britain and love for the majority of its citizens, their competence as educationalists must be called into question.

  • The recent proposal that imams should lead citizenship lessons in state schools should remain in mothballs until a reliable method can be found to distinguish moderate from extremist clerics.

Notes for Editors

1. Civitas is an independent social policy think-tank. It receives no state funding either directly or indirectly and has no links to any political party.

2. According to the author, there are at present in Britain an estimated 400,000 Muslim school-age children of whom the overwhelming majority, 96 per cent, attend non-Muslim state schools. (p.30)

3. There is a steadily growing minority of Muslim children in Britain who have begun to receive full-time education at one or other of its estimated 166 Muslim schools (p.7). Of these schools, the overwhelming majority are in the independent sector, although increasingly they are beginning to seek and to gain voluntary-aided status.

4. Many of Britain's Muslim schoolchildren also receive regular supplementary religious instruction at the week-end or in the evenings at one of the country's estimated 700 madrasas (p.5), 'extra-curricular schools in which mainly Qur'anic subjects are taught'. (p.124)

5. Of the country's independent Muslim schools, 24 are said to be funded by Saudi Arabia, and hence liable to be influenced by and sympathetic to that country's officially favoured highly puritanical version of Islam known as Wahhabism. (p.7)

6. A further 26 independent Muslim schools in Britain are Darul Ulooms (p.7). Of south Asian provenance, Muslim schools of this type purvey an equally puritanical form of Islam known as Deobandism. (p.71).

7. The publication offers many examples of where what is currently being purveyed by Britain's Muslim schools, especially the Wahhabi and Deobandi ones, would severely impede the capacity of their pupils to accept and become part of mainstream British life and society.

8. The author, Denis MacEoin, is a leading international authority on Islam, as well as being a well-established novelist.

For more information contact: 020 7799 6677

Music, Chess and Other Sins: Segregation, Integration and Muslim Schools in Britain by Denis MacEoin, with the assistance of Dominic Whiteman, is published online by Civitas.

Click here to download the publication:


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Garner, S. et al. (2009). Sources of resentment, and perceptions of ethnic minorities among poor white people in England. Report compiled for the National Community Forum. Communities and Local Government.

This report is a study, based on interviews using questionnaires, of the attitudes of poor white people living in four urban areas to ethnic minorities.

We will not attempt a full assessment of this report. Rather we will comment on a few features that especially interest us. But first, a comment on sample size.

The number of persons interviewed in this study was small – only 47, and these persons were spread between four parts of the country that differed demographically, economically and socially, although they were all where the ethnic minority population was relatively small. This makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions. The authors do acknowledge this limitation “as the number of case studies and interviews in each place were small at this stage, there is a limit to how representative this sample can be” (page 11 end 12 beginning). We also note that not one of the four areas was a multicultural inner city area, which the authors explain on the grounds that “there is plenty of data available about such sites already” (page 11).

Here then are our other comments:


One topic that comes up in a few places in the report is 'political correctness' (PC). This is difficult to define, something else the authors implicitly acknowledge when they refer to it as a 'catch–all phrase' (page 40) an 'ideological space' (pages 6 and 19), or 'amorphous ideological space' (pages 9 and 40).

The authors summarise how they view interviewees' ideas of PC:

“There are different ways in which this idea is used to describe obstacles to communication. At present, the function of stories about political correctness appears to be to recast the power relations pertaining to the situations described so that the white majority assume the role of victims” (page 9).

And they summarise why thy think PC is a problem to poor Whites:

“This ideological space, put forward by interviewees as a barrier to freedom of self–expression or of honest exchange, is referred to in a number of ways, which straddle the local and national spheres. In some cases it is said to stop people using particular terms or ideas. In other arguments, it prevents a level playing field from being maintained or unbalances a previously level one (by favouring of minorities at the expense of the majority)” (page 19).

“Moreover, by labelling a speaker as ‘politically correct’, you can discredit an argument, consigning it to the realms of excess and irrationality” (page 40).

“Individuals who talked about ‘political correctness’ did so in connection with expressing a feeling of disempowerment:
‘The government is just gone too softly–softly, too politically correct. It needs to be changed, the whole concept needs to be locked up and changed. And everybody should stand up and say ‘Yeah, I’m white and I’m proud of it!’ (Woman, Milton Keynes, 40s)” (page 28).

“ ‘They got to stop saying ‘that’s politically incorrect’. You can’t say that because they’re ethnic, you can’t say that because they are from there ... Why? Why should we have to be politically correct all the time when they’re not, when they get away with it. Why should we? Why should we have to be the ones that step back and have to change it all the time, because that’s what’s happening! We have got nowhere to go. We don’t have a white race relations board. But they have a black relations board or an ethnic race relations board they can go to and complain about us, but we haven’t’. According to the narratives we identified here, then, it is the white working class who are the principal victims of social change,” (page 26).

We for our part, agree with these interviewees, although we would put things more bluntly. It is our experience that if any person or organisation dares to speak out and criticise the PC position, the reaction from what we loosely term 'the PC brigade' will be either, to competely ignore the criticism, however detailed, dispassionate and telling it might be, or to label the author(s) as extreme left wing, fascist or racist, often with the added accusation of using 'emotive' language – something the PC brigade regards it as their right to use with impunity.

The report also says this about PC:

“In Thetford–Abbey, police were seen as either doing too little or being too heavy–handed and focusing on ‘easy targets’. This was attributed to a lack of police power (because of ‘pc’ and bureaucracy) and a lack of police knowledge of residents’ concern” (page 19).

“Using the ‘pc-gone-mad’ argument may well perform the function of neatly putting a variety of complicated social changes into one basket, or it may undermine someone else’s argument if you call it ‘pc’. There is no prescriptive definition of this, or agreement about what function ‘pc’ serves in the way people talk about contemporary Britain. However, to improve the context in which people relate to each other, there is a need to break ‘pc’ down into manageable slices in order to distinguish the helpful from the unhelpful in relation to ethnic minorities and equality (page 48).


So poor whites often feel they are treated unfairly, and the report has some discussion under that heading:

The report tells of a 'set of stories' that relate “to the perception that incoming migrants are treated advantageously. A typical view in Thetford, for example, was that ‘they seem to be getting what we’ve worked all our lives for and can’t get’. This was interpreted as especially unfair when contrasted with the ‘elderly who haven’t got anything, can’t afford to pay heating, worked all their lives and get nothing’, and with ‘single mums who have to live in hostels’, while ‘foreigners are in nice cars and have big houses’. Indeed, many stories pursue the theme of resources being ‘given away’ to minorities. We understand these stories as not necessarily a reflection of things that have really happened, but rather a coded way to signal that the speaker contests the frame within which all the unfairness is experienced by ethnic minorities. By doing this, the speaker’s community is recast as the victim of discrimination” (page 8).

Later in the report we find the following examples:

“Two examples of funding policies were evoked by Castle Vale respondents. One revolved around a football team on the estate that tried repeatedly to get council funds to no avail, while a team for Asians only that just started up received funding immediately. Another was about a community ‘clean–up day’ in which members of all ethnic groups had taken part on another estate. After the event, a city councillor managed to get funding for a day trip as a reward, but only for the Asian participants” .


The idea of unfair treatment links to the concept of competition, in this case between whites and ethnic minorities:

“By far the most frequent context for referring to ethnic minorities is that of perceived competition for resources – typically housing, but also employment, benefits, territory and culture” (page 6):

“In Thetford, the focus of resource competition was around housing and employment. Housing in particular was a precious resource and there was a widely held belief that newly arrived migrants displaced locals who had been on housing waiting lists for several years” (page 21).

“ A 21 year-old Milton Keynes man, who had to move away from the Coffee Hall estate as he was informed that there is not enough housing available there comments acidly: “The housing list is too long. I would have to be black, foreign or have a baby to get up there” (page 22).

We are not in a position to assess for ourselves whether these suspicions have validity or not. We do note however that for some years now many examples of perceived unfairness have been aired in the media. The sense of unfairness must be very widespread amongst whites, at least poor whites. It is difficult to believe that there is no foundation at all in reality to justify such suspicions.

And in terms of competition in general, we raise the issue of population density. It is our belief that as population density increases in a region or country, so does the likelihood of friction between components of society, whether it be class, wealth, or ethnicity, with perhaps a threshold above which friction becomes fairly suddenly more likely.


A fundamental issue for poor whites is the question of 'integration' versus 'assimilation'. Here are five quotes from the report:

(1) “We asked all our interviewees what integration meant to them. It emerged strongly that a majority understand ‘integration’ as meaning minorities giving up identity and merging with the local one, ie ‘assimilation’. Other qualitative research we have carried out elsewhere leads us to the same conclusion: most people think ‘integration’ means ‘assimilation’ ” (page 9).

(2) “The second theme focused on the conditions for becoming, or being accepted as a full member of society. This was most often expressed during talk of integration and cohesion. The main two arguments used are ‘when in Rome’ (people who come here must adapt to ‘our way of life’); and the necessity for contributing in order to earn membership. This earning process can be undergone by something as simple as joining in community activities, or by making wider efforts to integrate, or paying into the welfare system” (pages 7 and 23).

(3) “We asked all our interviewers what integration meant to them. It emerged strongly that a majority understand integration as meaning minorities giving up their identity and merging with the local one, i.e. assimilation” (page 40).

(4) “Indeed, the onus for integration in these perspectives, as found elsewhere in previous research, lies entirely with immigrants:
‘This is our country and we were kind enough to let them in. In their country we couldn’t dress like this, we would have to respect their ways, but they don’t respect us and our ways. The younger people do, but now they want to have Sharia laws ... they should adopt our ways’ (Woman, 60s)” (page 24).

(5) “ ‘How can you integrate with that part of a community … if you’re not prepared to ... you know we’re expected to understand values and backgrounds of other people, but it doesn’t seem to sometimes be a two–way thing (...) When it’s not a two–way thing that’s what gets people’s backs up. People have got to be flexible’
(Woman, 40s, Castle Vale)” (page 24).

We sympathize strongly with these feelings of the 'poor white' community. While we think it is only civilized to assist newcomers, and to consider their concerns and fears, to show some adaptability to newcomers habits, as indeed some at least of the interviewees thought was right as the last of the above quotations suggests, we also believe that for any nation, it is important to retain national customs, and avoid them being diluted; if people come to Britain and benefit from doing so, they should adapt to our ways. So while adaptation should be both ways, the onus should be on the immigrants. There is a big difference between, for example, allowing in public, the wearing of a skull cap or turban, and allowing women to be clothed head to foot in black!


One of the things that the report considers need to be done is to provide more factual information on matters of concern to the general public:

“The second is to aim to reduce information deficits around immigration and resource–allocation. The poor quality information available on which to base opinions is exacerbating people’s sense of loss and frustration, therefore improving communication and making processes transparent can help address this issue” (page 10).

“One of the clearest issues around attitudes toward minorities and immigrants is the vast deficit of available information on which people can base their views” (page 36).

“Reducing information deficits. Evidence: This research and similar exercises in the past few years point to yawning information deficit(s) and transparency issues particularly around resource distribution and migration” (page 44).

We agree with this view, provided the information given out is not given a slant consistent with ideological aims such as PC aims.

But what we think needs most urgently to be done are two things:

First. Try to completely eliminate political correctness. It could be argued that political correctness is as great an evil as Nazi Fascism was in the 1930s and 1940s.

Second, address what are two significant underlying causes of all resentments of poor whites, possibly the most important causes – considerable net immigration of people of different race, ethnicity and religion, and the purposeful pursuit of multiculturalism. Both these should, in our view be stopped.


HERE NOW IS THE SUMMARY FROM THE REPORT. The full report may be accessed at Communities and Local Government.

