Sometime ago, in an interview with CNN, Elon Musk expressed concerns about the population problem we will experience in the future, counter-arguing the popular belief that overpopulation is the biggest issue by saying that shrinking population is a huge issue.
So, should we really be concerned about demographic implosion, as Elon Musk says?
Let’s first consider population and whether we are really in danger of losing the entire planet’s population.
Currently, total population stands at 7.5 billion people. Each year, 135 million people are added to that number, and 57 million are subtracted, increasing the total population by 78 million people.
So, what would happen, if we would stop population reproduction for 10 years?
We could simply multiply 57 by 10 and get 570 million people that will die over that period. To get a more accurate result, we could use the World Bank mortality estimate for the next 10 years, and we would again get a similar number: around 620 million. In both cases, this reproduction abstinence for 10 years would decrease the population to approximately 6.8 billion people, or the level the planet had in 2009 — just a bit less than 8 years ago.
But we also must consider that estimated mortality rates do not include new scientific findings in the fields of medicine, nutrition, or improvement in transport that could have a dramatic impact on our global average life span.
Even if we would create a zero-child policy for 10 years and, additionally, after those 10 years, allow only couples born after 1995 to have kids — which they could breed only once they reach age 20, and then another at age 25 — our planet would not dramatically change the number of people on it.
After applying above model, it would be possible to keep the population number constant, with dynamic population management — allowing two child per family and having lottery raffles for a third child. Combining that with other sustainable technologies and anti-poverty policies like Basic Income would allow the biosphere to regenerate.
OK, but Elon was not worried only about the human race dying off. He was worried about economic impact, health insurance, elderly care, as well as retirement funds and those who are working to provide for those who do not.
To address this, we need to think about a few more advancements that are happening right now.
Those are DNA engineering, automation, and global welfare systems, like Unconditional Basic Income.
First, DNA engineering would allow as to live longer and healthier lives; therefore, many people will be capable of working longer, and they will retire later than they do now.
Automation is already taking and will certainly take many jobs in the next 10 to 20 years, so we will have an issue with a huge number of people who will not have anything to do. As human interaction is most difficult to automate, it is very probable that many people with Basic Income would, for a bit higher incentive, switch to work in the sector of elderly care.
When we combine all those technological advancements, we can conclude that Elon’s worry about population implosion was not justifiable.
What we know is that the current human population, combined with the current rate of consumption, is unsustainable. Using one- (or even zero-) child policies (especially in the critical period of next 15-20 years) would be extremely helpful in fighting global warming — the most dangerous issue our civilization has faced so far.
Failing to address greenhouse gas emissions, population, and our lifestyle could be a fatal mistake so costly we would pay for it — with all of our lives.
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Notes & References:
1. Elon Musk predicts a population implosionhttp://money.cnn.com/video/technology/2015/09/10/elon-musk-population-implosion.cnnmoney/index.html
2. World Population by Yearhttp://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/
3. Projections of mortality and causes of death, 2015 and 2030http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/projections/en/