Executive Summary

Background to research and methodology

The aims of this report, following from the literature review on perceptions of ethnic minorities among ‘poor white’ people in England, were:
1) to gather data on two not necessarily connected things: the sources of resentment, and perceptions of ethnic minorities among people resident on estates in four places in England
2) to attempt to unpick these perceptions
3) to identify suggestions to facilitate integration
4) and to put forward some recommendations for moving community cohesion and integration forward on this basis.

The four selected sites were relatively monocultural ‘white’ urban spaces with different migration experiences; Castle Vale (Birmingham), Netherfield, Beanhill and Coffee Hall Estates (Milton Keynes); Halton Housing Trust in Runcorn and Widnes; and the Abbey Estate in Thetford. In July 2008, four interviewers spoke to a total of 43 people using semi–structured questionnaires, and then as a team, identified key themes in responses to questions about their local areas, national concerns, and integration.

Contexts in which attitudes are expressed

The data needs to be understood against the context of changing understandings and interpretations of racism. Popular understandings of racism contain two misleading messages. Either the focus is solely on discourses of superiority (abusive and/or intimidating language) and violence, which is part of the story but not all of it, or secondly, it is seen as purely a matter of individual prejudices. However the concept of ‘institutional racism’ (a set of practices and processes at a level above that of the individual) has been recognized in British law since the 1970s. Moreover, racism is not only about physical, but also about cultural difference. White people can become the objects of racist discourse because of cultural reasons. In British history, Jews, Irish Roman Catholics and Eastern Europeans have been through this experience.

The four selected sites on which this report focuses had specific histories of migration and community development, which we argue are important in the way the people there respond to minorities and the issues of immigration and integration. Runcorn/ Widnes has virtually no history of immigration, Castle Vale is a relatively white area of a city in which 30 per cent of the population are black and minority ethnic, and Thetford has a recent experience of European migrants (notably Portuguese and Polish workers). In terms of development, the sites also differed: we found that in those where social and environmental conditions were better, there was, as a general rule, less apparent hostility to minorities. In Milton Keynes, where some of the accommodation was of very poor quality, the feelings of resentment and abandonment were nearer the surface. Another contextual point was the frequency and type of contact with black and minority ethnic people. Overall, few of our sample had frequent contacts with ethnic minorities. Some had a particular friend or acquaintance, and a few others worked in more multicultural settings.

Anxieties and priorities

The important local issues in each area differed, both in substance and priority. While antisocial behaviour figured in each of the areas, it was much more prominent in Thetford and Runcorn/Widnes than in Milton Keynes and Castle Vale. Poor living conditions were an issue for Milton Keynes but scarcely at all for redeveloped Castle Vale, where worklessness, litter and sustaining the gains of regeneration were the most important topics. Anxieties over benefits and entitlement on a very local basis exercised the minds of people in Runcorn, and were mentioned by a few people in Castle Vale, yet not as a pressing concern for most. Only in Milton Keynes did immigration and integration appear to be serious issues. The pattern seemed to be that morale was lowest and therefore identity–related anxieties at their highest, where the material conditions (housing and economics) were worst.

The important national issues raised were very varied. As expected, the spike in food and fuel prices was commented on. While anti–social behaviour is regularly referred to as being ‘everywhere nowadays’, thus linking the local to the national, the economy is seen purely as a national phenomenon. No particular pattern in terms of topics emerged, except that the important national issues were often seen through the lens of local ones. One national topic of interest however is that of ‘political correctness’. This ideological space, mentioned by interviewees as a barrier to freedom of self–expression or of honest exchange, is referred to in a number of ways, which straddle the local and national spheres. We felt this type of comment needs unpicking also.

Immigration and minorities

By far the most frequent context for referring to ethnic minorities is that of perceived competition for resources – typically housing, but also employment, benefits, territory and culture. In Coffee Hall (Milton Keynes), feelings of anxiety around housing were so acute that respondents claimed they had voted against the regeneration of the estate (which meant pulling down all breeze block houses and rebuilding them with new and better materials) because they feared that their necessary displacement during building work would result in them losing their places on the estate to immigrants. This seems to epitomise the collapsing of fears about taking over; the priorities of authorities allocating those resources; and those about retaining territory. Effectively, in this scenario, people prioritised territory and community over their own prospects for improved housing (in a context in which housing conditions were a major problem for many interviewees).

A woman in Runcorn says: ‘… you’ve now got towns which were predominantly white and now they’re not. And you’re expected to get on and not cause any waves, not look at people differently and be accepting. But at the same time how can you be accepting when they’re taking your house off you?’

There is also another line of argument that focuses on the quality of services per se. This logic states that some existing services are not yet up to scratch for the majority of users, so cannot easily be shared.

The second theme focused on the conditions for becoming, or being accepted as a full member of society. This was most often expressed during talk of integration and cohesion. The main two arguments used are ‘when in Rome’ (people who come here must adapt to ‘our way of life’); and the necessity for contributing in order to earn membership. This earning process can be undergone by something as simple as joining in community activities, or by making wider efforts to integrate, or paying into the welfare system.

Indeed, the onus for integration in these perspectives, as was found elsewhere in previous research, lies entirely with immigrants. There are also more nuanced appreciations of difference in terms of length of residence and degree of acculturation already achieved. Indeed there is a strand of this discussion that insists on integration as a two–way process, and that everyone must ‘be flexible’.

Anxieties about other topics might well be attached to this type of reasoning. From them are drawn conclusions: there is an almost unbridgeable difference between particular kinds of people and the playing field is tilted toward minorities because they can do things white people are not allowed to get away with. This leads to frustration among the majority population, and here we are entering territory that is covered by the critical discourse about ‘political correctness’.


In the narratives told to us, it is the white working class who are the biggest victims of social change. Some of the conversations included examples of how people perceive unfair situations in which minorities are advantaged; either directly or indirectly. From a variety of stories, two are indicative. One is about a community ‘clean up day’ in which members of all ethnic groups had taken part on an estate. After the event, a city councillor managed to get funding for a day trip as a reward – but only for the Asian participants. This story was commented on as having ‘destroyed the ethos’ of what they were trying to achieve by the original activity.

Another set of stories relates to the perception that incoming migrants are treated advantageously. A typical view in Thetford, for example, was that ‘they seem to be getting what we’ve worked all our lives for and can’t get’. This was interpreted as especially unfair when contrasted with the ‘elderly who haven’t got anything, can’t afford to pay heating, worked all their lives and get nothing’, and with ‘single mums who have to live in hostels’, while ‘foreigners are in nice cars and have big houses’. Indeed, many stories pursue the theme of resources being ‘given away’ to minorities. We understand these stories as not necessarily a reflection of things that have really happened, but rather a coded way to signal that the speaker contests the frame within which all the unfairness is experienced by ethnic minorities. By doing this, the speaker’s community is recast as the victim of discrimination.

In the interview material, we identified some key recurrent emotional themes; resentment; betrayal; abandonment; loss; defensiveness; nostalgia; unfairness and disempowerment. Local and central government are identified as doing the abandoning and betraying, while the communities experience loss and disempowerment. These take a number of forms, and for people from different generations, there are different landmarks on their emotional maps. However, it is clear that social class is a very important focus for people’s identities: people are very aware of the results of class differences in terms of life chances. Seeing the hostility around resource allocation only between the white working–class and ethnic minorities is a one–dimensional view. There is also intra– and inter–class resentment without which, the position of the respectable, employed working–class makes no sense.

Ways forward

Among the negative attitudes toward ethnic minorities were a minority of positive comments and empathy to do with their predicaments as asylum–seekers, and labour migrants doing jobs the British don’t want to do, or providing services the British can’t provide. There were also a list of suggestions for activities that would encourage integration, but these were set against a context of criticism of government intervention in such a field, with people arguing that integration cannot be imposed.


The contexts from which our interviewees were speaking differed in terms of:
1) local black and minority ethnic populations and histories of migration;
2) levels of economic and environmental development; and
3) the type of frequency and quality of contacts with black and minority ethnic people.

These contexts strongly inform, if not determine, people’s attitude toward a number of
issues, including perceptions of black and minority ethnic people.

The Importance of the local
Local issues considered important depended on the quality of the physical and social environment. This meant that in three of the four sites, immigration and integration were scarcely perceived as local issues at all. Local conditions are still very significant framing factors for any relationships between groups of people. This is categorically not to say that an improvement in the physical and economic conditions of estates will necessarily lead to the disappearance of all hostile attitudes to minorities. There is a cultural element to racism that will be more difficult to erode. However, the processes of democratically–based local development appear to contribute to the narrowing of the scope for the type of competition, and vulnerability to such competition that seem to pervade much of what we hear in these interviews.

Social class as part of identity
People experience their social position through a number of lenses, and an important one (necessarily in a project that focuses on the ‘white poor’) is social class. People in this research seemed happy to refer, unprompted, to themselves and communities as ‘working class’, and the concerns they focused on are seen through a set of experiences that are clearly marked by class.

'Assimilation' or 'integration'
We asked all our interviewees what integration meant to them. It emerged strongly that a majority understand ‘integration’ as meaning minorities giving up identity and merging with the local one, ie ‘assimilation’. Other qualitative research we have carried out elsewhere leads us to the same conclusion: most people think ‘integration’ means ‘assimilation’.

Political correctness
An important issue for further discussion is the amorphous ideological space referred to in shorthand as ‘political correctness’. There are different ways in which this idea is used to describe obstacles to communication. At present, the function of stories about political correctness appears to be to recast the power relations pertaining to the situations described so that the white majority assume the role of victims. There is a need to sort what is genuinely unhelpful to dialogue, on the one hand, from what is actually protecting groups of people from abuse, on the other.

Competition for resources
Where immigration and integration are discussed in depth as problematic, there is a focus on real or perceived competition for resources; housing, benefits, jobs, territory and national culture. The implications of this for the political capital that can be accrued by the Far–right are very grave. Our white interviewees’ responses to minorities are far from universally negative. In fact everything from indifference, through empathy, a desire for more and better engagement, to anxiety was registered in these interviews. People express a desire for equality and a level playing field, not only in economic terms, but also in terms of ethnic groups (and even sections of ethnic groups). In this reading, there is injustice and unfairness because the same rules do not seem to apply to everyone. However, the assumptions about who is entitled to resources seem to lean toward a racial base, with local variations.


There are four principal recommendations. The first is for the adoption of shared and consistent approaches at all levels of government, which for example, involves appointing a lead officer at local authority level.

The second is to aim to reduce information deficits around immigration and resource-allocation. The poor quality information available on which to base opinions is exacerbating people’s sense of loss and frustration, therefore improving communication and making processes transparent can help address this issue.

The third suggestion is, through concerted dialogue involving community groups, black and minority ethnic people and non–government organisations, as well as local authorities and central government, to establish a working definition of integration. Current understandings of this major policy concept are variable, and many tend toward assimilation rather than integration. Using dialogue to address what people really want and how to go about it, will focus on the shared solution of a problem, and provide opportunities for initiatives to develop from the ground upwards as well as from the top down, which is not presently the case.

Lastly, in response to the widespread reference to ‘political correctness’ as a negative force, we suggest using a similar dialogue–based approach to evaluating exactly what people mean when they say this, and then attempting to sift what is helpful from what is less so. The process of dialogue itself is both a mechanism and part of the process of integration. Again, the objective is to lessen the scope for misunderstandings and to shrink the basis for the narratives of unfairness, while forming some bonds between people and communities that are not currently communicating.

End of Summary.

This summary and other quotations are reproduced under the terms of the Click–Use Licence (licence to reproduce public sector information, Office of Public Sector information).



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Harte, J. (2007). Human population as a factor in environmental degradation.
Population and Environment 28: 223-236.

This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the linkages between human activity and environmental degradation. Harte begins with a brief summary of the effect of mankind on the environment:
“For the past several centuries, humanity has been increasingly polluting air and water, altering Earth's climate, eroding the soil, fragmenting and eliminating the habitat of plants and animals, and depleting the natural bank account of non–renewable resources. Of especially great long–term concern, we are as a consequence simultaneously degrading the capacity of natural ecosystems to regenerate or maintain renewable resources and ecosystem services, such as the provision of clean air and water, the control of flooding, the maintenance of a tolerable climate, the conservation and regeneration of fertile soil, and the preservation of genetic and other forms of biological diversity”.

The stage is set by the famous 'IPAT EQUATION', I=PAT:
“Environmental impact = (Population size) × (per–capita Affluence level) × (impact from the Technologies used to achieve that level of per–capita affluence)”.

But Harte points out — and this is central to his analysis — that we must not take the equation too literally: Population is not a 'linear multiplier'. That is, we must not think that if we hold A and T constant, environmental impact (henceforth EI) grows in simple proportion to population size, because it does not do so. There are several reasons for this.

First, with increasing population size, the EI of some human activity may apparently remain constant or increase only at a slow rate until at some point a threshold is reached and EI rapidly increases.
One example Harte considers is an effect of the combustion of fossil fuels. This causes acidification of the lower atmosphere with resultant acid rain, which harms or destroys plant and animal life in lakes. Below a certain level of acidification, the alkalinity in the water buffers the pH, but above a certain level of added acid, the buffering fails and the pH falls rapidly with disastrous consequences for wild life. Now the increased combustion of fossil fuels is of course related to the increased affluence of parts of the human population, but more particularly to the massive increase in that population.

The second reason for the non–linear relationship is the synergic effect of two different factors. “Synergy occurs when the combined effect of two causes is greater than the sum of the effects of the two causes acting in isolation of each other”.

For example, climate warming and deforestation, both related to human population growth, stress biodiversity in forested areas of the world. Harte does not give actual examples of the effect of either factor. But as regards climate warming, one example is the harmful effect of warming on boreal forests containing cold loving trees (see Earth Observatory Nasa). And one notable way deforestation stresses biodiversity arises from the fact that deforestation reduces the size of the area available to plant and animal species and since many species occupy relatively small total geographical areas, this leads to species loss in forest ecosystems.

But climate warming is also projected to cause forest dieback (effectively, deforestation) because drought conditions are predicted to become more frequent. And at the same time, deforestation releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. “Thus the sum of the effects of each of these two stresses, climate warming and deforestation, generates additional stresses that reinforce the total response”.

The third reason concerns 'positive feedback'. This refers to the situation where some factor X alters some feature P in such a way that the change in P magnifies the effect of X. An often quoted example, and Hart gives it, concerns global warming. As greenhouse gases (X above) build up in the atmosphere, the Earth's surface temperature (P) rises. But one consequence of this is that the area of the Earth covered in ice or snow decreases. Since ice and snow are white, they reflect much more light than darker bare ground or ocean. So as the former decreases and the latter increases, more sunlight is absorbed at the earth's surface and there is additional warming of the Earth. Now Harte and a colleague Torn have worked out a mathematical equation that encompasses the feedback effect. This is ΔT =ΔTO/(1—g). g is called the 'feedback factor'. Here if g is positive but less than one, the feedback result is ΔT >ΔTO, the positive feedback situation.

Harte then asks the question, “are there feedback processes in which the feedback factor, g, grows with the size of the population?” He notes that not all feedback processes are dependent on population size. Thus with the snow/ice melt just mentioned “the direct temperature change that triggers the feedback will depend on population (because people emit greenhouse gases) but the feedback factor, g, depends only on the physical properties of ice and snow, and on the relative response of temperature to a unit change in surface reflectance; it will not depend on population size”.

However, an example where g increases with population size comes with people's reaction to climate warming: in a warmer climate, many people will respond by making more use of air–conditioning, so increasing the burning of fossil fuel, leading in turn to increased emissions of the greenhouse gas Carbon Dioxide and consequently increased global warming.

Harte goes on to point to what he considers is a more significant positive feedback to global warming that is affected by population size, one that is associated with agriculture. Carbon Dioxide is produced by the decomposition of soil organic matter. Now climate warming is likely to increase this decomposition, particularly, Harte says, in tilled, fertilized and irrigated soils. He comments: “Because the total area of such lands depends on population size, the gain factor, g, associated with this positive feedback is dependent on population size”.

Harte then goes on in his paper to consider some other relationships between population size and EI. He draws attention to the importance of what are called pollutant 'sinks'. In relation to global warming, the effect of man on the atmosphere is mitigated by the fact that roughly a third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activity and liberated into the atmosphere is removed by the oceans and forests, which then are pollutant sinks. But just like kitchen sinks, “they can partially clog if too much is put down them”. Harte concludes “thus the rate at which carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere is a declining function of the amount that has already been removed, and so, in effect, is a declining function of population size at a fixed per capita affluence level and fixed technology”.

Harte notes that the ocean and forest carbon sinks can be thought of as non-renewable resources. Environmental problems become more severe when we use up these sinks. And the faster the human population grows, the quicker we use up these resources. Now natural gas is a cleaner alternative to coal, but the trouble is, we are rapidly exhausting the supply of this energy source.

The supply of clean fresh water poses a similar problem. Supplies in aquifers and rivers are of course renewable, but man has been removing water faster than it is naturally replenished; “then for substitutes we have to turn to new technologies to provide water, and many of these, such as dams and desalination, bring about environmental costs”. Global warming with more severe droughts in some major food producing areas will exacerbate the problem and the general solution will be to turn increasingly to more energy–intensive means of obtaining water to sustain a fixed level of per–capita affluence and this will accelerate global warming.

Harte concludes: “Hence we can think of the term T in IPAT, the impacts from the technologies needed to sustain a given per capita level of affluence, as inevitably a function of population, P”.

Up to this point in his paper, Harte has stuck to the environmental implications of population growth. But he then goes on briefly to comment on the social implications:
He notes that attempts to resolve social problems such as growing disparities between income, cultural and racial groups are made more difficult by rapid population growth because institutions cannot keep up with the provision of services. And there is a harmful feed back here to environmental problems. Harte takes as his example, the desirable objective of introducing a carbon tax to discourage fossil fuel consumption. In a society with only small income disparities, as a sales tax, the burden would not fall disproportionately on any group. But where there is a wide income disparity between groups the burden falls disproportionately on the poor by reason of the fact that they have to spend a larger fraction of their income on necessities like fuel than the rich. And this reduces the feasibility of introducing such a tax.

In the last section of his paper before the concluding remarks Harte looks at the implications of his analysis for dealing with global warming. He does this in relation to the concept of 'policy wedges' developed by Pacala and Socolow who illustrate their concept by a diagram. The basic idea here is that no single policy (sector or 'wedge' in the diagram) will be adequate to cope with global warming. We need a whole raft of policies (all the wedges of a possible comprehensive climate change policy) if we are to cope. Further, it will not be enough simply to aim to keep emissions at the year 2000 level: global warming would then still intensify in the future because a steady level of emissions at the year 2000 rate would lead to a continuing build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “To eventually stabilize the human contribution to climate change, we actually have to reduce emissions down to a level at which the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by natural sinks will result in a constant concentration of this greenhouse gas” (our italics).

None of the basic ideas here are new; in fact they have been asserted again and again by various experts and organisations. But the diagram helps us to visualize the situation in an effective way. And Harte adds a modification to the diagram - he introduces 'destabilizing' wedges such as feedbacks and the clogging of the carbon sinks that work against policies of rectification. These will be magnified by continued human population growth.

We end by mentioning two of the points that Harte makes in his concluding remarks.
First, he argues that the general structure of the population–EI relationship that he has expounded warrants “considerably greater concern over population growth...than has generally been shown by public policy makers”: the 'traditional' viewpoint is that population growth has a simple linear relationship with EI, whereas synergies, feedbacks and thresholds considerably magnify the effect of population growth.

Second. Present day global inequalities between peoples like the distribution of resources, will pale in comparison with the inequality in quality of life between us today and people born tomorrow if present environmental trends continue. “As the stewards of our descendents, it is our moral obligation to better understand that landscape and seek pathways to the future that avoid such rapidly escalating damages. Implementation of family planning policies throughout the world that give people greater control over reproduction, in under–developed and over–developed nations alike, is a critical step toward that end”.


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Carr, D. L, Suter, L & Barbieri, A. (2005). Population dynamics and tropical deforestation: State of the debate and conceptual challenges.
Population and environment 27, 1: 89-113.

In Gaia Watch, we consider that “at the global level, human population growth is one significant cause of environmental problems - destruction of natural ecosystems, increased rate of species extinction, soil erosion, falling water tables and depletion of aquifers, pollution of rivers, seas and coastal waters, increase of harmful emissions to the atmosphere” (see our Home Page). But we have never asserted that the relationship of population growth to environmental problems is a simple one, and some of the items already on our web site indicate the relationship is complex. The paper by Carr et al. illustates the complexity of the relationship for one of the most important ecosystems, namely tropical rainforests.

This paper is the outcome of work promoted by the Population Environment Research network (PERN) including a cyberseminar, and claims to draw together the conclusions of the various strands of research that cover or impinge on the field of the relationship between human demographic variables and tropical deforestation.

It seems widely agreed that the relationship between population and deforestation in general, i.e. not just in the tropics, is complex. As two authors (Geist and Lambin) put it “demographic drivers of deforestation nearly always operate in tandem with political, economic and ecological processes at various scales” (page 91).

The spacial scale of investigations is important. For example, global or national level analyses may show a correlation between population growth and level of deforestation. Yet at the more local level there maybe, for example “the seeming paradox of rural population decline in many Latin American nations coinciding with continued high rates of forest clearing” (page 93). This particular apparent paradox is explained by the fact that while national populations are growing, and the total national demand on forest services is increasing (both for home use and for the export of tropical timber as a steady source of wealth), at the same time, in some areas, many people are migrating to the cities with the hope of employment and a higher standard of living, thus reducing rural population density.

Despite the growing size of urban populations, the impact on forest area of this growth may be less than one might expect, indeed there may be “favourable forest trends" (page 96). For example, there may be a reduced dependence on fuel wood, fuel needs being met by fossil fuels rather than wood and charcoal. Forest regrowth may take place as marginal agricultural land (originally established by cutting down forest areas) is abandoned because of a dearth of rural labour, or there may be government sponsored replanting programmes. However, while such planted forests do provide some environmental services like reducing soil erosion, they are frequently “only an impovershed replacement of the original forest” and as one commentator put it “reforestation is now as great a threat to bio-diversity as deforestation”.

Although the adverse impact of local land users on forests may sometimes wane, as mentioned above, nevertheless deforestation resulting from local users remains a common feature of many regions. For example, the demand for fuelwood for household consumption in the arid and populous regions of East Africa and South Asia “is perhaps the primary proximate driver of deforestation in these regions” (page 98).

Much discussion on environmental impact has centred on the famous Impact equation I=PAT, where I = environmental impact, P= population and T =technology (page 100). Now the authors of this paper write that in virtually all studies, “ policy and institutional factors (absent in the I=PAT formulation) were implicated as driving factors”. Further, they conclude that “economic factors appear to exert a stronger influence on deforestation than does population”. The effects of increased technological efficiency however are mixed. Use now of technology like chain saws and heavy equipment may increase the rate of deforestation.
At the same time, improved technology may reduce environmental impact. For example, agricultural intensification may be through “technological substitution to raise yields on a given area of land as opposed to raising yields by investing in more labour or by expanding cultivation to encompass a larger area” as in deforestation (page 101).

Considering policy and institutional effects, the authors note the literature shows various factors that contribute to deforestation. Thus in the Amazon, there have been official schemes of land colonisation and induced immigration, and “subsidies and tax incentives for investment in cattle ranching, which demand large extensions of land in the Amazon and triggered land speculation”. “ Institutional failure, especially due to inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption in the government sector, has also hindered the effective use of natural resources (e.g. logging in Indonesia) and induced deforestation...”. On the other hand, cooperation between local communities and international institutions, transnational corporations and NGOs have in some places enhanced resource conservation (page 103).

The authors end their paper by a section that looks at policies and possible future research that may lead to reduced adverse impact of human populations on forests. Policy suggestions range from extending family planning with the aim of achieving a “long–run balance and stabilisation between consumption and supply of naturall resources, particularly forests”, to creating new forest reserves where the focus is not just on forest cover but rather on the preservation of areas of high biodiversity.

For another analysis of the impact of human population growth on deforestation see our review of J. K. McKee's book “Sparing nature” on our Book Reviews page.


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Report of Hearings by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health (January 2007). Return of the Population Growth Factor. Its impact upon the Millennium Development Goals. House of Commons.

This report is an exploration of how to reach the 'Millennium Development Goals' that were set by the United Nations. These goals concern ways to transform poverty stricken countries, largely countries with agricultural–based economies in the 'third' or non–industrialized world, into countries with modern, healthy economies.

The first four paragraphs of the report's Foreword succinctly both identify the problem and indicate the solution:
“In 2000, 189 governments committed themselves to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. At current rates of progress however, we will not meet these Goals unless governments and their partners turn words and promises into resources and action”.
“A lack of access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) information and services leading to high fertility and subsequent population growth, particularly in the poorest countries, continues to pose significant challenges to development and the attainment of the MDGs. And high levels of fertility and population growth make it far more difficult for families and societies to overcome poverty”.
“The pace of growth of the world's population increased markedly throughout the last century and we can anticipate a further 50% increase in the world's population by 2050. Many experts agree that world population growth poses serious threats to human health, socioeconomic development, and the environment”.
Population issues have lost priority, compared to other concerns of civil society and economic development. Funding has stagnated or decreased at a time when unmet need for family planning information and services is increasing” (our italics).

So population growth and government failure to adequately fund sexual and reproductive health information and services programmes are the causes of failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals. But why have Population issues lost priority? The report traces the beginning of this loss back to the 1994 United Nations conference in Cairo. This conference focused on the reproductive rights of individual women, improved education and healthcare services. It deliberately turned away from the issue of population growth because this topic had become inextricably associated with coercive population policies and coercion was condemned. The authors of the present report however, consider that something can be done to slow population growth without any coercion.

The report spells out the harmful effects of population growth:

  • Most of current population growth is taking place in the world's poorest countries (page 18). The rapid pace of this growth means that “we are not even succeeding in keeping the numbers living in extreme poverty stable” (page 20). In fact the number of people living in extreme poverty has grown from 231 million in 1990 to 318 million in 2001 (page 20), countervailling the positive effects of economic growth (page 22).
  • Rapid population growth and so increase in population density in rural areas leads to within–country migration to urban areas and the growth of densely populated slums; in fact urban slums will absorb most of future population growth (page 25). Overcrowding creates the conditions most favourable to the spread of diseases including HIV (page 43).
  • Population growth has outstripped the ability of governments to provide services, for example health services (pages 36 and 44), and education so that “universal primary education becomes an illusion” (page 29).
    This shortage of services is partly caused by a shortage of professional workers and this is exacerbated by the emigration of such workers from areas of low opportunity and deteriorating economic circumstances including decreasing educational and job opportunities, to developed countries (pages 25 and 44).
  • Rapid population growth is often one cause of civil conflict (pages 24 and 56, and in relation to shrinking water supplies page 53). And the report notes that “countries in which young adults comprise more than 40% of the adult population, are more than twice as likely as countries with lower proportions, to experience an outbreak of civil conflict” (page 24); this applies to some of the poorest countries. Women in situations of conflict and migration are more vulnerable to sexual violence, and maternal mortality rates may be increased (page 42). Conflict exacerbates poverty (page 22).
  • Underlying all these effects of population growth are the consequences of this growth for the very environment that sustains all human populations — “ environmental degradation is commonplace in many parts of the world, as increased numbers of people struggle to feed themselves” (page 48).

The report details this environmental deterioration:

  • Extensive deforestation to obtain wood for fuel and construction and land for growing crops exacerbates climate change which in turn has harmful effects on the environment (page 48). Soil exhaustion occurs from attempting to increase food yields in existing agricultural land and extending cultivation onto unsuitable land like hill slopes, to feed the growing population. This with overgrazing leads to soil erosion and so further environmental deterioration (page 27) (see our 'Royal Society Warning to the G8 on Climate Change, but there is another warning that should also be given' in the Comment section of our Comment and Analysis page).
  • Coastal and marine ecosystems are also “facing increasing pressure. Forty percent of Africans already rely upon coastal and marine ecosystems, but if current patterns of migration continue, this figure is set to continue increasing, further degrading resources and leaving whole communities vulnerable to disaster” (page 48). Ocean fisheries are being over–fished (page 49).
  • A vital part of the environment for man is its supplies of fresh water. And the report notes: “Consumption of fresh water for agriculture, industrial and domestic uses increased six–fold in the 20th century” (page 51). Part of this increase has of course been caused by increased per capita consumption in industrialized countries, but rapid global population growth is a major causal factor. “Ground water supplies are falling in large parts of Asia, with little indication they could easily be replenished while population grows... groundwater supplies are facing serious depletion and contamination from intensive agriculture” and so on (page 52).

In view of all these facts about the environment, it is not surprising that the report is cautious about the ability of the planet to sustain adequate food production. The report notes that global food production has kept pace with population growth during the second half of the twentieth century, but there is no guarantee that this production will keep pace with future population growth, indeed “the rate of increase in food production worldwide appears to be slowing down” (pages 26 and 27).

At the centre of the population problem is the fact that while fertility has generally been declining in developing countries, there has been a considerable variation in the time of onset, rate, and extent of this fertility decline. And the decline has stalled in some countries. Figure 8 of the report (page 19) shows clearly where this problem is greatest. Country fertility rates (births per woman) are shown here by colour, ranging from dark green (less than 1.5, through pale green, pale yellow (2.5-3.5), orange, to red (4.5. or more). What stands out is that most countries in Africa south of the Sahara, i.e. Black Africa, are red.

The report also draws attention to Egypt. Here fertility decline has stalled at 3.5 children and the population is projected to nearly double by 2050. Now the water in the Nile river is severely depleted by the time it reaches the Mediterranean region and there is a real possibility that the amount of water available to Egypt may decline in coming years; meanwhile the demand for water in Egypt continues to increase.

And the report notes that “with the exception of a few oilrich states, no country has risen from poverty while still maintaining high average fertility. Conversely, many countries that lowered their birth rates, such as South Korea, have eradicated or greatly reduced poverty. Continued rapid population growth in today's poorest countries presents a serious barrier to meeting the MDG of poverty reduction”.

What then needs to be done to enable the Millennium Development Goals to be reached?

Globally, the report sees the solution first and foremost as reducing population growth by making contraception devices, health care services and education more widely available. It claims that most people in developing countries would reduce their family sizes if they were given the means to attain this goal (“125 to 200 million people would like to be able to control their fertility, but are not using contraception” (page 14). The report cites as evidence that in most sub-Saharan countries the fertility of the richest 20% of people declined by more than 1.5 in the last decade, but the fertility of the poorest 20% either remained unchanged or increased by more than one child. This suggests, the report argues, that “the high fertility of the poor may be largely unplanned or unwanted” (page 15).

The authors of the report tackle the question of coercion that so bedevilled the Cairo conference, and make it clear they wish to avoid such coercion. We read about the “human right of couples to make voluntary decisions on when to have a child” (page 9, our italics). They quote S. Sinding “I think the taboo (about population at the Cairo conference) was the result of a mythology that equated population policies with coercion. I think this was a misrepresentation of the reality of population policies and population programmes around the world, not withstanding the fact that the two largest countries, India and China, were both guilty of coercion in their programmes” (page 11).

Yet the report admits that “The People's Republic of China, through a combination of lowered birth rates and economic reform, has lifted 150 million people out of abject poverty and are meeting the MDG for poverty reduction a decade earlier than the target date of 2015” (page 21). What the report does not explore is — what would have happened to China's population if the coercive one child policy had not been adopted? The population growth would in our opinion have rocketed, making it impossible to achieve the economic growth that has been achieved, and environmental degradation would have been far more severe than it actually has been.

Perhaps coercion is not such a bad thing after all. Which is better — to insist on individual human rights and avoid any coercive measures, resulting in further descent into poverty, increased conflict, breakdown of social order, and massive increase in mortality, or alternatively, put the good of the whole population above the rights of individuals, and thus secure a reduction of population growth with all its concomitant benefits?

Furthermore, the report sees just two situations, individual rights supreme with no coercion, and coercion. But this leaves out a middle way of 'sticks and carrots', aimed at persuading without threatening, people to limit their reproduction. After all, in east Asia — so lauded for its economic success — some governments adopted incentives and disincentives to encourage small rather than large families. As Mason noted “Singapore adopted a comprehensive set of incentives and disincentives..., and similar efforts were pursued elsewhere in the region” (Mason, A. (2003). Population change and economic development: what have we learned from the East Asia experience?. Applied population and policy 1, 1: 3–14. See page 11).

As we have already noted, the report does acknowledge the relationship between population growth and increase in conflict. And it mentions, almost in passing, 'poor government' (in Nigeria — page 22). But it does not draw attention to the massive corruption amongst leaders and governing elites in some Black African countries that has characterised the last half century. It does not mention the scant regard for human rights shown by many African countries, exemplified now with the conference of southern African leaders — just coming to an end as this paragraph was being drafted — where Mugabe's atrocious record on human rights seems to have been ignored! (link)

This 'poor governance' is, in our view, an underlying cause of the problems of Black Africa. And we note that Asian countries generally, during the last half century, experienced more political stability than in most of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Consequently, their governments could realistically pursue long-term goals (Mason, ibid. See our essay 'The demographic dividend' accessed from the Analysis section of our Comment and Analysis page).

One thing that positively hits one in the eye as one reads through this publication, is the extent that Africa stands out. We have already referred to the map of the world showing fertility rates (figure 8). But in the map showing low primary school completion rates (figure 11 page 31), 'middle Africa' also stands out, as it does also in the map of worldwide maternal mortality (figure 16 page 40). And there are numerous references to the serious situation in African countries in the text. We cannot help asking - “why Africa?” Is Africa the only region of the world to suffer from exploitation by First or Industrialised countries (a beloved topic of the politically correct)? But the authors of this report don't ask that question, and in our view, that is a question that needs asking by any persons who want to rectify the global situation.

We think that without facing up more squarely to the issue of 'poor governance' in many poor countries, it will not be possible to work out a strategy that has a reasonable chance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Even if poor governance was properly taken into account, the dire situation, economically and politically, in many of these countries, viewed against the background of the severe environmental degradation that has already taken place, the likely future conflict over water resources and the likely adverse future environmental changes caused by global warming, it is unlikely, in our view, that the MDGs will ever be reached.

This well produced document provides concise summaries in numbers and graphics of population and other MGD matters.


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Dietz, T., Rosa, E. A. & York, R. (2007). Driving the human ecological footprint.
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5, 1: 13-18.

This important paper makes an analysis of 'anthropogenic' (stemming from human activity) environmental degradation, with the purpose of identifying the 'primary drivers' of this degradation. And the authors state at the beginning that there is growing evidence supporting the hypothesis that population and affluence are the primary drivers.

However, does increasing affluence invariably lead to increasing adverse environmental impact? And how significant are other postulated drivers, other 'anthropogenic stressors' for example, age structure: persons under the age of 15 consume less and are less involved with production activities than adults, so we might expect greater environmental impacts from populations with a higher proportion of adults than populations with a younger age structure.

To answer these questions the authors make use of a model derived from the famous impact identity I=PAT: impact = population × affluence × technology (see the essay “I=PAT. An Introduction” accessed from the Analysis section of our Comment and Analysis page). This is the 'STIRPAT MODEL' (“stochastic impacts by regression on population, affluence and technology”), a model developed earlier by Dietz and Rosa. The measure of anthropogenic stressors they use is the ecological footprint and a brief overview of the footprint method is given in the paper. But briefly, the method involves converting all forms of consumption into land areas, for example crop land, or forest land for absorbing carbon dioxide emissions from energy production, at current consumption levels. And the 'global footprint' is the footprint of all humanity. The method is described in more detail in our essay “How many people can the earth support? (part 2 - Ecological Footprints)”, accessed from the Comment and Analysis page of our web site, Analysis section).

What were the results? As might be expected, population comes out as a very significant driver. “...a 1% change in population induces a nearly equal percentage change in impacts”.

What about affluence? Now in the early part of their paper, the authors note that evidence had previously been found that with some particular impact agents, notably some air and water pollutants, during economic growth, environmental impact initially increases, but later decreases. Economic growth was here usually represented by some indicator of increased affluence, normally increase of GDP per capita. So the relationship found was that the (per capita) impact of the population initially increases as GDP per capita increases, then steadies and later decreases. This is known as the Environmental Kuznets Curve relationship which is examined in detail in the essay “Is Economic Growth good for the Environment? An approach to this question using the Environmental Kuznets Curve Hypothesis” also accessed from the Analysis section of the Comment and Analysis page of our web site. The main point is, however, that this relationship suggests that economic growth is good for the environment.

In their investigation, Dietz et al found that not only are higher levels of affluence (GDP per capita) not correlated with reduced impact (smaller footprints) rather “higher levels of affluence produce larger footprints than would be expected from a strictly proportional relationship”.

Three other postulated drivers, namely age distribution, urbanization and economic structure (the extent that economic activity is in the environmentally relatively benign service sector) were not significant drivers.

Two other factors were significant. First, the more land per capita, the greater the impact. This suggests to the authors that “patterns of more wasteful resource use have emerged in large nations”. Second, the impact of countries in temperate and arctic latitudes tends to be greater than the impact of countries in the tropics, suggesting that cold climates lead to increased energy consumption that in turn increases the ecological footprint.

Further analysis broadened the investigation to look at indicators of human well being, making use of United Nations indices for educational achievement and life expectancy. The authors found that if one controls for other variables, neither indicator was related to environmental impact, suggesting that “while increasing affluence does drive impacts, it is possible to improve other aspects of human well-being without adverse environmental effects”.

The authors went on to make a projection of the global footprint in 2015, making use of United Nations medium population projections and assuming moderate economic growth. The 2001 footprint of 13.5 billion hectares is projected to rise by 34% to 18.1 billion hectares. Ecological footprints are often compared with the total size of productive hectares on earth. Such comparisons make current human demand equivalent to 1.2 planets, so we are already, at current consumption levels, overshooting the long-term capacity of the earth to sustain the human population. By 2015, the figure is projected to rise to 1.6 planets. The countries with the greatest absolute increase in footprint will be China and India. This is no surprise: these are the two countries with the largest populations, and there is continuing massive population growth and rapidly increasing economic growth.

What conclusions do the authors reach about human prospects? They discuss this in terms of improving technology, noting that it has frequently been suggested technological progress can redress environmental problems. They say technological improvements would need to exceed 2 % per year. They argue that this is feasible, since at least as far as energy efficiency is concerned, some nations have improved this efficiency by as much as 5 % per year. However, “...this goal may be technologically feasible, although difficult in the face of economic and institutional obstacles....We also do not know whether the production efficiencies of non-energy resources can be improved so rapidly”. And the authors warn against “complacency about global environmental impacts”.

What should we make of this point of view? “Economic and institutional obstacles”. The authors do not elaborate, although they say elsewhere in their paper that the evolving environmental policies of India and China “will undoubtedly be critical in the move towards global sustainability”. We imagine these obstacles may be both numerous and serious. Think only of power supply. A BBC report 14th February 2007 (“coal blackens outlook in China”), paints a sombre picture. Shanxi province is said to be the worst province for pollution. “When you are driving you often can't see clearly in front of you. A lot of accidents happen because people can't see”. And according to this BBC report China is expected to go on opening new coal fired power stations at the rate of about one a week for years to come”!

We also note that this article by Dietz et al says nothing at all about the possibility of doing something about human population growth, growth that even from their analysis alone, is a highly significant cause of increasing global environmental degradation. In this, the authors fall in line with the majority of environmentalists and economists, who put their faith in decreasing per capita consumption in the industrialised world and improving technology, the 'A' and 'T' of the Impact equation I=P×A×T. But we argue intervention is also needed with 'P'. So in the terms the authors themselves use and narrowing our focus on India and China, rather than saying the evolving economic policies of these nations will be critical, we say population policies will also be critical.


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Coleman, D. (2006). Immigration and Ethnic Change in Low-Fertility Countries: A Third Demographic Transition.
Population and Development Review 32, 3: 401-446.

David Coleman is Professor of Demography at Oxford University, with over 90 papers and eight books to his credit, so when he writes about a demographic matter of considerable public concern, we should consider carefully what he has to say.

He frames his analysis in terms of past changes in fertility, mortality and behaviour in industrial societies, as they have gone through what are termed the first and second demographic transitions. These are described at the beginning of our Population Trends page so there is no need to rehearse their features here. David Coleman thinks that some of these countries are now experiencing a set of population processes that amount to a Third Demographic Transition. The key features of the situation are first, persistent low fertility and second, high immigration.

European countries have been experiencing below replacement level fertility rates – for several decades in Western Europe, for a shorter time in Southern and Eastern Europe. At the same time, Western European countries and the United States have in recent times been experiencing high levels of net immigration, where immigration streams have included significant numbers of “persons from remote geographic origins or with distinctive ethnic and racial ancestry” (parts of Eastern Europe have had only modest migration flows).

Consequently the compositions of country populations are changing, with an increase in the proportion of persons of foreign descent and non-native ethnic groups: “The processes...resulting from low fertility combined with high immigration, are significant because they are changing the composition of national populations and thereby the culture, physical appearance, social experiences, and self-perceived identity of the inhabitants of European nations”. If these processes persist, resulting in permanent changes, we may, Coleman says, regard the whole transformation as a Third Demographic Transition.

What of long term consequences if these processes continue? According to theory, any population with below replacement level fertility where, through net immigration, the size of the population is either maintained at a constant level or increases, will eventually be transformed until that population is predominantly and eventually entirely of immigrant origin. The original population has been displaced. Furthermore, even if the fertility of immigrant populations, initially high, falls to the level of the host population, this will not ultimately prevent this replacement.

In practical terms, future changes are investigated by making projections, and Coleman discusses projections that have been made for Western European countries, after providing for Europe (and the United States) details of fertility and immigration and the growth of foreign-origin populations in the past. For such projections, investigators in different countries have classified their populations in different ways, depending on availability of data. The Austrian projections, for example, only have people classified as 'citizens' and 'foreigners'. In contrast, with projections for Germany, the population is divided into five categories: Germans, Turks, Yugoslavs, Other European Union, and Other Foreign.

The projections are based on assumptions made about fertility, mortality and migration. Coleman makes the generalisation that projections assume the fertility of populations of Western origin will converge to the native average, the fertility of non-European populations to around replacement level or slightly above it. With mortality, existing foreign-origin populations have mortality rate similar to the national-origin populations, and apart from Sweden, all the projections assume death rates to be similar across the board.

Migration assumptions “are the most troublesome of the three. Statistics on current levels of migration are unsatisfactory”. But Coleman gives compelling reasons for supposing levels of migration will continue at their present levels, or more likely increase, in the foreseeable future: Gross and net immigration, despite fluctuations, have been growing in recent decades. And underlying these trends are the twenty-fold differentials in per capita earnings and large differences in population growth rates between countries of origin and Western European countries. Further, economic disparities have widened in African and other countries that also have the highest levels of population growth. Not surprisingly then, most of the projections that Coleman details assume much of future immigration will come from what he describes as 'non-traditional' sources.

Coleman also notes that future immigration from poor countries is supported by chain migration (migration such as that for arranged marriages facilitated by earlier migrants who have established communities in the host countries), and by the rights of immigrants currently accepted by host countries, notably post–World War Two human rights conventions. Immigration is also facilitated by “the transformation of the host societies' institutions, culture, language, and politics into forms more conducive to continued migration, so that in some respects they come to resemble more closely those of the sending countries”.

A summary of population projection assumptions and results for Western European countries where researchers have in some way separately recorded foreign-origin populations in their analyses, are given in table 1 of Coleman's paper. Further details are given in the appendices. These countries are Austria, England and Wales, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Between 2000/2001 and 2050/2051, in all these countries, there is projected to be a large increase in the percentage of the population that is 'foreign' (variously defined), ranging from 6 to 25 per cent. For example, with Germany, the percentage foreign (sum of the four foreign groups mentioned earlier) rises from 9.9 in 2000 to 23.6 in 2050. With England and Wales the non-white ethnic minority populations increase from 8.7 to 24.5 per cent in 2051, and the white non-British-origin populations from 2.7 to 11.6 per cent. So the total 'foreign' population rises to a massive 36.1 per cent. We note that the conclusions for England and Wales receive support, for the period 2001 to 2020, by the research of P. Rees (see Salt and Rees 2006, “Globalisation, population mobility and impact of migration on population”, The Economic and Social Research Council).

The changes in population composition will not cease in 2050, so in the long term, there is likely to be a massive transformation of the ethnic or racial composition of Europe. Is there any precedent for such change? Coleman notes that change in population composition through migration has been a feature throughout Europe's history. Major movements of population started BC and continued in the early centuries AD. Coleman thinks the Anglo-Saxon invasions may have contributed up to 20 per cent of English ancestry, the later Danish invasions 2-4 per cent, the Norman 'kleptocracy' not more than 1-2 per cent, but, he notes, all these changes were over a protracted period of time. “...it is certain that nothing remotely like these events has happened since in the British Isles. The effect of migration into England from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries has been undetectable using genetic markers, as would be expected from Britain's political and demographic history...” .

Coleman poses the question: “Should the transformation of the ethnic or racial composition of European countries in the twenty-first century, which is presaged in these projections, be regarded as a third demographic transition in progress?”. He notes that to merit the term demographic transition, the changes must be “fast in historical terms, without precedent, irreversible, and above all of substantial social, cultural, and political significance”.

Coleman thinks the answer is yes: If the projected future changes do take place, the effects on ancestry in the long run may be greater than anything that has occurred previously, in the degree of replacement, in the geographic remoteness of sources of immigrants and in the speed of change, and the changes are likely to be permanent. They will too have profound social, cultural and political consequences (see below). So the term demographic transition will be warranted, a transition now well underway.

There are many uncertainties about the composition of future populations. For example, the projections just discussed assume that population groups remain distinct. This may not turn out to be the case. In the past, many substantial migratory groups such as the Huguenots in seventeenth-century England have become completely absorbed. And at present, the boundaries of some populations such as West Indians in Britain are becoming blurred. On the other hand, future populations are likely to include many people who self-identify as of 'mixed' origin. None of the projections mentioned include mixed categories. They all assume that children of mixed unions will become absorbed into one of the parental groups. But individuals may prefer to explicitly identify with a new identity of mixed origin, which seems to be happening in the US, and over half a million persons in Britain identified themselves as mixed or were so identified by their parents at the 2001 census. At present, some immigrant groups remain as Coleman puts it 'encapsulated', like Muslims in Britain and Turks in Belgium. And we note that this encapsulation is reinforced by a high degree of endogamy in some groups (Penn and Lambert, 2002, Population Trends 108). Later generations may not become more assimilated than the first, or become even more alienated, which seems already to be the case with some groups, for example young North Africans in France.

Despite such uncertainties, it seems clear that the demographic changes taking place have serious consequences for the cohesion and values of future societies. As Coleman puts it “when democratic societies acquire multiple cultures, new wedges may be driven into the social structure”. Perceptions of identity, in the past focused on the nation state, are changing. The current emphasis, for example with welfare concerns, is not on a “universal secular citizenship in a broader society” but on kin, community and religion.

In this situation, native populations have been put at a disadvantage. Thus concerns for human rights focus almost entirely on the rights of immigrant populations, not on the rights of native peoples to conserve there own way of life, with their own language, laws and communities. “Principles of cultural conservation, nowadays recognized and defended on behalf of the Yanomamö and Tapirapé of the Amazon forest..., find little parallel on behalf the native inhabitants of Tower Hamlets or Toulouse, although their complaints would meet most of the criteria proposed for such protection...In Europe, local nativist protests tend to be denounced as racist, xenophobic, and deluded...”.

With larger numbers, foreign origin populations may feel less need to adapt to local norms, rather they may become more confident in attempting to extend their own values, language and laws in the wider society. Already in Britain, Muslim organisations, noting the increased numbers of Muslims shown by recent censuses, have been pressing for the introduction of shari'a law in parts of Britain where Muslims already predominate. This ties in with what we have written elsewhere on our web site, especially in the essay “The Muhammad cartoons controversy - the context”. We note there some Muslim leaders who seek to transform Britain and indeed the whole of Europe into part of a world wide Islamic state. We believe that a far greater proportion of the present Muslim population of Europe have this aim than is currently acknowledged by officialdom.

Coleman ends his paper by noting that the changes in European populations described are proceeding despite widespread opposition from the public to the levels of migration that are causing them. “In ignoring the long-term consequences the countries of the West are facilitating a radical transformation of the composition of their societies and the cessation of a specific heritage... democratic approval might have been thought necessary for so notable and permanent a change...” (our bold text).


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Imagine earth without people.

In the New Scientist magazine, issue 2573, 12th October 2006, an intriguing article appeared: “Imagine Earth without people”.

The article examines what the effect would be on the world's environment, ecosystems and biodiversity, if the entire human population of the world (6.5 billion people) was spirited away from the planet.

The opening paragraph is important in its own right, as it succinctly summarises mankind's impact on the planet:
“Humans are undoubtedly the most dominant species the Earth has ever known. In just a few thousand years we have swallowed up more than a third of the planet's land for our cities, farmland and pastures. By some estimates, we now commandeer 40 percent of all its productivity. And we're leaving quite a mess behind: ploughed-up prairies, razed forests, drained aquifers, nuclear waste, chemical pollution, invasive species, mass extinctions and now the looming spectre of climate change. If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet”.
Here we see just what human population growth has done to our wonderful planet, what it has done to the whole Gaian system (see our reviews of books by Lovelock, Diamond and McKee, and of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment).

The article tells us that if the human population was suddenly removed and the planet was viewed from orbit, some change would be almost immediately apparent: The blaze of artificial light that brightens the night sky, causing 85 per cent of the night sky over the European Union to be light-polluted, would quickly begin to disappear, through lack of supply of fuel to power stations.

More gradually, the other signs of man's activity would disappear and nature would re-assert itself. The best illustration of this, we are told, is the city of Pripyat near Chernobyl in Ukraine, which was abandoned after the nuclear disaster 20 years ago and remains deserted to this day. The buildings are slowly decaying. Plant root systems penetrate into the buildings, initiating the collapse of man made structures. More generally in the world, with no one to make repairs, buildings will crumble. But as archaeology shows us, we can expect signs of man–made structures to persist for thousands of years.

Most ecosystems may be expected to recover once people disappear, although recovery rates will vary. “Warmer, moister regions, where ecosystem processes tend to run more quickly in any case, will bounce back more quickly than cooler, more arid ones. Not surprisingly, areas still rich in native species will recover faster than more severely altered systems”. “In contrast, places where native forests have been replaced by plantations of a single tree species may take several generations of trees - several centuries - to work their way back to a natural state. The vast expanses of rice, wheat and maize that cover the world's grain belts may also take quite some time to revert to mostly native species”.

In the oceans, fish populations would gradually recover from over–fishing. And lakes and rivers will gradually recover from the excess of nitrate and phosphate pollutants. In the atmosphere, most of the man generated greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will disappear.

However, the recovery of ecosystems and the return to the state they were in before the advent of man will be incomplete, for various reasons. For example, the activities of man have in some areas produced new 'stable states' the properties of which will resist the return. Thus in Hawaii, introduced species of grass cause frequent wildfires and such fires in the future would prevent native forest regeneration.

Then again, some plants and animal species and strains introduced by man into ecosystems may remain as permanent members of those ecosystems, even if they undergo further evolution in the course of time – horses, cattle, pigs, wheat strains. Genetically modified (GM) crops are less likely to survive. For example, “GM bent grass is engineered to be resistant to a pesticide, which comes at a metabolic cost to the organism, so in the absence of spraying it will be at a disadvantage and will probably die out too”.

Furthermore, the removal of man would not restore all the species that have already become extinct. And it would not save all those species that are presently close to extinction: Some species have probably already past some “critical threshold below which they lack the genetic diversity or the ecological critical mass they need to recover”. Invasive introduced predatory or competitive species may also cause further species extinction.

Even where one might expect fairly rapid recovery of ecosystems, that recovery may in fact be delayed. Consider for example, ocean stocks of fish like cod, which have slumped. “The problem is that there are now so few cod and other large predatory fish that they can no longer keep populations of smaller fish such as gurnards in check. Instead, the smaller fish turn the tables and out–compete or eat tiny juvenile cod, thus keeping their erstwhile predators in check. The problem will only get worse in the first few years after fishing ceases, as populations of smaller, faster-breeding fish flourish like weeds in an abandoned field. Eventually, though, in the absence of fishing, enough large predators will reach maturity to restore the normal balance. Such a transition might take anywhere from a few years to a few decades”.

Amelioration of climate change effects will not be a simple matter, despite loss of most of the man-made carbon dioxide in a few decades, so global warming – with all its adverse effects on ecosystems – will continue for another century. About 15 per cent of the CO2 from burning fossil fuels will remain in the atmosphere, leaving its concentration at about 300 parts per million compared with pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. “There will be CO2 left in the atmosphere, continuing to influence the climate, more than 1000 years after humans stop emitting it”.

There is uncertainty too about another important greenhouse gas that produces about 20% of current global warming, namely methane. The chemical lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is only about 10 years, so its concentration could rapidly fall to pre-industrial levels if emissions were to cease. “The wild card, though, is that there are massive reserves of methane in the form of methane hydrates on the sea floor and frozen into permafrost. Further temperature rises may destabilise these reserves and dump much of the methane into the atmosphere”. “We may stop emitting methane ourselves, but we may already have triggered climate change to the point where methane may be released through other processes that we have no control over”.

However, eventually, after at most “a few tens of thousands of years”, almost every trace of mankind's dominance on the planet will have vanished. And “alien visitors coming to Earth 100,000 years hence will find no obvious signs that an advanced civilisation ever lived here”.

The New Scientist article may be accessed by the following link:


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The Tragedy of the Commons - and Human Population Growth.

A very important paper which dealt with the relationship of human population growth to mankind's impact on the environment appeared in 1968: Hardin, G. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162: 1243-1248. Now a new paper provides an assessment of how this commons idea has fared since Hardin wrote his paper: Soroos, M. S. (2005). Garrett Hardin and tragedies of global commons. Chapter 3 in P. Dauvergne (Ed.) Handbook of global environmental politics. Edward Elgar. We deal here with these two papers, starting with Hardin's.

Hardin asks us to consider a pasture, shared by all the local herdsmen. He writes that it is expected that each herdsman will attempt to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. For a long time this arrangement may work alright because the numbers of both people and cattle are kept below the carrying capacity of the land by poaching, tribal wars and disease. However, in the end, the land does become so seriously overgrazed that all the herdsmen begin to see “the remorseless working of things”.

Expanding on this line of thought Hardin argues as follows.

Each herdsman, will seek to maximise his gain. “Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, 'What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?' This utility has one negative and one positive component”.
The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. All proceeds from the sale of an additional animal go to the herdsman, so “the positive utility is nearly 1”.
“The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal”. But the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen. Therefore “the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1”.

“Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another...”. But, Hardin goes on, all the other herdsmen reason in the same way, each one feels compelled to increase his herd without limit, and all this in a world that is limited. “Therein is the tragedy”. So “ Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”.

The tragedy of the commons is not confined to taking things out of the commons; it applies also to putting things in, that is pollution. The calculations of utility here are similar to those mentioned above. "The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them". But this is true for everybody. So the commons is increasingly degraded.

Hardin gives interesting examples of changes in the world consistent with this idea of the tragedy of the commons, one of which is the development of maritime fisheries. “Maritime nations still respond automatically to the shibboleth of the 'freedom of the seas'. Professing to believe in the 'inexhaustible resources of the oceans', they bring species after species of fish and whales closer to extinction”.

The author goes on to discuss ways to avoid the tragedy of the commons. He concludes that this will require coercive laws, but the coercion should be “mutual coercion”, that is agreed by the majority of people. That does not mean we are required to enjoy the coercion. After all, we don't enjoy current taxes, but we accept that voluntary taxes would favour conscienceless people, so we need compulsory taxes.

Hardin argues that, most importantly, we need coercion over procreation - We must abandon the freedom of unlimited reproduction: “The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognise, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all”. Further "to couple the concept of freedom to breed with equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action”. And “unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations”. For, he notes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes the family the natural and fundamental unit of society. From this it follows that family size decisions “must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else”. It is painful but necessary, Hardin writes, to deny the validity of this right. And “if we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is promoted by the United Nations”.

Actually Hardin frames the argument of his paper in terms of the concepts of individual human freedoms, and the optimum population. The chapter on human freedoms and education in the book “England in the New Millennium. Are we prepared to save our countryside?” Barker, 2000 (book details on the 'Our Publications' page), gives details as follows:

“G.Hardin ...discusses the whole question of human freedom in relation to sustainable development, with special reference to the population problem (although he did not use the term 'sustainable development'). He starts from the situation at the time of early man when all people regarded the whole world as 'common' for all functions (common in the sense for example, of common grazing rights on commons in England). The history of man has partly been the history of the restriction of rights over this commons. For example, early man could deposit his waste products anywhere. Later it became necessary to develop sewage systems which limited disposal to specific sites. Morality, a codification of good conduct, changes over time. He referred here to a paper by J. Fletcher who argued that the morality of an act is a function of the state of a system at the time it is performed. However, morality is conservative, and Hardin goes on to assert that the laws of society really follow ancient ethics that are often poorly suited to the governing of the modern world.

“Every restriction on commons rights ('enclosure of the commons') involves the infringement of somebody's personal liberty. But infringements made in the distant past are accepted today almost without comment. The underlying problem is that if we continue to insist on all present-day freedoms we will bring universal ruin. Hardin develops his argument in relation to the growth of the human population, in a way that is very relevant to the sustainable development concept. The world has finite space, consequently population growth must eventually equal zero. When that happens, has the population reached its optimum for mankind, in the sense of 'the greatest good for the greatest number'? Hardin answers -no. He adduces two arguments.

“First, a theoretical point. We are concerned with two variables - population size and human good. We are enquiring if it is possible to maximise the latter when the former is maximised (i.e. at the size where population growth is forced to be zero by the finite state of the earth). Hardin asserts that it has been demonstrated mathematically that it is not possible to maximise for two (or more) variables at the same time. Second, an argument rooted in biological facts. To live, an organism must have a source of energy. This is needed for two purposes. The first is maintenance of the organism, energy to merely stay alive - 'maintenance calories'. The second (which he terms 'work') is for work in common speech, together with all forms of enjoyment, from swimming to automobile racing, to writing poetry or playing music - 'work calories'. To maximise population size we must ensure that work calories per person approach as close to zero as possible. We can attain the maximum population but only at the cost of severe restrictions.

“Hardin concludes that the optimum population, from the point of view of human good, is less than the maximum sized population. To maintain the common good into the future requires a deliberate limitation of population size. This in turn requires coercive action, which overrides personal liberty”.
Hardin's paper may be read on the internet courtesy of “Die Off” .

Soroos in his paper discusses the nature and extent of global commons, and ways to avoid the tragedy of the commons. He begins with a brief review of “Hardin's theory”. Here he considers two of Hardin's papers -the 1968 one discussed above and a later (1974) paper. But his review of the 1968 paper gives a distorted and partial account of what Hardin wrote. Soroos ignores the concept of an optimum population, and does not even mention Hardin's main conclusion, namely that avoiding the tragedy of the commons requires abandonment of the idea of freedom of unlimited reproduction, the abandonment of the commons in breeding.

In the rest of his paper, Soroos agrees with Hardin that the concept of the tragedy of the commons is applicable to some impacts of man on the environment, and like Hardin mentions overharvesting of marine fisheries as one example. But he writes that not all environmental problems conform to the concept - not all global commons are treated as being unowned. He notes for example that the oceans may be commons, but the seabed has a different legal status from the oceans above it; and the status of the continent of Antactica remains ambiguous in terms of ownership and jurisdiction.

Soroos notes that the atmosphere is a resource domain commonly referred to as a global commons, and he agrees: Most of the gases of the atmosphere are found in the lower troposphere region of the atmosphere. Here they circulate, flowing through national air spaces just as some rivers flow through national territories. But it is not possible for nations to take possession of the gases in their air spaces, so the atmosphere can indeed be regarded as “a commons that is beyond the jurisdiction of nations”. Soroos concludes that Hardin's model of the tragedy of the commons does apply to this commons.

There are, according to Soroos, five basic approaches to avert overuse or misuse of a commons:
1). Voluntary restraint.
2). Restrictions or rules placed on the use of the commons.
3). Market incentives such as taxes and fines.
4). Division of some domains into sections assigned to individual countries for their exclusive use.
5).Socialization of the commons with use limited to a community enterprise that would distribute the resulting income to the members of the community.

But Soroos does not include relinquishing freedom of reproduction in his list of approaches!

Soroos considers that each of the approaches he mentions has the potential to avert environmental tragedy. And there have been some successes, for example, with restrictions and regulations, he sites the reduction of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions to the atmosphere. Indeed the widespread agreement achieved on a response to deal with ozone layer depletion shows that the international community can work together to avert a global tragedy of the commons.

However, he notes that there were several factors working to produce the international response to the ozone problem: There was a general consensus that it would be disastrous if there was a significant ozone loss. Also the number of producers of the relevant harmful chemicals (CFCs etc) was rather small. Then it was likely that affordable substitutes for the harmful chemicals would be found, and using these the companies then producing the harmful chemicals would be able to make yet greater profits. Finally, the USA provided leadership in the international efforts. But Soroos's overall conclusion on the approaches mentioned is that they “have not been especially successful in averting the overuse or misuse of international commons". And Soroos thinks that compared with dealing with the ozone problem, dealing with climate change “poses a far more daunting challenge for international regime builders because of the continued dependence of the world's population on fossil fuels for the energy needed to achieve and maintain modern life styles”.

(Written and added to the page early January 2006)


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Climate science and early warning.

There is growing concern about the harmful effects of climate change, including disruption of food production. A paper published in late October 2005 dealing with this problem, which we report on here, was referred to in the Letter that the President of the Royal Society sent to G8 leaders on the 24th of October (see our comments on this letter)

Verdin, J. et al. (2005). “Climate science and famine early warning”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2005.1754 (published online).

“In the future, many African countries are likely to see negative impacts on subsistence agriculture due to the effects of global warming: increased temperatures and enhanced evapotranspiration, without offsetting precipitation increases. Increased climate variability is forecast, with more frequent extreme events (IPCC 2001)”. So say the authors in the introduction of their paper, where they also say: “Food security monitoring in sub-Saharan Africa is vital because the early identification of populations at risk can enable the timely and appropriate actions needed to avert widespread hunger, destitution or even famine”.

The paper explains that food security has three elements, availability, access and utilization. Availability concerns the amount and location of food in the country. However, when food is available, this does not mean that households will be able to get it. Various factors such as prices and employment opportunities (hence wages for food purchase) will together determine whether or not households obtain access to it. And food obtained may give but little benefit when people are suffering from diarrhoea or diseases like malaria; factors like availability of clean water are very important here, so the third element is utilization.

The paper states that climate monitoring and forecasting play a vital part in the attempt to achieve food security. However, both modelling and forecasting do depend on the existence of basic climatic records, and these are comparatively scarce in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, there are only about 400 rainfall stations across the African continent that report on a daily basis. And in many African countries, there is a dearth of things like data management systems and modelling capacity. Despite these problems, there have been major advances in monitoring systems and forecasting methodologies. In addition to climate monitoring in the narrow sense, satellite imagery enables assessments of the state of vegetation making use of the reflectance of plant canopies. The paper gives an overview of the techniques used in modelling and forecasting.

Now in introducing their own work, the authors draw attention to general features of climate change. Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are already observed to be correlated with increased global mean surface temperatures and the prospect is further increases in the future. This global warming threatens to undermine the stability of the whole earth's climate system, disrupting the dependent human populations and ecosystems. And Africa is no exception to this general picture. The continent has warmed during the last hundred years, and seems likely to continue to do so. And in terms of various possible future scenarios, “ Africa seems to be consistently among the regions with high to very high projected damages”.

In their own study of climate change the authors focused on Ethiopia which faces the same problems as sub-Saharan Africa. Here, as in sub-Saharan Africa, widely dispersed populations depend on rainfed agriculture (more in the highlands) and pastoralism (more in the lowlands). Both crop and pasture production are highly dependent on climate stability and especially, an adequate rainfall during the plant growing season. Most of the rains in Ethiopia come in the period March to September, with a pause in many parts of the country around the end of May - beginning of June. The rains before and after this pause period are known as the Belg and Kiremt rains respectively. As far as crops are concerned, short-cycle crops, typically wheat, teff and barley, are grown during the two rainy seasons while long-cycle crops, mainly maize and sorghum are grown throughout the whole March to September period.

The authors found that for the period 1960 to 2004, Kiremt rains have been consistent with 7-year trends staying within 50 millimetres of the long-term mean rainfall. In contrast, Belg rains have fallen off consistently since 1996, so that total Rainfall for Ethiopia also shows a downward trend in rainfall.

Now “reduced Belg rains in Ethiopia appear to be part of a larger set of climate changes in the Indian Ocean basin”. Ocean sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the central Indian Ocean are amongst the highest in the world. Together with the summer heating of the Eurasian land mass, they help set up wind patterns that each year bring moisture to the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA), the Middle East and India. However, when the authors carried out analyses of March to May SSTs and precipitation for 1997-2004, they found “new areas of very warm water and increased convection across the southeastern Indian ocean. And they postulate that the changes in SSTs produce an anomalous circulation, which they describe and illustrate, that reduces rainfall over parts of the GHA.

This decrease in rainfall in Ethiopia since 1996 varies between regions. The northwest seems to have largely escaped the down turn. In the southwest, there has been a steady decrease in rainfall throughout the entire 1960-2004 period, not just since 1996. Rainfall is however still adequate in this region for crop production. It is the northeast and southeast regions that give cause for concern, and the southeast has actually been relatively dry since 1980.

The changes in rainfall have serious food security implications. Since 1996, there is a correlation between numbers of people needing food aid and national rainfall changes.
However, the actual impacts of rainfall change vary between areas. For the future, the largest impacts are likely to be in the northeastern and southeastern parts of the country. For these regions already have very high rural population densities, more than 100 persons per km2, and relatively low water availability.

Various other factors that have contributed to the worsening food situation in Ethiopia are detailed by the authors. There have been market problems. The decline in world coffee price led to fewer people being able to cope with crop and livestock losses by working in the coffee industry. There was a bumper agricultural crop in 2000, but poor market infrastructure and lack of effective demand in food deficit areas led to a market crash in 2001; the result was that farmers responded by reducing planted area in 2002 and then the worst drought in 40 years struck. The El Nino of 1997/1998 caused floods and crop losses and an outbreak of rift valley fever. The latter caused livestock losses and a seven year livestock export ban which meant many pastoral households were unable to sell livestock to pay for cereal foods. Malaria is the biggest health problem in Ethiopia, with over 5 million malaria cases yearly, leading to high morbidity and mortality. And the high incidence of Malaria in potentially productive low-lying parts of the country discourages settlement there.

In their concluding remarks, Verdin et al say what they think needs to be done. Improved natural resources management techniques are needed to enable adaptation to new conditions. High-yielding short-cycle crops should be introduced to compensate for the poor Belg rains; this will require more research and better extension work. And the developed countries must take action now to transfer advanced climate science and technology to African counterparts.

We end this account of the paper by drawing attention to demographic factors mentioned or alluded to by the authors. They say “the country confronts a food security emergency, where 8-10 million people cannot meet the annual food needs without external assistance”. On rural resource management they say “stemming the loss of woody biomass while increasing fallow, manure applications and water conservation practices can increase soil organic carbon and lead to positive intensification of agriculture…”. Now we know that trees and shrubs have been cut down to provide fuel for cooking and land for food production, leading to soil erosion, and animal dung, instead of being used as fertiliser has been used as fuel, and fallow periods have been reduced or abandoned to allow more crop planting, all largely because the population has been growing massively – more mouths to feed.

Finally, having pointed out how malaria discourages settlement in potentially productive low-lying parts of the country, the authors go on “while the malaria-free highlands have suffered wide-spread environmental degradation, deforestation and soil erosion as the population continues to grow rapidly ” (our bold text).


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Books by A. Chua and N.C. Vaca.

We are familiar with the fact that in countries with one or more ethnic minorities, throughout history, tensions have often arisen, sometimes leading to outbreaks of violence, between these minorities and the indigenous majority ethnic group. In modern times, such tensions and violence add to the difficulties of achieving truly sustainable development and thus reducing the environmental impact of the human population. Two recent books provide a fascinating commentary on aspects of this problem

Amy Chua, 2003. "World on fire". Heinemann

This book provides clear evidence that ethnic composition of a population is one important factor affecting social and economic development. Chua says that her book "is about a phenomenon - pervasive outside the West yet rarely acknowledged, indeed often viewed as taboo - that turns free market democracy into an engine of ethnic conflagration".

Chua's thesis is that the global spread of market capitalism and western style democracy is a principal, aggravating cause of group hatred and ethnic violence throughout the non-Western world. Many countries round the world have a market -dominant minority, usually an ethnic minority, and in this situation markets and democracy are not mutually reinforcing. Markets have disproportionately benefited the dominant minority, creating resentment amongst the indigenous majority. The spread of democracy, or at least the idea of democracy, has empowered the impoverished underprivileged indigenous majority to demand rights in what they regard as their land. Dominant minorities have then sometimes reacted by suppressing democracy to shore up their position, with resultant aggravation of existing tensions.

In South-East Asia, the Chinese are an ethnic minority. Chinese market dominance with corresponding intense resentment from the majority indigenous ethnic populations is, says Chua, characteristic of virtually every country in Southeast Asia. She describes how in Thailand, Malaya, Burma, the Philippines and Indonesia, Chinese dominate business, sometimes in collaboration with small cliques of ruling indigenous people. We add in parenthesis that Chua comes of Chinese stock, and is married to a Jew.

The Philippines provide a good example. Here Filipino Chinese share their market dominance with "Spanish blooded gentry". Filipino Chinese, only 1-2 per cent of the population, control most big department store chains, the McDonald's franchise, most of the major banks, and six out of the 10 English language newspapers in Manila. They are dominant in the Manila Stock Exchange, shipping, textiles, construction, real estate, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and personal computer industries.

After Suharto's rise to power, he pursued raw, globally-orientated free market policies, supported by the USA, and by the World Bank and IMF (which were effectively promoted by the USA). The result was an influx of foreign capital, unprecedented levels of economic growth, and spectacular Chinese success. The indigenous pribumi majority no doubt benefited from this growth at least in terms of average income. But their perception was of a rich group of Sino-Indonesians benefiting at the expense of the native peoples. All Indonesia's billionaires were ethnically Chinese, and almost all the country's largest conglomerates were owned by Sino-Indonesian families. The major exceptions were companies owned by the Suharto family.

By the end of the 1990s the spectacle of Suharto and a handful of Chinese cronies engorging themselves at the nation's expense provoked massive, widespread hostility. After Suharto resigned in 1998, there was an eruption of extensive and intensive anti-Chinese violence - destruction of businesses, the killing of people.

Chinese are however not the only dominant ethnic minority group in Southeast Asia. Other examples are Bengali immigrants in Assam and Tamils in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). The Ceylon Tamils, historically more educated, prosperous and "advanced" than the Sinhalese majority, dominated the economy until a wave of anti-Tamil reprisals in the 1970s, and ethnic strife continues to this day.

According to Chua, Africa is the continent with the greatest abundance and variety of market dominant minorities. In West Africa there are the Ibo of Nigeria, the Bamileke of Cameroon, and other minorities in other countries. More widely in this region, the Lebanese are often a dominant minority. In Central Africa and the tiny state of Rwanda, the Tutsi minority dominated over the Hutu majority for centuries. In Burundi, the Tutsi, about 14 percent of the population, control in the order of 70 percent of the country's wealth. We have all heard of the terrible slaughters in this part of Africa. Thus in 1994 Hutus killed about 800,000 Tutsis during a three month period.

Southern African countries have been dominated by White minorities. Serious conflict broke out in each country, with the exception of Botswana. Chua writes: "In country after country, a handful of Whites engorged themselves on natural resources and human labour, creating enclaves of spectacular wealth and modernization, surrounded by mounting, justifiable hatred among the indigenous black majority". Typically, the result was "horrific violence".

In East Africa the Kikuyu, making up 22 per cent of the population dominate over the other tribes; yet here (and in some other parts of East Africa), the most significant dominating minority is the Indians. Kenya's roughly seventy thousand Indians, less than 2 per cent of the population, are dramatically more affluent than the black Kenyans around them. "A tiny handful of Asians control the entire economy" is the bitter, but not completely accurate view among black Kenyans. After the failed military coup of 1982, rioting broke out, targeting Indian shops and businesses. And subsequently further ethnic riots sometimes broke out. However, the Indian community has continued to prosper; but, says Chua, this minority finds itself uncomfortably dependent on the corrupt and increasingly authoritarian President Moi. Zimbabwe is given by Chua as an example of what he terms an ethnically targeted anti-market backlash- he refers to Mugabe's campaign against white owners of commercial farmland.

The situation in African countries however, is rarely if ever just a matter of the reaction of a majority to an ethnically dominant minority. The situation is complicated by the power of corrupt indigenous politicians, as was mentioned above for Kenya. It is also complicated by ethnic tensions and violence between indigenous populations in neighbouring regions of a country, as in Zimbabwe.

Latin America presents a slightly different situation in that since the early days of colonisation, interbreeding between White immigrants and the indigenous Amerindians has taken place, so that there has been considerable racial mixing. Generally there is not a really ethnically distinct dominant minority. Nevertheless, in general "Latin American society is fundamentally pigmentocratic: characterized by a social spectrum with taller, lighter-skinned, European-blooded elites at one end; shorter, darker, Indian-blooded masses at the other end". In some countries, the more hybrid population (mestizos) form the majority, in a few the Amerindians are still in the majority. In most Latin American countries, the light skinned, landowning (and increasingly stock owning) minority dominate the economies and have the real political power. For example, in Mexico, the most lucrative corporate sectors - oil, finance, media and telecommunications, "are controlled by a small, clubby, light-skinned market-dominant minority".

Chua concludes, however, that despite differences between Latin America and Southeast Asia, the same striking phenomenon occurs: "Like the indigenous populations of Southeast Asia, the uneducated, disease-ridden, desperately poor but numerically vast Indian- or African-blooded majorities of Latin America experience little or no economic benefit from privatization and global markets while finding themselves suddenly filled with contradictory new materialistic and consumerist desires".

While there has been less open ethnic conflict in Latin America in comparison with Africa or Southeast Asia, there has been considerable resentment against the wealthy dominant light skinned section of the population, and this has sometimes lead to violence. An aspect of this in recent years has been an increasing racial and ethnic consciousness, a spread of a sense of "Indian-ness". Chua ascribes this, at least in part, to globalization together with the demise of Marxism. While Capitalism transcends national boundaries, so does ethnic consciousness, demagoguery and anger.

Venezuela provides one good example. Since the mid 1990s there has been what Chua calls the anti-market backlash. Hugo Chavez spoke out for the 80 percent dark-skinned majority, tapping into the "collective anger and social resentments". His campaign platform was anti-market. He attacked foreign investors and Venezuela's business elite, lashed out at what he called "savage capitalism". He vowed to end the latifundia system (large agricultural estates owned by a handful of the elite). Chavez "deliberately fomented class conflict, lacing it with ethnic resentment". A landslide victory brought him to power in the country.

But Chavez's policies had a devastating effect on the economy: the wealthy Venezuelan whites whisked away more than 8 million dollars out of the country. Foreign investments were withdrawn. A coup overthrew Chavez, but soon he was back in power, to the dismay of the Bush administration.

Chua has a chapter devoted to the Middle East with the subtitle "Israeli Jews as a regional market-dominant minority". Here again the situation is different from South-East Asia in that it is not so much a question of a dominant minority in one country, but rather a dominant minority in a whole region. It is also a very complicated situation. Resentment against a market dominant ethnic minority is complicated by many other factors, as Chua is careful to point out: Religion, land distribution, issues of self-determination, a more global anti-Semitism and antisecular, anti-Western hostility. Then the situation is also complicated by the Sunni- Shi'i Muslim population divide. Nevertheless, Chua says, globalization has very disproportionately benefited the "outsider" market-dominant Jewish minority, "fuelling ethnic resentment and hatred among a massive, demagogue-incited population that considers itself the 'indigenous' 'true owners of the land'". In another chapter, Chua also deal with Jewish dominance elsewhere, this time amongst the most wealthy people in Russia.

Chua's book is a very useful source of information and a timely reminder, of the significance of ethnic composition in world affairs.

N.C. Vaca. 2004. "The presumed alliance. The unspoken conflict between Latinos and Blacks and what it means for America". HarperCollins

Nicolás Vaca makes a series of in-depth historical analyses of events in several districts of the USA, which show the competition between Blacks and Latinos for jobs, social services and education, and between White, Black and Latino candidates for council seats and mayoral office. He records too the often complex relationships between candidates and ethnic organisations, churches and the Republican and Democratic parties. In parenthesis, the book is heavy going for anyone not very familiar with the political processes in the USA, and also because Vaca sometimes uses a rather discursive style which does not always nail down particular actions to particular events/elections.

During recent decades, one might have expected that Latinos and Blacks in the USA, both minorities who had experienced discrimination, would have united to pursue a policy of anti-White domination. This has sometimes happened. However, Vaca shows that just as often such cooperation did not develop, rather there was great antipathy between Latinos and Blacks. Sometimes tensions between Blacks and Latinos boiled over into violence - Vaca discusses riots in Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Miami.

The background to, and one cause of such tensions and conflicts, was the explosive growth of the Latino population, fuelled by immigration, a growth that far exceeded the growth of the Black population. Vaca shows that while the Black population did continue to rise, the Latino population experienced explosive growth. The 1970 Census put the Latino population at 9.6 million, the African American at 22.6 million. The 1980 Census gave the Latino population as 14.6 million, the African American population as 26.5 million. The 1990 census gave the Latino population as 22.3 million, the African American as 29.9 million. The explosive growth of the Latino population continued until in January 2003, Latinos officially became the largest minority in the USA. This explosive growth of the Latino population seems to have surprised even scholars in the field, and the growth continues. As for the present, Vaca quotes Peter Brimelow at the end of his chapter on this "Latino Tsunami": "The current wave of immigration - and therefore America's shifting ethnic balance - is wholly and entirely the result of government policy".

The demographic changes led to many Blacks fearing loss of jobs to Latinos, and erosion of their social and educational amenities because of growing Latino needs for such amenities. The situation was complicated by the fact that in some districts, Blacks having established an appreciable power base in local communities, were unwilling to let Latinos into that power structure. Miami was an exception. Here it was Latinos who came to control the major political, economic and educational institutions, and their leaders appeared to have little sympathy with the plight of Blacks.

Vaca concludes that while some Black-Latino alliances exist in the USA, the presumption that simply because Latinos and Blacks are "peoples of color" they will generally put aside their differences and support each other in all endeavours, is false. The reality, says Vaca, is that a divide does exist between Latinos and Blacks, "that no amount of camouflage can hide", "that in the real world the ostensible moral and philosophical bases for coalition politics have largely fallen apart because of competing self-interests".

What is the relevance of Vaca's book to the situation in the UK? After all, there are big differences, social, political and demographic, between the USA and the UK. And it seems that actual conflicts between ethnic groups in the UK in recent decades has been primarily between poor Whites and ethnic minorities. Yet there are similarities too between the two nations. In both, immigration has played a major part in increasing the total ethnic minority population. And while in the USA in recent decades, the Latino population has grown relative to the Black population, in the UK, both the total Asian population and the total Pakistani and Bangladeshi population have grown relative to the total Black population. UK citizens reading Vaca's book, are consequently entitled to be concerned about the possible adverse social consequences of recent and current demographic changes in the UK.


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Our earlier report on a publication by N. Myers.

This is one of three papers published by the Royal Society of Great Britain, originally on-line, but later in Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences (The Royal Society) volume 357 number 1420 (2002).

One of the other papers, by David Coleman, is used in our essay on Immigration - see our Comment and Analysis page.

N. Myers (2001) "Environmental Refugees: a Growing Phenomenon of the 21st Century".

(i) Classification of Refugees

Myer's classifies refugees into two categories. Traditional refugees are people fleeing oppression and persecution (at least 27 million in 1995). Environmental refugees are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood because of environmental deterioration -desertification etc (at least 25 million in 1995).

(ii) The outlook for the year 2010

The population of developing countries is projected to have grown from 1995 by over one billion people - a 24% increase in just 15 years. The number of people in absolute poverty is predicted to rise from 1.3 billion to 1.6 billion. The 135 million people affected by severe desertification could well increase to 180 million. Today, 550 million people live in countries already short of water. This number is expected to swell to more than one billion. In 1985 and years following, crop yields seemed as if they might be plateauing. If they do so, there will be greater, and more widespread, shortfalls in food production; at the same time international tradable stocks will increasingly be unable to keep up with the fast growing demand.

(iii) Effects of global warming

By 2050 or earlier, rising sea levels caused by global warming may cause displacement of large numbers of people. In China, it could be 73 million, Bangladesh 26 million, India 20 million, Egypt 12 million, elsewhere including small islands 31 million, making a total of 162 million. Global warming will also cause drought and disruption of rainfall regimes; at least 50 million people could be at severe risk through such climatic dislocations.

(iv) Political instability

Increase of environmental refugees generates economic, social and political problems and can lead to conflict and violence. There are limits to a host countries' capacity and willingness to accept these people. Perceived threats to social cohesion and national identity could lead to ethnic tensions, civil disorder and even political upheaval.

Our Comment

This paper suggests to us that Europe is going to be put under increasing pressure to accept refugees.